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Dodgers top prospects 2016: No. 4 Jose De Leon

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Photo: Rich Crimi | Tulsa Drillers

The biggest omission from last year’s list, Jose De Leon is a late blooming former enigma that has now inserted himself in the big league picture for the Dodgers at some point in 2016. De Leon made quick work of the California League before meeting some resistance and injury issues in the Texas League. Despite being fairly hittable for a top prospect in the upper leagues, De Leon displayed outstanding pitchability and the ability to miss bats worthy of putting him in one of the elite tiers of Dodger prospects. While his ranking may surprise some readers, De Leon’s ceiling relative to his other elite peers is the only key separator, but should not detract from the value he has to the Dodgers in both the present and future.

De Leon’s omission from the 2015 list wasn’t for lack of talent, but a lack of exposure and atypical journey to prospect stardom. After getting several in-person looks over the course of the past season, De Leon’s profile is one of my more comfortable assessments in the ranking process. Before you consider the ranking overly bearish, understand that I take a pretty conservative yet highly optimistic view of De Leon’s future.

Stuff-wise, I noted a few differences in scouting reports I had read about De Leon versus what I witnessed in person. De Leon’s fastball, while occasionally reaching around 95 mph, sat more often around 92-93 mph, but flashed plus command and late riding life that hitters struggled to pick up. De Leon works his fastball to both sides of the plate and often up in the zone, with the movement and deception to suggest a higher than average spin rate (though take this with a grain of salt from the naked eye).

De Leon’s slider was the most frequently talked up pitch of his secondaries, but I felt the pitch was solid average while occasionally flashing above thanks to control and pitchability. The slider is a tight pitch thrown around 84 mph that he keeps in the zone. It can be hittable when grooved, and didn’t appear to miss many bats in general. When right, De Leon was effective in using the slider low in the zone to induce weaker ground contact.

Dodgers 2016 prospects: Nos. 22-27 Nos. 28-32 Nos. 33-61 Overview

The most under-advertised aspect of De Leon was his changeup, which graded out as an easy plus pitch for me, and rivaled Urias for tops in the organization (though just short, I’d say 75 or 80 vs. 70 grade for De Leon). De Leon’s arm speed and slot are consistent with his fastball on the change and the pitch has excellent fade. The change was De Leon’s go-to off speed pitch for strikeouts when he wasn’t using the fastball up in the zone.

De Leon’s feel for pitching is big league ready. He throws all of his pitches for strikes (including a fringe, get-me-over curveball early in counts) and will change the sequencing of his pitches to keep hitters off balance. Despite high swing and miss totals, De Leon can get hit when he misses in the zone, especially with the slider, or as he tires with the fastball.

Mechanically, De Leon is smooth and consistent, exhibiting excellent body control. While I wouldn’t put him in the class of athlete that I would Walker Buehler and Urias, his actions are easily repeatable and his slot is consistent from start to start. One aspect of De Leon’s delivery that makes him tough is how well he hides the ball in back of the delivery in addition to the quickness of his short arm action.

Though he just cleared 100 professional innings in a single season for the first time last season, De Leon will be turning 24 this season and should be ready to take on a larger load in 2016, including a potential call up to the big league rotation. De Leon is in the 70-grade tier of prospects for me because I think he could enter the majors already fairly close to his ceiling, albeit that ceiling may not be quite as high as his not-yet-ranked counterparts.

That ceiling, though, is in high demand. De Leon’s three-pitch mix, with no pitch worse than average and two pitches at or nearing plus is good enough for a number three profile with plus strikeout potential. It’s certainly possible he could exceed that profile and reach number two status, but the fastball falls just a bit short for me to feel comfortable making that the likelihood.

De Leon will likely take one of the spots in the Triple-A Oklahoma City rotation and will bide his time for an opening in the big league rotation. As with Urias, I would expect that when it’s time to call up De Leon, the Dodgers will want it to be at a time when he has a chance to stick, so he likely will need a long-term injury or ineffectiveness by a depth chart superior to get his chance. If anything, De Leon’s position at number four on this list truly highlights the embarrassment of riches the Dodgers have in their farm system.

2016 Dodgers prospect list