Name: Jorge De Leon
Signed: UDFA by Houston Astros 2006
On Thursday, the Oakland A’s made their first official 40-man roster transaction of the off-season, claiming Houston Astros’ right-hander Jorge De Leon off of waivers and releasing DH Adam Dunn outright. Dunn was eligible to file for free agency at the end of the World Series and he is expected to retire.
De Leon joins the A’s organization after nearly a decade in the Astros’ chain. The right-hander made his major-league debut with Houston in 2013 and has 19 career appearances at the big league level.
When De Leon signed with Houston in 2006, he was a strong-armed shortstop. He spent four seasons playing shortstop and reached as high as Low-A in the Houston chain, but by 2009, it was clear that De Leon wasn’t going to hit enough to move beyond that level. Blessed with plus arm strength, De Leon was asked to move to the mound, and he made a quick transition to his new position. In his first season as a pitcher, he was raw, but he opened a lot of eyes by hitting 98 MPH with his fastball.
Although his command was still spotty and his secondary pitches were in their early stages in terms of development, De Leon dominated the New York-Penn League during his first season as a pitcher. He allowed just two earned runs in 28 innings and he struck-out 29. De Leon was added to the Astros’ 40-man roster during the off-season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
In 2011, De Leon moved up to full-season ball and he spent the entire year pitching for the Low-A Lexington Legends. Serving primarily as the Legends’ closer, he saved 16 games and posted a 3.42 ERA in a career-high 55.1 innings pitched. De Leon struck-out 51, walked 13 and held opposing batters to a .225 average.
The next season De Leon made the jump to the launching pad that is the California League. He, like so many pitchers, struggled with the Lancaster Jet Hawks. The Astros tried him as a starter briefly mid-season and his command betrayed him in that role. He walked 30 in 57.1 innings as a starter and he had an 8.01 ERA. He only struck-out 32. As a reliever, he struck-out 28 and walked 14 in 30.1 innings, although his ERA was still 7.12. During that off-season, De Leon was outrighted off of the Astros’ 40-man roster and cleared waivers.
De Leon recovered from his rough 2012, however. In 2013, he began the year in Double-A and he posted a 4.27 ERA in 52.2 innings with the Corpus Christi Hooks. He only struck-out 36, but his command was much better, as his walk total dropped to 15. De Leon earned a promotion to Triple-A and he pitched very well for Oklahoma City, allowing just a run in 15 innings. He struck-out 12, walked two and held PCL batters to a .151 average. After five appearances with the Red Hawks, De Leon received his first promotion to the big leagues. He made two appearances with the Astros before he was sent back to Triple-A to finish out the minor league season. He was then a September call-up for the Astros. All told, De Leon made 11 appearances for the Astros in 2013. He allowed six earned runs and had a 6:7 K:BB in 10 innings.
After the season, De Leon was dropped from the Astros’ 40-man roster, but he once again cleared waivers and remained in the organization. He was a non-roster invitee to Houston’s spring training this year, but a quad injury cost him some time early in camp. He didn’t make the team out of spring training and was sent to Double-A to start the year. De Leon earned a promotion to Triple-A after posting a 3.92 ERA and an 18:7 K:BB in 20.2 innings.
De Leon spent the rest of the 2014 minor league regular season with the Red Hawks. In 48 innings, he had a 2.63 ERA and a 43:16 K:BB. PCL batters hit .258 against him. He had significant reverse splits with OKC, holding left-handers to a .232 BAA. Right-handers hit .281 against him. His walk rate was higher versus lefties, however. He has an aggressive delivery that offers a little deception, but he sometimes has trouble repeating it.
When rosters expanded in September, the Astros purchased De Leon’s contract and he spent the rest of the season with Houston. He appeared in eight games with the Astros, allowing four runs in 7.1 innings. Three of those runs came in a poor outing against the Los Angeles Angels, when he lasted just a third of an inning.
De Leon’s calling card as a pitcher is his fastball, which sits in the mid-90s and can touch 97. He throws a variety of secondary pitches (slider, cutter and change-up), but all of them are inconsistent. The slider is the best of the three.
At 6’0’’, 185, De Leon is slight of frame, although he has been durable since his conversion to the mound. He has been a flyball pitcher throughout his career, although he has done a good job of not allowing homeruns (with the exception of his time in Double-A). Despite his velocity, De Leon isn’t a strike-out pitcher, having struck-out 249 in 307.1 innings over his career.
De Leon will be 27 for most of the 2015 season, although his arm has significantly less mileage on it than most pitchers his age.
Assuming De Leon remains on the A’s 40-man roster throughout the off-season, he will give the organization some depth at the Triple-A level if he doesn’t make the A’s bullpen out of spring training. There is a chance the A’s could try him in the starting rotation again, but more than likely they will have him focus on improving his consistency in short-inning outings.