2017 was a tumultuous year for Jose De Leon, but that’s really underselling how much the former top-25 ranked prospect had to go through during his first season with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Acquired in January of 2017 for 2B Logan Forsythe (a crowd favorite in Tampa Bay), De Leon had a lot of expectations when he arrived in camp. However, early on, he would be told that he would not be making the team’s Opening Day roster and chose to join Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, having been born on the island.
Once the World Baseball Classic wrapped up, De Leon reported back to the Rays and arrived eventually hit the DL with an injury, a right forearm strain. He would be optioned to the Durham Bulls and the Rays progressed him slowly back to health, activating him in mid-May. He would make his Rays debut on May 29th against the Rangers in a relief appearance, allowing three runs on four hits in over two innings of work.
He would promptly be optioned right back down to Triple-A, where the injury bug once again nipped at De Leon. This time it was his back flaring up, he would be again placed on the disabled list and spent another month on the shelf before returning in July. De Leon would be activated for a month, before being shutdown in August with elbow tendinitis. De Leon would need the off season to see full fitness.
Meanwhile, De Leon’s homeland of Puerto Rico had been devastated by Hurricane Maria, with most of the island having lost power and many inhabitants becoming homeless. De Leon has been doing whatever he can to provide aide to those affected by the storm while training with a renewed spirit.
During the off-season, De Leon participated in numerous charitable endeavors to help support the people of Puerto Rico, joining in with World Central Kitchen to help provide meals to the hungry as well as personally delivering much needed supplies to those in need all over the island.
Having gone through a horrid 2017 due to his experiences as a professional baseball player and then the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the toll it took on his friends and family, De Leon wanted to put 2017 behind him.
“Every athlete, they go through some period in their career with a low. Last year definitely was my lowest one. I struggled the whole year, mentally, with my health.” - Jose De Leon
So, Jose De Leon went to back to his former trainer, Edgar Diaz (also the trainer of Hall of Fame catcher, Ivan Rodriguez), shedding weight, and subsequently De Leon feels a difference with the way the ball is leaving his hand.
The difference has caught the attention of the Rays brass as they raved about his off-season transformation during their spring training opening press conference.
“You can see that he’s changed his physique in some really positive ways. Work ethic has been tremendous. The way the ball’s coming out of his hand, I don’t know if we saw that too many times last year.” - Kevin Cash
The Rays underwent an off-season of change themselves, as their coaching staff is vastly different, both in the majors and in Triple-A. They promoted Kyle Snyder from Durham and replaced him with Rick Knapp, a man who is very familiar with Jose De Leon, having worked together when the two were with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Having a guy that’s seen me grow, he definitely knows me well. Having a guy like him around the organization, it’s a comforting thing.” - Jose De Leon
Neil Solondz spoke with De Leon on the situation in Purto Rico, as well as De Leon’s aspirations for the upcoming season, and what he gained from the 2017 season. Its a worthwhile listen:
De Leon is just getting started.
Heading into the 2018 season, De Leon is a prospect that fans could easily forget about due to his poor 2017 showing. De Leon will likely start the year in Durham in their starting rotation, but with the Rays, you never really know what they’ll attempt to do with their pitching prospects.
De Leon could still try and make it as a starting pitcher, or the Rays could convert him over to the bullpen and use him as a strong multi inning arm that Kevin Cash can use to significantly shorten ballgames, as they did last year with Austin Pruitt.
De Leon is still just 25 years old and is only a year removed from being one of the top 30 prospects in all of baseball, there is still plenty of time left for him to make his mark in Tampa Bay.