So what can Rays expect from Jose De Leon? Opinions vary

It depends whom you ask, but one thing is certain: The 24-year-old pitcher is on a mission.
Jose De Leon of the Oklahoma City Dodgers  sits in the dugout during a baseball game against the New Orleans Zephyrs at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Friday, July 22, 2016. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Jose De Leon of the Oklahoma City Dodgers sits in the dugout during a baseball game against the New Orleans Zephyrs at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark in Oklahoma City, Friday, July 22, 2016. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
Published January 28 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — In trading steady second baseman Logan Forsythe to the Dodgers, the Rays have a pretty good idea what they gave up.

Whether the deal turns out to be tremendous, terrible or in between ultimately will depend on what Jose De Leon, the premiere pitching prospect they got in return, turns into.

Initially "shocked" to be dealt on Monday, De Leon came up from his Puerto Rico home to meet his new Rays bosses and teammates this week, and said he was excited by what he heard and saw.

"I'm really happy," he said Thursday. "I know I'm going to have more opportunity, and I'm closer to home, so it's a win-win situation for me."

The Rays expect great things. General manager Erik Neander said De Leon, who made it to the majors in September (2-0, 6.35 in four starts), is very close to making "a significant impact" on their team and ticketed to be "a key member" of the rotation, though he could open the year at Triple-A Durham.

Opinions around the industry vary.

Prospect experts at mlbpipeline.com project De Leon, 24, as "a potential No. 2." Baseball America says he could be "a mid-rotation" starter. Ned Colletti, the Dodgers' former GM and current senior adviser, isn't quite that high on him.

"I wouldn't say top-of-the-rotation pitcher, but they certainly acquired a major-league starter," Colletti said on MLB's TuneIn Live, an online streaming service. "I think De Leon's ceiling is anywhere between a 3 to a 5, depending on his advancement, depending on how he adjusts, how he adapts. He's a solid young man, one of the nicest, toughest kids I know."

That attitude is a big part of the package De Leon brings, working from being a 24th-round pick signed out of Southern University for $35,000 into one of the game's top prospects, dropping 30 pounds and transforming his mechanics in the low minors and making an impressive rise.

But there are questions, starting with the health of his right shoulder, which sidelined for a month last season at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Another is why the Dodgers didn't call him up sooner, given a plethora of pitcher injuries. And another is why they traded him when insisting on keeping other prospects.

De Leon said there is no cause for concern. Though held back for a month due to reduced velocity in spring training last year, then after making a May 3 start being sidelined for another month, he returned to go 7-1, 2.77 with 102 strikeouts in 81⅓ innings and got called up.

"I don't think there is anything to worry about," he said. "I'm healthy. I'm in good shape. The arm is feeling great. And that's all that matters."

De Leon has a lot to feel good about.

"I'm on a mission," he said. "I was a low draft pick, nobody knew about me, nobody believed in me, so I'm on a mission to fulfill my dreams. Getting to the big leagues is just the beginning."

RAYS NOTES: Add Billy Butler and possibly Matt Wieters to the list of free agent hitters the Rays are considering. … A one-year deal with outfielder Colby Rasmus could be finalized today.

Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com. Follow @ TBTimes_Rays.

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