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Jose De Leon: Starter or reliever?

A roundtable discussion on the once famed Rays prospect.

2017 World Baseball Classic Pool F: Game 5 -  Puerto Rico v. Venezuela

Last offseason the Rays acquired Top-100 prospect right-handed pitcher Jose De Leon from the Dodgers in a one-for-one swap for second baseman Logan Forsythe.

De Leon had an inconsistent camp in 2017, and eventually requested an early exit to compete in the World Baseball Classic, and who could blame him? Puerto Rico were darlings in the tournament, and were the eventual runner-ups to Team USA. Their bleached hair and buoyant personalities made the tournament fun.

Unfortunately, De Leon left camp on odd footing, and returned to injury (right flexor tendon). After some rehab, he made only one appearance for the Rays in late May (2.2 IP but credited with the win) before succumbing to a right lat strain in Triple-A (a recurring injury from 2016). By all accounts, De Leon made the right call in not pitching through injury and had the right mentality.

De Leon did not return in 2017 due to a re-aggravation of his right flexor, but is thankfully back in camp after what was reportedly a healthy offseason.

Formerly ranked as high as No. 23 on Baseball America’s list, De Leon is unheralded entering the 2018 season, despite three pitches that grade 50 or higher (FB-60, SL-50, CH-65) and a solid statistical projection.

What do the Rays have in Jose De Leon?


Mat Germain: If healthy, De Leon gets a spot on this roster, right?

JT Morgan: No idea.

Bradley Neveu: That’s a good Q, easy to forget about him. He needs to build back up in Triple-A IMO though

JT Morgan: I don’t think either plan is bad.

Mat Germain:Theoretically between Hu, Andriese, Pruitt, De Leon - two or three are 2-inning RP

JT Morgan: Compare that to a free agent signing like Norris, who is going to be given a chance to start too. That’s a little weird.

Ya, either way a lot of guys are going to be used. There will be a lot of shuttle usage to keep them fresh.

Bradley Neveu: JDL got 29 official innings last year total, at all levels. He needs work. I’d like to know how he looks in ST

Mat Germain: Spring is a lot of work though, but I get what you mean

Bradley Neveu: If he’s back and in shape maybe he has a shot

JT Morgan: That’s the argument why they could use him in the pen. If he didn’t have the low workload season I don’t think it would even be a question that he would still be tried in the rotation.

I think rotation is still the likelier of the two options they chose to start the season. Next year they’ll have to make the choice for good though based on this year’s health.

Bradley Neveu: 3 above average pitches with above average command is definitely good enough for the rotation if the stamina is there. But those grades are old. He did not have 3 average or above pitches last year due to injury.

JT Morgan: It’s hard to tell off those. The velocities were low. He looked good in the WBC, but after that it’s really hard to tell.

Bradley Neveu: If he’s back in shape and velo is back up, I think he has a good shot at a rotation spot

If it’s the same as last year, I think he goes to Triple-A.

JT Morgan: Unless there’s something seriously wrong, which might be the case, I’d have to believe the pitches are still there.

The big thing being if the pitches aren’t there and he’s injured to the point it’ll majorly affect his career I don’t think going to the bullpen will save it.

If he’s in the bullpen I think it’s because he just never was healthy enough to build innings up and not because of injuries sapping his stuff.

This year I don’t expect them to need him in the pen. Things can always change.

Mat Germain: De Leon is a reliever now — I’m 100% on board and fine with that

With the price of relievers nowadays and effectiveness he could have as a 2 inning guy, it’s worth it for Rays who have a ton of talent to go through

JT Morgan: I think it’s a possible outcome but don’t think it’s the plan this year and definitely not to start the year.

Victor Akintola: The Rays haven’t shown any indication of giving up on him. I’d put Schultz, Hu or one of the minor league signings in the pen before de Leon.

Mat Germain: It could take 2-3 yrs to get him back to right innings. He’d be gone by then, it makes 0 sense to start him

Tampa Bay Rays v Texas Rangers
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 29: Jose De Leon of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Texas Rangers during the sixth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on May 29, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. The Rays won 10-8.
Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

JT Morgan: It wouldn’t take that long. I think it’s a possible outcome, but I really don’t think it really happens until the Rays don’t have a choice like with Colome.

Especially with the guys they have in front of the line out of the pen in Castillo, Stanek, Alvarado, and Schultz he’s not next guy up for a while.

Victor Akintola: I’d like to keep his starting option open since Archer could be traded after 2018 and De Leon has way more upside than Yarborough, Andriese, Pruitt, Eovaldi or Chirinos as a starter.

Mat Germain: Completely disagree

Victor Akintola: Not sure how you can disagree there. De Leon was a top 100 prospect who only fell because of injuries. The other guys are organizational depth or swing guys.

Mat Germain: Who had Pruitt getting anywhere near rotation last yr?

JT Morgan: Injuries happen.

It’s not impossible. It’s why they also are going to keep him as a starter.

I’m not entirely sure that’s the right move, but it’s the way I expect it to happen.

