Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reds need not give up on Mike Leake just yet


The biggest question looming over Reds camp this spring was finally answered on Friday. Cuban southpaw Aroldis Chapman will officially begin the season as the team's closer, assuming the same role that he excelled at in 2012. This after the Reds were adamant that Chapman would pitch in the starting rotation in 2013.

Opinions regarding the decision are quite mixed among the baseball community. But one guy who is undoubtedly in support of Chapman staying in the bullpen is nearly forgotten Reds pitcher Mike Leake. Leake will enter the season as the fifth starter now that the team no longer plans to use Chapman in the rotation. And that has some fans moaning and groaning.

It's hard to honestly refute that Chapman is the more exciting pitcher to watch over Leake. Chapman throws a fastball that lights up the scoreboard. Leake throws a fastball that rarely breaks 92 MPH. However, it wasn't too long ago when one could actually make a solid argument that Leake was the most productive pitcher on the staff.

In 2011, Cincinnati endured a disappointing season by any measure. Many folks tabbed them as a heavy favorite to defend the division crown. That didn't happen, obviously. Dusty Baker's bunch sputtered to a 79-83 record and third place finish in the National League Central, while the St. Louis Cardinals went on to the most amazing World Series runs of all-time.

Only one Reds pitcher managed to break the double digit mark in wins that season: Mike Leake. He also led the staff in strikeouts and ranked second on the team in innings pitched, games started, and ERA. My how fast we forget about things like that.

Though Leake didn't have the strongest season in 2012 (8-9, 4.58), he still remains only 25-years-old, and has pitched in exactly two games in the minors during his professional career. Leake made the rare jump from college to the majors after the Reds drafted him 8th overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. At that point, you could find few Reds fans who weren't absolutely thrilled to have Leake on the roster.

Now, the majority of Reds nation is singing a far different tune. They see him as the weak link in an otherwise solid starting five. This may be the case, but Cincinnati could do far worse than having Leake as its fifth starting pitcher.

The gripes about Leake haven't fell on deaf ears. The right-hander knows that his popularity in Reds country is probably lower than its ever been, but he's not letting that get him down. In fact, he appears to be using the negatitivy as fuel.

In a recent interview with azcentral.com, Leake said he plans to be more aggressive on the mound in 2013. And he seems to be hungrier than ever to prove to everyone what he can do.

“The last couple of years I was lost a little bit,” Leake said. “I was feeling humble and content with where I was in life and not wanting to achieve more. Just being happy where I was.”

Mainly it’s having more attitude on the mound. Focusing more and not being OK with a bad pitch here or there. Being a little more assertive."

Leake, known to be a fiery competitor and a great athlete, said he enjoyed the competition between him and Chapman this spring, citing the fact that it raised his intensity and focus.

Will Leake bust out and emerge as the anchor of the rotation? Probably not. But those who are counting the youngster out already are making a grave mistake.

I fully expect Leake to have a much better individual campaign this time around. He has experienced early success, and the subsequent failure that tends to follow young players. Now, he looks poised to learn from that experience as he enters his veteran years. He has put in the work this offseason and has been pushed during the spring. Barring injury, this should add up to another productive season from the Arizona State product.

Don't give up on Leake just yet. Humble pie is a terrible thing to eat.

2 comments:

Chris said...

Mike Leake has a 6.75 ERA this spring, despite all the competition, intensity, etc. if that's what his newfound confidence is going to bring this summer, I'll pass.

Jimmi Adair said...

Leake has a 6.75 ERA...in 13 innings. That is quite a small sample size to go off of. It would be similar to someone having 2 hits in 20 at-bats for a .100 average. Hard to judge by such a small sample. His career ERA of 4.23 (485 IP) is much better to reference.