Baserunners Alert! Leach Is On The Mound

The fine art of picking off runners is something every pitcher works to master and very few do. It's a statistic that is kept in obscurity and one that often winds up in box scores as a "caught stealing". So, a quiz asking who led the minor leagues in this department last year is probably unfair but let's ask it anyway.

The answer is Dodger Brent Leach, who knocked off 22 runners that way in 2006 which seems an almost phenomenal total. He's so good at it that Glenn Dishman, his pitching coach at Vero Beach quipped, "When a tough hitter is coming up late in the game, we'll put Leach in to walk him, then pick him off."

That's not the only thing this lefthander is accomplished in, either. He throws a fast ball in the low 90's and his slurve has a wicked late break that tends to befuddle batters. In all, he's a player that has been attracting favorable notices ever since he came on the scene.

He's also someone that already has had Tommy John surgery which occurred during his early college days at Southern Mississippi. After the operation he sat out a year, then transferred to Delta State where he was very effective in relief.

He was also a draft-eligible sophomore so his coach tried to keep him around for at least one more year by telling scouts he was a bit of a discipline problem. That wasn't at all true so the Dodgers drafted him in the sixth round in 2005 just ahead of the Pirates, who were also planning to take him.

They made him a starter at Ogden where he proceeded to lead the Pioneer League in ERA with a 2.43 mark. He was also in the rotation at Columbus last year and doing quite well (4-2, 3.27) so was brought up to Vero. By then, they felt his future might be in relief so switched him back to the bullpen.

Whereupon another physical problem popped up. It seems Leach suffers from a rare affliction that causes his palms to sweat excessively. For the ordinary person, this might be something of an annoyance but for a pitchers it can be a serious dilemma for the ball was slipping out his hand as he let it go to fly in directions other than intended.

He had to be shut down awhile, then take medication which seems to have kept matters under control.

This year, he's in the bullpen for Inland Empire where he may get some chances to close to see how he fares in that area. He's begun the year in his usual style, it should be noted. He came in to hold a game and promptly used his "A" move to nail another runner.

So California League baserunners had better beware. Getting to first against him is tough enough. Once there, their troubles are only beginning.