Mat Germain: You can’t have 15 guys starting between MLB and AAA

JT Morgan: I get that, but he’s also about the 7th best if healthy.

Mat Germain: Guys are going to the pen, and just like we didn’t understand Hu last yr, I think De Leon heads to pen

Victor Akintola: Archer/Snell/Faria/Andriese/Eovaldi in MLB and Honeywell/De Leon/Yarby/Chirinos/Pruitt in AAA

JT Morgan: So he’s towards the top of the pack.

I think the argument would be much stronger if they didn’t have a bunch of relievers they like that are likely to be up and down at the start.

Victor Akintola: There’s less room in the pen than the two rotations.

Adam Sanford: I’m very down on Jose De Leon after three minor league DL trips, but he belongs in the rotation.

Yeah, he could be dominant in the pen, but what’s more valuable? 2 IP reliever or solid #3 starter?

Mat Germain: If he and Eovaldi are in rotation this yr, mark my words both are DL bound

JT Morgan: Betting on pitchers with injury histories getting injured?

Putting in the pen doesn’t protect them from injury though.

Mat Germain: It does

Adam Sanford: De Leon probably goes the Alex Colome path then?

Mat Germain: Morrow heads to pen, wow he’s lights out — And healthy

JT Morgan: It works for some. He could have miraculously stayed healthy in the rotation.

Victor Akintola: Morrow’s still an injury risk.

Danny Russell: I tell you what, us talking about Jose De Leon pitching at all is nice right now.

JT Morgan: Ya I think that’s a real possibility Danny.

Mat Germain: What’s best for the Rays and for 2018 and beyond. If you burn those two assets and get nothing for them as a result, it’s a waste. With Eovaldi and De Leon in the pen, Rays could be lights out 2 innings at a time which takes them to Jennings, Stanek and Colome (if still there)

Victor Akintola: I agree on Eovaldi.

JT Morgan: If it gets serious, where De Leon’s stuff is gone (like with the velo reports from his last couple appearances) the bullpen isn’t going to save him.

He has to be healthy to do either.

Mat Germain: It can help keep him healthy by limiting his workload, and it’s his change that make’s him potent

JT Morgan: If he’s throwing 85 it doesn’t matter what he does he’s toast. His last two times out reports had him at 85-87.

Mat Germain: The guy had plasma injections and shouldn’t have even been back at all. Assuming he’s back to st least 92, he can use his change to make it work. His change up is that good

JT Morgan: This is also why I don’t really have plans for him in 2018.

Victor Akintola: You can keep trying him as a starter and move him to the pen later.

Mat Germain: Why? You know his shoulder is shot.

Victor Akintola: He has upside and there’s more potential space in the rotation than the bullpen.

Mat Germain: Why try to load 5 innings in it? It’s like beating a dead horse. Take the 2 innings every 2nd or 3rd night and be happy. He’s way better than Kitteredge

Victor Akintola: If his shoulder is that bad he probably won’t be pitching at all.

JT Morgan: There is no way that 2 innings twice a week is less stress than 5 innings as a starter.

Mat Germain: You have a guy with a 65 change up. He doesn’t need to throw 95 to be effective.

Likewise, Eovaldi is being set up to fail in the rotation.

Darby Robinson: Eovaldi being the 5th starter and expected to try for around 160 innings isn’t exactly a high stress bar for him to reach

One thing I would hate for Eovaldi is being thrown into high leverage relief. That would seem to be way more stressful, and potentially worse on his arm since he’s never done that. Relief is tough since you never know when you are going to pitch

JT Morgan: You can control innings and have predictable wear in the rotation. Both are things humans shouldn’t do if they want to stay healthy.

Darby Robinson: He could go multiple times a week, or could go once a week. He could warm up, and then have to sit down.

JT Morgan: I wouldn’t bet that he hits 160 innings, but I think it has a similar outcome of him staying healthy a full season in the bullpen.

Darby Robinson: I’m much more intrigued by the idea of JDL as a reliever

I still want one more shot as a starter, but I’m pretty low on JDL so any which way the team wants to take him, I’m game.

Eovaldi though, and not to be cruel, is a 1 year rental right now and I want to get the best out of him regardless of his future health. I think starting as a 5 inning or so 5th starter is a nice outcome

JT Morgan: Ya I think it’s definitely a possible outcome. I think they are more likely to go down the Colome path and wait until they have no other choice.

Darby Robinson: Which is smart. It felt similar with Colome, but more than it does with JDL. Some exciting stuff, but low expectations to start.

JT Morgan: If there was a clear opening in the bullpen I’d probably feel differently. If that opening appears you can always go that route mid-season.

Previously from Mat Germain - Rays 2018 Closer Candidate: Jose De Leon


That’s what our writing staff had to say. What say you?


What role should Jose de Leon play in camp this spring?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Continue developing as a Starter
    (101 votes)
  • 22%
    Transition to Reliever
    (29 votes)
130 votes total Vote Now