The Cincinnati Reds selected Arizona State righthander Mike Leake with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft.
Leake instantly becomes the top pitching prospect in an organization that is heavy on hitting prospects and his rise through the minors could be a quick one.
“Though Leake has created little of the national intrigue in his career that (Stephen) Strasburg did this season, he is every bit as far along in his development and could even challenge his former Team USA teammate to be the first pitcher in the Class of 2009 to reach the big leagues,” wrote Allan Simpson of Perfect Game Crosschecker.
Cincinnati senior director of scouting Chris Buckley agrees that Leake, 21, already has well-developed abilities.
“He's a very polished college pitcher. He's got four pitches, and his numbers are off the chart,” Buckley told The Associated Press.
Those numbers – 30.4% K and 4.3% BB as of June 7th – continue to be piled up as Leake's season continues in the College World Series.
The stats are backed up by plus-plus command of an impressive arsenal that includes an 88-94 MPH fastball, a slider and an average curveball. None of his offerings top his plus changeup, a pitch that he'll throw at any point in the count.
Most pitchers would be intimidated by pitching in Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark, one of the more homer-friendly parks in the majors. Luckily for Leake, ASU's highest-drafted player since 1998, it may not be as much of a problem.
“I'm a groundball pitcher. When I get groundballs, I know I'm doing well. That's what I can do, when I can work down in the zone,” he told The Associated Press.
Leake doesn't have a prototypical pitcher's frame. Listed at 6-foot, 185 pounds, Leake says he's actually 5-foot-10, and despite being undersized, he's held up well over his college career.
"If he were 6-foot-2, he would have for sure gone before us. [Dustin] Pedroia is 5-foot-8. Sometimesthey come in smaller packages," Buckley told MLB.com.
Leake, a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given to the nation's top college player, is expected to sign by the August 15th deadline for a figure between $2-3 million.
"The sooner we can get it done, the better," he told MLB.com.
Attitude and make-up are crucial factors in the development of a prospect, but Leake has the right mindset.
"This is a great time in my life right now with fantastic opportunities and obstacles along the way. I will embrace the opportunities with open arms and will stay humble wherever the road takes me," he blogged on MLB.com.
Leake could begin his professional career in a full-season league and has a chance to be in the big leagues relatively quickly.
One of the safer bets for major league success in this year's draft class, Leake might lack a fastball that lights up radar guns, and he may not be as big as some people would like him to be, but he's close to being the complete package. A good mix between certainty and ceiling, he could eventually settle in as a No. 2-3 starter at the major league level.
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