Mike Leake doesn't have a swagger. Swagger doesn't begin to describe what he has. It's indisputable guile. He's so competitive that he knows he's beaten you before you even decide what game you're playing. And if that game is baseball and you're a hitter sans discipline, good luck. He's not going to overpower you. But he is going to make you look bad. Real bad. And that's why he woke up today. To clown with you, jostle your dreams, but still respect you for building up the courage to compete with him. That's Mike Leake.
Adam Foster caught up with Leake at the Arizona Fall League. They discussed the challenges he'd faced in the AFL, his approach to pitching, and clowning around with hitters.
Adam Foster: So I'm wondering, at what point does a 5'10'' guy become a big-league prospect?
Mike Leake: I couldn't tell you. I don't think they ever become a prospect. You just have to prove yourself more and just show that you can do what the 6-foot-7 guys are doing.
AF: It was you and Strasburg really this year who were lighting up -- in terms of statistics -- on college scene. You hear a lot of about Strasburg -- you made some noise in the College World Series -- but is it kind of nice to be the guy who maybe doesn't get talked about as much? (You could) just go out and do your thing.
ML: Yeah. He's got a lot of weight on his shoulders. I'm happy to be in my situation rather than his.
AF: You were a pretty decorated high school athlete. You had a chance to turn pro out of high school, but took the college route; obviously had the successful career. Has is been worth the wait to get out here?
ML: Yeah. I think it was the smartest decision I've made. When you sign out of high school it takes three years to get somewhere anyway. So I think I'll be at the same spot or better that if I would have signed out of high school. We'll see.
AF: What are some of the challenges you've faced out here at the Arizona Fall League?
ML: Just getting to know minor league hitters; more mature hitters. It really hasn't been tough. It's just getting to know 'em and just going out there knowing that as long as I pitch my game it's all right.
AF: And I saw (your November 13th start). You pitched your game. You're very aggressive with your fastball; you get a lot of movement...
AF: What's the approach going after these professional hitters versus college guys? Is there any difference?
ML: (Pauses to think.) They just hit more mistakes than college guys. College guys can miss balls and these guys they hit your mistakes. So just working corners more and just going after them.
AF: And you throw, is it fastball, changeup, slider and curve?
ML: Yeah, and cutter.
AF: If you threw 100 pitches, how many of each of those would you throw?
ML: I don't know. I mean, it's a day-by-day thing. Some days some pitches work; some days others don't. So it varies.
AF: A power pitcher might go out be focused on just throwing his fastball up; just blowin' guys away. It seems like you have the command with your pitches where you can kind of just go with a sequence that you think is going to keep that hitter off-balance.
ML: Yeah. I mean that's how I am. If I try to go and blow smoke, I don't throw it hard enough to throw it by them. So I gotta go and mix and match against 'em.
AF: I had your fastball topping out around 92 (on November 13th). Is that normal?
ML: Yeah, that's about 88-91 and then getting up to 92 is normal.
AF: And it seemed like there was close to a 10 mile differential with the change.
ML: Yeah, 8 to 10. The lower (the changeup) is, the better.
AF: You get so much movement, though. Is it ever an issue where it's moving too much and it's almost hard to command?
ML: It's not really hard to command. It's just sometimes I try to make it move even more. So then I miss more. Those are the games where I'm throwing a lot of balls.
AF: In your college career, especially your junior season, you were practically flawless. And then you had that one start in the College World Series where things didn't exactly go as planned. What happened there?
ML: I was missing my spots...I was throwing a lot of balls right down the middle; I wasn't getting ahead. It wasn't me out there really. I wasn't hittin' my spots, wasn't going after them. I was just kind of giving 'em pitches to hit.
AF: And it seems like one of the things that makes you unique is just your outstanding command and poise. Does it seem like more often than not, when you take the hill, you can locate all your pitches for a strike. Is that what makes you successful?
ML: That's who I am. If I'm not locating, I can still get guys out. But I can usually tell if it's gonna be a long day or not just 'cause I'll be throwin' more pitches 'cause I don't have the command. I try to not have those days (laughs).
AF: So when you're out there, are you trying to play games with the hitter...
ML: Yeah, I just try to have fun and just kinda clown around with them a little bit and just try to make 'em look silly.
AF: It almost seemed like (on November 13th), when you were facing Domonic Brown -- you got him on three pitches swinging. Is that a typical Mike Leake clownin' around?
AF: No? (Laughs at Leake's quick, abrupt answer.)
ML: No. I was surprised he missed some of those 'cause they weren't where I wanted them to be (laughs). But luckily they were at a spot where he couldn't hit 'em (grins and chuckles).
AF: So you played with some pretty good hitters at ASU: Brett Wallace, Ike Davis -- I've gotten to see Ike Davis out (at the AFL). Suppose there's a situation where in the playoffs you're facing Davis, bottom of the ninth, two strikes, you're going for the complete game, what do you throw him?
ML: Don't know. But I know he has no chance.
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