Cincinnati Reds: Healthy De Leon could be hidden treasure for pitching staff

Cincinnati Reds’ Jose De Leon throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

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Cincinnati Reds’ Jose De Leon throws during the first inning of a spring training baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Jose De Leon was more upbeat than a pitcher that gave up two runs in 2/3 of an inning in a spring training game should be, but he felt healthy for the first time in a long time.

Hidden among the flashy offseason acquisitions the Reds spent $165 million to obtain, De Leon’s could be the most profitable. The Reds gave the Tampa Bay Rays cash and a player to be named later to acquire the 27-year old right-hander, who was once a top prospect with the Dodgers and Rays.

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The Dodgers drafted De Leon in the 24th round in 2013. Along with honors such as Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year, California League All-Star and being named the player with best change-up in the Texas League are stretches on the injured list every year from 2015. “Tommy John” surgery kept De Leon out all of 2018.

De Leon made two starts with the Dodgers in 2016 and won both games. The talent was there but the health was missing. The Rays traded for De Leon before the 2017 season. He won in his only appearance that season then it took him 806 days to pitch again in the majors. He made three appearances last season and went 1-0.

What did the Reds see in De Leon?

“He is a former top prospect who has a chance to provide pitching depth,” general manager Nick Krall said. “He has a good fastball, a good change-up. We had a chance to get him here for depth whether as a starter or reliever.”

The Reds gave up little for a pitcher who has an injury history similar to Anthony DeSclafani. The Reds want to take a good look at De Leon this spring.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys in that group,” Krall said. “We’ve got Mark Payton (Rule 5 outfielder), Jose, Justin Shafer (RHP) who was a waiver claim and non-roster guys as well. Last year we had two non-roster guys make the club and add positive value in Derek (Dietrich) and Jose Iglesias. Who knows what happens every year in camp.”

De Leon is on the 40-man roster but has options left. He will be under team control through 2025.

Reds manager David Bell pitched De Leon against a Los Angeles Angels lineup on Tuesday that featured Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, Albert Pujols and Anthony Rendon.

“…I was hoping they would be in the lineup,” said De Leon, who is scheduled to pitch against the A’s on Friday. “If you want to prove yourself, you’ve got to prove yourself against the best. It wasn’t the best outing but I was able to get some swing and misses. I got a swing and miss against Trout with a fastball. That is something I will remember forever.”

De Leon gave up two runs, two hits and walked a batter in the 2/3 of an inning vs. the Angels.

“My arm feels amazing. … I just couldn’t execute the elevated fastball to put away guys,” he said. “This is absolutely the best I’ve felt. I’ve never felt like this before. … The confidence I have in my arm now that I know it’s healthy. I didn’t have that last year even though I was feeling good. It was the first year after surgery and I was hesitant to whip it and throw it with max effort. This outing I was throwing max effort. I didn’t feel anything at all. That’s what I’m taking from this outing.”

De Leon relies on his fastball and change up combination and is working on a slider with pitching coach Derek Johnson. He used it against the Angels with good results. Now the Reds are looking at how he will fit.

“He has good stuff,” Bell said. “We want to see him more. He has talent and is a really good kid. We’re happy to have him.”

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