April 11, 2010

Ten Things About Mike Leake and His Jump to the Majors

Heading into the 2010 season, many baseball analysts and writers seemed to be split as to which hotshot National League rookie will be taking home the Rookie of the Year award following this season.

And why wouldn’t they be?

In our nation’s capital, Stephen Strasburg has the makings of being every bit as impactful in his inaugural season for the Nationals as Fernando Valenzuela was when he made the Dodgers starting rotation in 1981 or “Doc” Gooden was three seasons later for the Mets.

Down in Atlanta, Jason Heyward became, with one swing of the bat, just the 104th Major Leaguer since 1895 to go yard in his first career plate appearance.

One guy who wasn’t in any discussions was Reds starting pitcher Mike Leake, and dude was on the cusp of doing something that neither Strasburg nor Heyward could accomplish…beginning his career on a Major League roster.

When he took the mound against the Chicago Cubs Sunday, the 22 year-old righty became the first starting pitcher to leapfrog the Minors since Jim Abbott did it in 1988 for the Angels.

Here is some more stuff you might not have known about skipping the Minors and starting your career in the show.

$2,900,000
After being selected eighth overall by Cincinnati in last year’s draft…Arizona State’s Mike Leake received a $2.9 million signing bonus. By comparison, the top pick, Stephen Strasburg, received a $7.5 million dollar bonus by putting his John Hancock on the dotted line for Washington.

2000
Do you remember where you were September 30, 2000? Maybe you were bumping around town listening to “Minority” by Green Day. Perhaps you were waiting in line to purchase tickets for “Remember the Titans.” Me? I was at the theatre enjoying “Best in Show”. True story. But if you were Xavier Nady of the Pittsburgh Pirates, you were making your Major League debut and, in turn, becoming the last guy to jump the Minors until Mike Leake accomplished the feat.

84
Since 1915, 84 players have made the jump to the Major Leagues without stopping over in the Minors. However, since 1965 (the last year of the “Bonus Baby”...more on that next) only 22 guys have made the leap.

57
Of the aforementioned 84 who made the jump straight to the Majors, 57 were deemed “Bonus Babies”. A “Bonus Baby” was the group of amateur baseball players who went straight to the Major Leagues between the years 1947-1965. In accordance with the Bonus Rule, any amateur player who had received more than $4,000 in bonuses, entered into a contract. These players' teams were required to keep them on the 40-man roster for a full season, preventing the player from spending time in the Minors. Notable “Bonus Babies” include Hall of Famers Al Kaline, Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax and Jim “Catfish” Hunter. In 1965…Major League Baseball instituted the draft.

39
It should be no surprise that the position that has the most players to skip the Minors is pitcher. On Sunday, Mike Leake became the 39th pitcher to make the jump and the first since Ariel Prieto did it in 1995 for the Oakland A’s.

12
And speaking of the A’s (intentional segue!)…when they sent pitcher Mike Morgan to the hill in 1978 for him to make his debut, it marked the first of 12 teams for the righty. And you guessed it, those 12 teams makes Morgan the most-traveled of all players that made the jump straight to the Majors.

8
While it is far too soon to determine if Mike Leake is more Mike Morgan than Sandy Koufax, one thing is certain…only eight of the players that skipped the Minors have found themselves in Cooperstown. The four “Bonus Babies” (Kaline, Killebrew, Koufax and Hunter), George Sisler, Mel Ott, Bob Feller and Dave Winfield.

7
Mike Leake became just the seventh member of the Cincinnati Reds to make the jump straight to the Majors. Other teams that have had a slew of players skip the Minors, the Pittsburgh leads all with nine call-ups…Baltimore has eight.

3
Over the last 50 years, Arizona State has produced the most players to make the jump from college to the pros…three (Eddie Bane, Bob Horner and Mike Leake). Of the three, third baseman Horner is also in an elite group among sluggers. In July 1986 (a full 16 months before Leake was born), Horner became just the eleventh player in Major League history to slug four home runs in a single game.

∞ (infinity)
In what was probably the worst pitching debut of any pitcher to have skipped the Minors, Jerry Walker failed to get an out in his inaugural outing. Walker, fittingly, walked the first two batters he faced back on July 6, 1957. The third, he greeted with a wild pitch and subsequently, he was then yanked. Unfortunately both batters he walked ended up circling the bases and left Walker with an ERA of infinity.

Mike Leake faired much better.

In six and two-thirds innings of work, the young righty gave up only one run on four hits good for a 1.35 ERA. He did channel Walker by walking seven, but he also struck out five. Leake also added two hits to become the first Reds pitcher to produce two hits in his debut since Benny Frey on Sept. 18, 1929.


Cincinnati beat Chicago 3-1.



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