57. Leandro Linares – Right-handed Pitcher
Born: 01/27/1994 – Height: 6’3” – Weight: 205 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Linares was signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent out of Cuba in July 2013 for $950,000. With Cuba he gained a lot of experience pitching in leagues and on the international stage pitching with the 16U Cuban National team in Chinese Taipei in 2009, pitched in Lagos de Moreno, Mexico for the 17U Cuba team in 2010 and pitched in Cuba’s 18U national league in 2012 where he compiled a 1.91 ERA (66.0 IP, 46 BB, 76 K).
Stuff: Linares combines good size and strength with some good arm strength to bring some nice impact potential from the right side. He features a plus two-seam fastball that comfortably sits at 91-93 MPH and flashes 94-95 MPH, and really shows some good, natural movement and action to the bottom of the zone. He mixes in three different secondary offerings, but his average mid-70s curveball is by far the best of the bunch because of its plus potential with the good depth it has and the amount of swing of miss he gets with it. He also throws a below average changeup and developing slutter (slider-cutter hybrid), but both are inconsistent offerings that he is working to develop more feel for, improved depth and better shape.
Delivery & Intangibles: Linares has a good, strong frame and still has some projection to it to add more weight and strength as he continues to mature. He has good, clean arm action and has a simple delivery that he is working to refine and do a better job of repeating. Major League teams know very little about the intangibles of Cuban players such as their makeup, work ethic, intelligence, toughness and so on until they come stateside for the first time, which is the result of a poor scouting system in their country. While the Indians discovered some makeup and work ethic concerns early in his pro debut, he has since done a good job over the last year-plus to address and alleviate those concerns.
Focus: The biggest problem Linares has had in his three years as a pro is throwing strikes. He has been a poor strike thrower which has not only impacted his ability to get ahead of hitters and put forward consistent outings, but it has also limited his ability to effectively use his good curveball and work on developing his changeup and slutter. The Indians worked with him last season to make corrections to his delivery by being more in sync with his lower half and also refining his command so his plus stuff showed more consistently. They challenged him to work to slow the game down more and become more mentally strong when things behind him did not go well or he didn’t get a call he thinks he should have gotten. The work with his delivery, command and mental approach helped improve his focus and confidence, which in turn resulted in a lot more consistency in his outings and pure dominance in several of them. The Indians want to see him continue that foundation he built last year and work to get better not just with his consistency from outing to outing, but from batter to batter and from pitch to pitch – something they believe can be accomplished if he commits to his routines and learns to trust the process. Mechanically, they would like to see him refine his arm slot and release point which should allow for more consistent command.
Future: Up until last season, Linares was a big disappointment in the system. He hit rock bottom in 2015 when he performed very poorly and just couldn’t find the strike zone as he had 13 more walks than strikeouts and averaged a walk an inning. That all changed big time last year as things finally started to click from a stuff, mechanics and strength standpoint which saw the return of his command, power and sharpness to his stuff, and the result was a big year that saw him improve significantly in hits allowed (8.2 H/9 in 2015 to 5.2 H/9 in 2016), home runs allowed (0.6 HR9 to 0.0 HR/9), walks allowed (9.0 BB/9 to 2.4 BB/9) and strikeouts (6.3 K/9 to 11.1 K/9). One of the big keys to that improvement was a move to the bullpen which allowed him to keep things simple and just let his stuff play - though starting is something the Indians will still continue to consider. He has always shown the ability in bullpen sessions and in controlled settings, even when he struggled in games in 2014 and 2015, so it was nice to see it translate into live settings last season which helped him take that step forward. The Indians really got down and dirty with him last season by having him open the year in extended spring training to attack his delivery, command and mental approach on the mound, and it ultimately paid off with a great showing at three different stops in the Single-A circuit. He no doubt has the pedigree as a former high level Cuban prospect the Indians signed for big money who has some interesting stuff, so he will continue to get opportunities. That said, he only pitched half a season last year and only two games of them were above the Low-A level, so the jury is still out on whether he is back on track or not. He should get a chance to really solidify his standing as a top pen prospect for the Indians this year and should open the season in the bullpen at High-A Lynchburg.
Ranking History: #84 (2016), #38 (2015)