On December 9th, 2012 the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals made headlines as the Rays dealt longtime ace, James Shields, to the Royals in exchange for Wil Myers, one of the top prospects in all of baseball. There were five other players involved in the blockbuster: Jake Odorizzi, Wade Davis, Elliot Johnson, Mike Montgomery...and Patrick Leonard.
Leonard, then just 20, was the youngest player involved in the deal. He had battered the Appalachian League that season in Rookie Ball as he homered 14 times in just 62 games, putting up a 127 wRC+ during his first professional season.
After a sluggish beginning to his Rays career, Leonard has done nothing but hit over the past three seasons, rising through the Rays system with little fanfare. He received a promotion to Triple-A last season, but faltered and was ultimately sent back to Montgomery.
Now in 2017, he is tearing the cover off the ball in Durham as he is making his case join the Rays in the majors.
So far through 27 games this season, Leonard has slashed .394/.450/.569 with 3 HR and a 193 wRC+. He is sporting a ridiculously high BABIP (.476) which will come down eventually, the now 24 year old is just raking.
He’s spreading the ball all over the field, actually going the opposite way over 40% of the time. He is hitting line drives over 34% of the time and Leonard is also striking out at the lowest clip of his career thus far (18.3%).
In 2016, in a bid to increase his versatility, the Rays moved Leonard to the outfield and also had him split time between first and third base. Once he received his demotion to Montgomery, he was told that he’d stick at third base, he had a 138 wRC+ to finish out the year once he went fulltime to third base.
Earlier in the season, Shawn Krest had an article in the North State Journal in which Leonard and Durham Bulls Manager, Jared Sandberg, discuss Leonard’s success this season.
“I think I played about an equal number of games at third, first, left field and right. I don’t want to blame that for what I was doing wrong last year, but I like third. That definitely helps take the pressure off, because I’d never played outfield before. I’m not thinking about what I have to do out there. I’m familiar with third.” - Patrick Leonard
Sandberg certainly attributes Leonard’s success to his being more comfortable
“When you’re comfortable with your defensive position, it helps. Last year, he moved around so much. It’s just hard for a young player to do that. He’s comfortable paying third. He’s working good at bats. He’s hitting with two strikes. He’s driving the ball all over the field.”
“I’ll say it every night, he was my pick to click before the season started.” - Jared Sandberg
Patrick Leonard is still just 24 years old and may be close to mashing his way into the big leagues.