An interview with top pitching prospect Jose De Leon Young right-hander went from nearly quitting the game to becoming a Top-10 Dodgers prospect

If you are a Dodger fan and haven’t heard the name Jose De Leon yet, you will.

De Leon, who was drafted by the Dodgers in the 24th round of the 2013 First Year Player Draft out of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had a sensational season in 2014 splitting time between the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer Rookie League and the Great Lakes Loons of the Low Single-A Midwest League, posting a combined 7-0 record and 2.22 ERA. In fact, on August 19, 2014, De Leon set a new franchise record with the Loons when he struck out 14 batters (including nine in a row at one point), breaking the record set in 2007 by a young left-hander named Clayton Kershaw.

Hard-throwing right-hander Jose De Leon has shown excellent command and control in his first two seasons in the minors. (Photo courtesy of MiLB.com)

De Leon has shown outstanding command and control after only two seasons in the minors.
(Photo courtesy of MiLB.com)

During the off-season, the 22-year-old Isabela, Puerto Rico native returned home to play in the Puerto Rican Winter League – this time in front of his family and friends – and continued his meteoric rise posting a 2-1 record and 1.13 ERA with 15 strikeouts and zero walks in 16 innings pitched.

Needless to say, De Leon quickly captured the attention of the Dodgers newly assembled scouting and player development staff – especially that of new Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler – who invited De Leon to the annual Winter Development Camp at Dodger Stadium this past January.

But De Leon’s rise from minor league obscurity to becoming the Dodgers sixth top-ranked prospect by Baseball America, seventh by Baseball Prospectus, ninth by ESPN and 10th by MLB.com wasn’t without its struggles. In fact, De Leon readily admits that at one point he even considered quitting baseball after going through a very difficult time in his young life during spring training exactly one year ago. Fortunately, he did not.

Last week I had an opportunity to interview Jose De Leon on the backfields at Camelback Ranch, and let me tell you, this young man is well grounded and mature well beyond his 22 years.

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RC: This is your second spring training camp. What’s different about this camp for you?

JDL: Confidence. I came in with a different mindset than I did last year. Last year I actually didn’t want to leave home. I know I didn’t workout as hard as I needed to. But this year, like two weeks before coming in, I was so anxious, I wanted to be here because I knew I was getting prepared. I knew I was going to impress people with where my body is at right now [physically]. I just wanted to be out here and coming in with the season I had last year and the off-season I had, it’s completely different.

Last year I told one of my friends here in camp “Man, I don’t feel like I fit in sometimes,” and he said “No, just hang on, keep doing what you do best.” So this year it’s unreal.

RC: Is that because your experience level wasn’t where you wanted it to be or needed it to be last year?

JDL: Yeah, for sure. When you do everything, PFP’s (Pitchers’ Fielding Practice) or just hang out with the guys, nobody knows you. Last year was my first spring training so I didn’t know most of the guys here in camp, but this year everybody knows who I am. It’s not because of the season I had but just because I was here last year and been [in the Dodgers organization] the whole year, so it’s way different. You feel like a family, you feel like you fit in and that’s key. You feel comfortable and everything is way better.

RC: Was the decision to play ball in the Puerto Rican Winter League this past off-season your decision or the Dodgers decision?

JDL: They didn’t want to let me play but I kind of wanted to play there because my family hadn’t seen me pitch yet as a pro pitcher. So I kind of begged them to let me pitch and we finally agreed to 30 innings. I ended up pitching 16 before they shut me down.

It was a great experience pitching in front of my family and facing veteran hitters that I wasn’t facing in Ogden or Midland where I was facing guys my age or younger. But now in winter ball I was facing guys with big league experience, Triple-A, Double-A, it was way better. You know that you have to make quality pitches to get outs.

RC: Is your family going to come to the States to watch you pitch this year?

JDL: They’re planning on coming but you know how this works, you never know, you’re here right now but you never know where you’re going to be tomorrow. It’s going to be like a ‘more today than tomorrow’ thing. If they can they will make it but if they don’t they understand, they know how it is.

RC: What is the biggest change that you made from last year to this year? Did you change your delivery or add any new pitches?

JDL: I actually subtracted pitches. When I came in I was throwing five pitches, now I pitch three. I just focus on the quality of those three pitches and feel more comfortable. I’m pretty sure that losing weight helped me out a lot, I’m more flexible and able to throw the ball down in the zone. But the mental game is the key, for me that’s key. I didn’t have that last year at all.

Staying at extended [spring training last year] was an eye-opening experience. You know you’ve got to work hard if you want to make it. It was really a blessing, something clicked during those two months of extended, it was an eye-opening experience. From then on I just felt different, I felt like a whole different person, a whole new pitcher.

RC: Have they told you where you’re going yet? I’m thinking Advanced Single-A Rancho Cucamonga.

JDL: I’m pretty sure I will start there, I think that’s the plan, but whatever they choose I’m just going to get out and pitch and work my way up, that’s natural, that’s just the way it is. But wherever they send me I’ll be more than happy to be there. Like [former Dodger pitcher] Rick Rhoden told me today “Wherever they send you, just try to get out of there as soon as possible” so that’s what I’ve got in mind. Like I always keep in my mind, I try to control what I can control. Where I go is not in my power, the only thing I can control is throw strikes and get outs. So if they send me there, that’s great, if they send me back to Midland, that’s great too.

