Thursday, July 19, 2012

Random Prospect of the Day - Joe Leonard

Time to get back to the offensive side of the Braves' prospects with the random number #82 under the offensive stats minor league page at baseball-reference to get today's choice...Joe Leonard.

I love using photos from the Hillcats mainly because that's the franchise I grew up around and plus...every other minor league affiliate uniform is the same. At least the green-and-gold is different.

Leonard is a big boy.  His minor-league profile has him at 6'5" and he looked it when I saw him frequently in Lynchburg last season.  A third-baseman, Leonard enters any discussion on Chipper Jones's future replacement by default, though Leonard has not provided the kind of pop Atlanta had to be hoping for after spending their third round selection of 2010 on him.  Leonard's father played briefly in organized ball in 1982 for the Bluefield Orioles as a teammate of Billy Ripkin.  John Leonard had this fun nugget.  He was drafted six times and twice by the O's before signing.  Back then, they had a secondary phase to the draft so that added up.  Still, Leonard only played three games with Bluefield in the Appy League. 

The younger Leonard went to the University of Pittsburgh after starring at a high school roughly 60 miles away from Pittsburgh.  At Pitt, Leonard quickly became a starter for the Panthers, starting all 52 games he played in.  He hit .335 with a .879 OPS as a freshman while striking out 40 times to 17 walks.  His sophomore season was pretty similar, though over a shorter amount of time (42 games).  Not sure if he was injured or the Panthers played less games for postseason/weather reasons.  He improved his K/BB rate to 23/12.

His junior season of 2010 was a bit more explosive as he batted .433 in 55 games, posting a ridiculous 1.151 OPS with new highs in every offensive category.  He was selected Big East Player of the Year, a second team All-American, and even closed down a team-high eight games for the Panthers.  After the Braves grabbed him with the 101st overall selection, six picks after Addison Reed was picked, Leonard held out until the end of June before signing on.  Of the top ten selections for Atlanta that year, he was the final one to sign.  Leonard could have returned to school, but a nearly $325,000 bonus gave him enough reason to become a Brave.

Once signed on, Leonard joined Danville for a brief ten-game run, but the Braves aggressively moved him up to Rome to finish 2010.  Overall, in 39 games between the two stops, Leonard hit .270 with a disappointing .310 OBP, but an encouraging .439 SLG.  He picked up 15 extra-base hits, four of which left the yard, but his K/BB ratio was 29/9.  Still, being that he turned 22 that August and didn't fall flat on his face, the Braves were going to keep pushing him along.

I saw Leonard often in 2011 as a member of the Hillcats.  I remember that he, along with Adam Milligan, often came to the plate to country music and because I hate country music, I never really liked to see them come up.  The results at the plate, at least for Leonard, were not what he had in mind.  He struggled to a .247 AVG, picked up a .311 OBP, and failed to slug .400.  Not what you expect from a corner infielder.  He finished third on the team with 27 doubles and fourth with 8 homers, but his experience in the Carolina League was hardly notable.  He did display some relative smoothness at third, which goes in line with the college scouting reports that he had the ability to be an above-average fielder. 

However, with Edward Salcedo coming to Lynchburg, Leonard had to move on and has shown more life in Mississippi this year.  He's hitting .272 with a .343 OBP, but his slugging is still lagging at just .402.  When you look at Leonard, you expect power and up to this point, he hasn't been able to show it.  He has homered in two of his last six games, but that only gives him six for the season.  Atlanta has tried to give him a couple of games at first to probably improve his versatility as well.

Overall, with Leonard, the next month-and-a-half is very important.  A rocking August could put him in the running to get a spring invite with a shot to impress next year.  With the failed Joey Terdoslavich as a 3B experiment behind us, Leonard becomes the most "ready" option in the minors to replace Chipper Jones.  He has the opportunity to become a player.  But first, he has a to cement himself as a legitimate prospect.  The Braves are patient, but if he gets lapped by Salcedo, Leonard's chances are slim to stake his claim to a roster spot in Atlanta.  He's got to establish himself before the 2014 spring training. 

Ultimately, it all comes down to Leonard's power.  If he can hit a few more out of the park, he becomes a viable option because he should hit for a good enough average, has shown improving plate discipline, and seems to be defensively adequate at worst.  But 10-15 homers from a 3B?  Don't think that will be enough. Though, the Walk-Off Walk bump was enough for his Mississippi teammate Luis Avilan.  Maybe it will give Leonard another five-to-seven moonshots this year. 

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