Name: Wade LeBlanc
DOB: August 7, 1984
The southpaw was taken in the second round of the 2006 MLB Draft out of Alabama, following a successful career for the Tide that resulted in him notching the all-time strikeout record in club annals.
He went to work in the Northwest League, his first taste of professional baseball but he didn't last there long.
It took seven games and 21 innings for LeBlanc to be promoted from the Eugene Emeralds. The southpaw proved to be a valuable asset down the stretch for the Low-A Wizards, claiming the title as the only pitcher on the Fort Wayne club to win a playoff game.
"Fastball, curveball, changeup keeps hitters off-balance," Padres scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "Athletic, nice body. Arm works well. A delivery we feel we can work with. He looks like a kid that might be able to move fairly fast through our system."
After a shaky start in Eugene – one where he regained a comfort level on the mound after allowing six runs in his first six innings – LeBlanc settled in and allowed four runs over his next 15 frames.
In Fort Wayne, LeBlanc allowed two runs or less in all but one of his seven regular season outings to end the year with a 4-1 mark and a 2.20 ERA.
"Wade came in and threw strikes, pitched off his fastball," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready explained. "Pitchability and location and command are nice things, changes speeds, and he has a couple of different changeups. That is a plus pitch for him. When he keeps the ball down he is very effective."
The Louisiana native was hittable at times during the year and struggled with retiring the leadoff hitter. That is not something he would like to carry forward, despite his success with runners in scoring position.
It was, however, his consistency out of the stretch that allowed him to keep the run total to a minimum. His release point wasn't as erratic and he was able to get on top of his pitches better than from the windup.
He also shows two different and distinct leg kicks with a man on first. He uses his high leg kick and mixes in a slide-step to throw off a potential basestealers timing. The problem is his slide-step often hints that a fastball is coming.
LeBlanc favors the high leg kick from the windup, tucking it under his arms before proceeding towards the plate. It offers up a little deception for right-handed hitters who have a tough time picking up his arm as it moves through his pitching motion.
The portsider throws a variety of changeups and his curveball has excellent drop, both above-average pitches. His changeup is, by far, his best pitch and he has the confidence to throw it in any count. It has the look and feel of a fastball coming out of his hand and is a tough pitch to read. Its late drop down in the zone causes nightmares for the opposition.
"His changeup is outstanding," 2006 Fort Wayne pitching coach Tom Bradley explained. "He fits right into our mold of a starting pitcher with an already established changeup."
His curveball became a go-to pitch as well this year. While he doesn't use it as a strikeout pitch, LeBlanc will throw it in off-counts to keep hitters off-balance. He will hang the occasional ball and pays dearly when he does.
His fastball is a consistent 86-89 MPH but he has to work on commanding the pitch and spotting it up, down, in and out. That will be the separator as he is promoted through the minor leagues. He did a decent job with moving the ball around but currently lacks the precision necessary to have success at the upper levels.
There were concerns that when he was wild it would often be up in the zone but batters had a tough assignment in getting good wood on the ball, hitting lazy fly balls. Just nine of the 50 hits he surrendered went for extra bases.
"The fact that he played at a big time college and pitched in a lot of games – big games – he has a lot of experience," Bradley added. "I like his competitiveness and focus. He pitched very well, the last three games especially.
"He throws four pitches, a fastball, changeup, cutter, and curveball. He needs to work on movement of the two-seam or four-seam fastball – movement. Being able to pound that fastball down and away to right-handed hitters.
LeBlanc's confidence, coming from a big time college program, is virtually unparalleled. He understands that you don't have to have unbelievable stuff to be successful. Instead, he works on being smart, outworking the opposition and setting them up for a fall. Each pitch he throws has a purpose.
"Hopefully, the guys are all paying attention during the game," 2006 Eugene pitching coach Wally Whitehurst explained of seeing LeBlanc throw. "If they are watching a guy go out there and throw strike one, throws an off-speed pitch for a strike and doesn't have five, six, seven, eight pitch at bats, hopefully they understand that maybe I need to start doing this a little bit more instead of trying to be so fine here and trying to overthrow here. Watching (LeBlanc) go about their business I think can help everybody. It makes our job a lot easier. You sit back and he has 65 pitches tonight and hopefully that takes him through the fifth inning and we turn it over to the next guy.
"He doesn't try and do more than he is capable of doing. That right there makes it so much easier for us."
Refining and honing his craft is something he takes seriously – he continually experiments with new grips – and it is that drive that propels him forward. While it is easy to relate his stuff with Carter, LeBlanc is interested in carving his own path and takes solace in the fact that Carter has shown him it can be done.
"His secondary pitches are fine," Bradley said. "Obviously his changeup is a plus pitch. His cutter was a little bit inconsistent. He has four pitches and with a winters rest I think he will come back strong. I think he will have a good year next year."
ETA: It is always hard to pinpoint where a prospect is when they come out of college the same year. How will he handle the full load next year? Will bumps in the road affect him mentally? It is conceivable that LeBlanc winds up in Lake Elsinore this season and that could be a launching pad – either his balls leave the park at an alarming rate or he vaults to prominence. He has proven to be a durable starter and a quality individual. Making it past the California League will be his first hurdle and it is up to him from there.