The Cincinnati Reds are making moves today. Of course, so is everyone else. The 8PM deadline to protect players from the upcoming Rule 5 draft is now past us and every team except Seattle added some prospects to their 40-man roster. The Reds added four players – and you can read more about them all here. That left the roster at 39 players, and the Reds 11th rated prospect, TJ Friedl, wasn’t added. We now know why. The Reds were working on a trade, acquiring José De León from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for cash and a player to be named later.
Right-handed pitching Jose De Leon has spent parts of three seasons in the Major Leagues. But he’s also only thrown a grand total of 23.2 innings in the big leagues from 2016-2019. He did not pitch in the the 2018 season – missing the entire season after having Tommy John surgery in spring training.
This past season he spent most of the year in the minor leagues. He began a short rehab assignment in the Advanced-A Florida State League where he made two appearances with the Charlotte Stone Crabs in early May. He then moved up to Triple-A, joining Durham. The Rays used him as a starting pitcher in all but two of his appearances of the next three months, but limited his pitch count in a big way. He only topped 60 pitches six times, and only topped 75 pitches once. He joined the Rays for one outing in mid-August, pitching out of the bullpen for 2.0 innings, before returning to Triple-A. De Leon wouldn’t be back there for long, making two Triple-A appearances before returning to the Majors. That again, though, was a 1-game appearances before heading back to Triple-A. On September 1st he made his last minor league appearance of the year. In September he joined Tampa Bay, but only pitched in one game – on the final day of the year against Toronto.
In Triple-A he posted a 3.51 ERA in 17 games that spanned 51.1 innings pitched. He allowed just 41 hits, walked 27 batters, and he struck out 73. In his 4.0 innings with the Rays he allowed one earned run, walked three (one intentionally), and he struck out seven.
Prior to his Tommy John surgery he was among the best prospects in baseball – rating out in the top 30 and 40 prospects in the game the two seasons prior. But he hasn’t quite returned to form. Now 27-years-old (he turned 27 in August) doesn’t throw as hard as he used to – but he is throwing harder than he was before his injury with the Rays in 2018.
The Rays needed to clear a spot on their 40-man roster. The Reds decided to take a flyer on a former top prospect who at one time had two plus pitches to work with. Their hope seems to be that they can get his stuff back to where it was and turn a buy-low pitcher into a strong contributor. Whether that’s going to be out of the bullpen, or perhaps giving him a shot at the #5 spot next spring is still unknown.
Over at RedsMinorLeagues.com there’s a full background history and scouting report on Jose De Leon after spending a few hours watching video of him pitch last year.