"I think this kid is going to play in the Major Leagues. He's an outstanding third baseman and he is starting to show his bat right now," Mississippi hitting coach Garey Ingram boasted.
Leonard has wasted no time in demonstrating his skills and natural ability on the field and at bat. Coach Ingram was already impressed by the talented third basemen before the two ever got to meet.
"I got a glimpse of Leonard during Instructional League last year. From that day that I saw him down there, he pretty much impressed me," Ingram sadded. He's now starting to figure out how to hit and what he's capable of doing."
Leonard has maintained a focus on his goal, which is to improve. Even in the early offseason, he had a plan.
"I did a strength and conditioning program which I feel that helped me out a lot and after that, I went home," Leonard said. "I continued working hard by hitting in the cages in January and continuing working out."
Leonard gave himself a hard goal last offseason, trying to gain weight and increase his speed and quickness.
"I put on some muscle," he said. "I gained about ten to fifteen pounds, while still trying to stay conditioned well and pretty fit. I worked out with some agility stuff to help me out as well."
Offensively, coach Ingram admits that Leonard struggled at the beginning of the season.
"He started off just a tad bit slow," Ingram said. "He's held his own, especially since this is his first year in Double-A coming from high-A ball last year.
"From what I saw at the beginning till now, there is a big difference. He's driving the ball more now; he's learning how to hit and he's got that long lanky body that can translate into home runs later."
While the bat has been slowly making progress, defensively there was never a struggle.
"Defensively, he is the best defensive player in the league that I've seen this year," Ingram said. "He's really instinctive over there; he reacts really well.
"He has enough range and he has a great arm at third base. He does it so easy too. Some people have to labor to play third, but he does it easily."
Just completing his second full minor league season, Leonard is continuing to learn the game and to learn more about himself.
"This year, I felt I learned lots of things. You know from 100 and something games I've played you learn a little bit every game, and I think that all of that is going to help me out in the long run," Leonard said.
He knows that he needs to focus on his all-around game, but especially his bat. So, he has been doing just that.
"As a hitter, I've working on my hitting. You know pulling the ball, working the ball the other way, staying through the baseball, and that is as far as hitting goes," he said. "In fielding, you still gotta take some ground balls and go through the fundamentals."
Coach Ingram is not worried about Leonard's batting at all. He understands that hitting is a long process.
"Hitting-wise, like I said it's just a process for this kid," Ingram said. "The sky's the limit for him. He's picking it up quicker than I anticipated, and he is showing that he can have competitive at-bats on a nightly basis."
Interestingly Ingram says that the major area of improvement for Leonard is not an aspect of his game, but a strengthening of ego.
"I joke with him a lot about this, but I really try to push him to show that he's the man," Ingram noted. "You know have some type of not being cocky, but having good confidence.
"I think that this kid has the qualities where he can become a leader on the field. He may not see it right now, but we do see it as a staff."
Leonard is definitely gaining some confidence in his swing now. He is getting good, solid hits on the ball on top of his coach boosting his confidence a little.
"I definitely think that my hitting has come around a lot," Leonard said. "I feel that I hit a lot of line drives and people catch them [chuckles], but that happens to everybody. I think I'm hitting the ball pretty well.
"I'm hitting it hard a lot. You know, I'm just taking it game to game and feeling good at each at-bat. I'm learning what pitchers are trying to do, you know. The experience is helping me out more like I said before, definitely."
Leonard is basically good to go. You can see the excitement on his coach's face when he talks about him.
"He's a Major League third basemen," Ingram said. "I think that power will come later as the strike zone gets smaller. He's going to get better pitches to swing at, which is going to translating into more home runs and driving the ball more.
"The sky's the limit for this kid! He's coachable, a hard worker, and he picks up on stuff and that's three ingredients that are hard to find."
Defensively he's a natural. At 6-foot-5 and with a slim but powerful physique, he looks just as athletic as a short quick player. Offensively, his improvement is inevitable.
Leonard simply works that hard and possesses the natural ability. He has his sights set on the Majors, and nobody is putting it past him.
"Hopefully I can make it to the Major Leagues. That's what everyone wants to do, you know. That right there would be good enough for me," Leonard concluded.
Leonard Inching His Way Closer
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