Regardless of how questionable the starting rotation looks for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, fans can take comfort in knowing that a handful of future stars are on the verge of making an impact in the bigs.
One such prized prospect is 23-year-old righty José De León.
Born in Isabela, Puerto Rico in 1992, De León played college ball at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and was drafted by the Dodgers in the 24th round of the 2013 MLB draft.
De León is currently ranked the third-best prospect in the Dodgers organization by Ben Badler of Baseball America.
After a full year of rookie ball in 2013, his ascension to star level began to take place when he was named the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year while playing for the Ogden Raptors in 2014. Later that year, after being promoted to Single-A Great Lakes, he broke Clayton Kershaw’s team record of 12 Ks set back in 2007 by fanning 14 Fort Wayne TinCaps in only his second career-start for the Loons. 12 of his 14 strikeout victims were retired by swinging strikes.
The beginning of 2015 saw De León promoted to High-A Rancho Cucamonga where he continued to shine. On May 29 against the Frisco RoughRiders, he threw 91 pitches over seven innings of work while striking out a season-high 11 batters and only allowing three hits, two walks and one earned run. His total tally for Rancho included 58 strikeouts over 37.2 innings of work, which calculated to a 13.9 K/9. A WHIP of .903 and a 1.9 BB/9 reflected the dominance he showed at the Single-A level. He was promoted to Double-A Tulsa after only 7 appearances for the Quakes.
While with the Drillers, De León fanned 105 batters over 76.2 innings to close out 2015. He posted a 12.3 K/9 and a WHIP of 1.124. His 3.4 BB/9, however, revealed his continued efforts to develop and diversify his off-speed and breaking-pitch arsenal.
Over the course of 2015, De León showed that he was much more serious about baseball as opposed to his earlier years. He ended up dropping 25-plus pounds by the end of the season. His improved fitness and conditioning allowed him to refine his mechanics, while increasing the spin on his slider and noticeably elevating the velocity of his fastball.
De León’s fastball, which has nasty, late movement and sits in the 93-96 MPH range, is by far his best weapon. His slider rates a little above-average but continues to improve. His changeup is by far his best off-speed pitch — he’s not afraid to use it when behind in the count and often uses it as his strikeout pitch.
Many scouts within the organization project De León to be a solid #3 starter down the road, but as time goes by, his ceiling continues to rise. His hard work on and off the field reflects a progressively improving command and pitching arsenal as well as added mental maturity. His rapid development and advancement almost indicate that he has a desire to be the Dodgers #1 prospect on the farm.
Most within the Dodgers’ organization see De León getting his first taste when rosters expand in September of 2016 and being ready to contribute to the rotation in 2017, but with his hard work and his uncanny ability to advance, don’t be surprised to see him on the hill much sooner.
(Photo Credit: milb.com)