RC: You mentioned Rick Rhoden, are there any other coaches or pitching instructors here in camp that have really helped you this spring?

JDL: I’ve been working with everybody. I’m not going to name names because I know I’m going to leave somebody out and I don’t want to do that but everybody’s been great. All these guys have the experience, either at the highest level or Triple-A or Double-A or they played winter ball, they’ve all been around, they all know what they’re doing and they all want the best for you. I always have my ears open and try to pick their brains. I’m a great listener. I just stand by their side and hear what they say, just trying to learn.

RC: There is so much talk around camp about Julio Urias, are you and he good friends?

JDL: Oh yeah, Julio is great. Like I was telling Gabe [Kapler] the other day, Julio is three years younger than me and I really look up to him because he’s an example. He has been handling this buzz really really well and I’m really happy for him. He’s great, he’s a great guy and has a God-given talent – what can you say? He’s using all of these things in his favor and he’s going to have a bright future, I’m really sure about that.

RC: I don’t want to jinx anything but aside from his age, you seem to be on the same path as Julio, being ranked as a Dodgers Top-10 prospects and all. Was that a surprise to you?

JDL: When I signed, I saw myself really far from that to be honest. The first time I saw a list of [Top] 20 prospects I was… “man I want to be there.” But everything happened so quick that sometimes you get overwhelmed, you just can’t take everything at the same time, it’s great.

I remember some friends from Rancho [Cucamonga], they called me after my last game in Puerto Rico. It was November 20th. I was pitching against Carolina, I got the win in five innings, that was the day they shut me down. I got a text message saying “Congrats on being named on the Top-20 Prospects” and I was surprised they ranked me 11th, that was the first time I ever saw my name there. And then [the White Sox] claimed Onelki [Garcia] off waivers and I moved to 10. That was really a big deal for my family, my friends, everybody at home, they were really happy. Everybody, the media in Puerto Rico, the newspapers in Puerto Rico, everybody was making it a big deal.

From there on, without even throwing a pitch, I kept going down [on the list] and that was really surprising for me – to keep going down without even pitching because I couldn’t pitch any more in Puerto Rico. It had something to do with Tom Windle, he got traded and they opened a spot and I moved down on the list.

RC: Does being named a Top-10 prospect add pressure on you or increase expectations?

JDL: I think it doesn’t add pressure, it for sure adds more responsibility. They trust in you and you have to do things accordingly. It doesn’t add pressure, it’s still the same game, it’s the same sixty-feet six inches, it’s just more responsibility – that’s the word I think of to describe it. It’s responsibility because some of the younger guys they start to look up to you and watch you and learn from you. Everything has been really really really great. I’m happy. I’m happy everything is happening and I just can’t wait to start the season.

RC: There’s another Jose De Leon on Twitter, is that a relative of yours?

JDL: That’s my dad, he’s the Twitter king, the media king. He retweets everything. He’s always looking at Twitter every single day. It’s such a powerful tool nowadays. Nowadays the technology and social media is taking a big big role on everything. Yeah, my dad is huge with that and it’s not just Twitter, it’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, everything. He’s just following everything and I love it, I love it.

RC: I imagine that growing up your dad was your biggest supporter.

JDL: Oh my God, yeah. He’s been great, my mom’s been great, she’s adorable. I love her, I love them so much.

But I think my biggest fan is my grandpa, that’s who I pitch for. When I was a freshman in college my grandfather was my biggest fan. In Puerto Rico he was at every single game. No matter where it was, he was there every single time. I remember it was before the season started he passed away and it was devastating, it was brutal. I always try to look at things in a positive kind of way and I said “Man, this is happening for a reason.” I think God is taking over because physically he’s not going to be able to see me pitch, so I know now that he is seeing me pitch, every single pitch, no matter where I’m at. I joke with my dad – I hope I don’t play in a dome because I want him to watch me.

When I pitch I always write “Abu” – it’s short for Abuello – and he’s always there with me. That’s the guy I pitch for and I always say it.

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I think it’s safe to say that Abu is going to have a perfect, unobstructed view of Jose De Leon pitching for many years to come because there are no plans to put a dome on Dodger Stadium anytime soon – or ever.

 

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5 Responses to “An interview with top pitching prospect Jose De Leon Young right-hander went from nearly quitting the game to becoming a Top-10 Dodgers prospect

  1. T.ROY T.ROY says:

    @J_DeLeon18 @pulpodeleon Keep working hard! Proud of you man!

  2. Bluenose Dodger says:

    WOW!!!! Great questions Ron and tremendously thoughtful and inspiring responses by Jose.

  3. Evan Bladh says:

    I really enjoyed the interview Ron. Nothing like the backfields of CBR for the most interesting stories. What a great kid!

  4. Bluenose Dodger says:

    It would seem likely that Jose will certainly be assigned to the Quakes at least to begin the season. Unfortunately the Quakes are the one full season Dodger affiliate with which I have little contact. For some reason Quakes games are not carried on MiLB.TV and I can’t get them by radio. In any event the starts around seven o’clock make it pretty close to bedtime here being four hours later.

    I expect I will catch up to Jose with the Drillers at some point during the season.

  5. EZ EZ says:

    @J_DeLeon18 @pulpodeleon Great interview. Looking forward to watching Jose pitch for the @RCQuakes this upcoming season.

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