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Welcome to the Rays, Jose De León

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Meet the Rays’ new Starting Pitcher, Jose De León

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays have traded their lead-off hitter, fan-and-clubhouse-favorite second baseman Logan Forsythe, to the Dodgers for pitching prospect Jose De León.

De León has been a top prospect for a while now, and made his major league debut last September, but the acquisition of a high-risk, high-reward prospect is an interesting one for a Tampa Bay team that wants to compete in 2017.

Let’s take a deeper look at the Rays new Starting Pitcher.

Background

Jose De León was drafted in the 24th round (724th overall) of the 2013 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Southern University and A&M College. The Puerto Rican pitcher struggled with his first taste of pro ball as he stumbled out of the gate with a 6.96 ERA and 5.21 FIP during his first season, but would soon turn the corner as something nasty the following year.

In 2014, De León's conditioning improved which helped him generate more zip on his fastball. That along with development of his secondary pitches, namely his changeup, allowed him to dominate Rookie and A ball on his way to a 7-0 record 2.22 ERA and 2.26 FIP.

De León rolled through two more excellent minor league campaigns in 2015/2016 and has gone from an unknown, late-round pick to one of the best pitching prospects in baseball.

John Sickels of minorleagueball.com ranked De Leon as the 5th best prospect in his end of season list giving him an A grade. Over on the MLB Pipeline, they recently ranked him as the 8th best RHP prospect in the game.

"Pacific Coast League hitters were no match for De Leon last season, as he posted a 2.61 ERA with 111 strikeouts in 86 1/3 innings en route to a Major League debut with the Dodgers on Sept. 4. Allowing five homers in 17 big league innings skewed his numbers, but De Leon, 24, showed he could miss barrels with his plus fastball-changeup pairing while mixing in an average slider. Though he projects for plus control, De Leon will need to be more efficient at the highest level."

Minor League Stats

Jose De León Minor League Stats

Year League Games Started Innings K/9 BB/9 FIP
Year League Games Started Innings K/9 BB/9 FIP
2013 Rookie 13 53 9 3.57 5.21
2014 Rookie/A 12 77 13.91 2.45 2.26
2015 A+/AA 23 114.1 12.83 2.91 3.1
2016 AAA 16 86.1 11.57 2.08 3.24
Jose De Leon Minor League Stats

De León has consistently proved that he could keep the walks down and the strikeouts up in each level of the minor leagues, never failing to challenge hitters with his excellent fastball and changeup. More detail on his pitches will be on the site later today.

Overall, De León finished his minor league career with a 12.14 K/9 a 2.69 BB/9 and a 3.28 FIP over 330.2 innings, and his success in the minor leagues earned him a September call-up last season.

Role with the 2017 Rays

With De León already having dipped his feet in the majors by starting four games for the Dodgers last season, you can expect him to fill out the 5th slot of the Rays rotation by the end of 2017, and that he will compete for that role in Spring Training.

The Smyly trade created a vacancy in the 5th rotation spot that would have been taken by Chase Whitely, Erasmo Ramirez, or Matt Andriese, but the acquisition of a star prospect makes De León the favorite to now occupy that spot.

Even though De León struggled in his rather small sample of major league experience last season (due to five home runs that he gave up over seventeen innings of work) it would seem De León has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues, and should start the season at the MLB level if there are no rookie-contract considerations involved.