Name: Wade LeBlanc
DOB: August 7, 1984
Selected in the second-round of the 2006 draft, LeBlanc quickly worked his way through the system, seeing a September call-up during the '08 season.
His career began with the Eugene Emeralds where he went 4-1 with a 2.20 ERA before quickly moving up to Low-A Fort Wayne. Across 2 innings with the Wizards, LeBlanc went 1-0 with a 4.29 ERA.
The 2007 season was split between High-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. After posting a 6-5 record with a 2.64 ERA across 16 starts with the Storm, LeBlanc was promoted again. He went 7-3 down the stretch for the Missions with a 3.45 ERA across 12 games, including 11 starts.
The 2008 season saw the southpaw in Triple-A and the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. After striking out 11 in a one-run outing in his first start, it looked like more of the same for LeBlanc. Things wouldn't go that well through the season.
When he was good, he was really good. The bad, however, was really bad. The left-hander boasted 12 games out of 26 where he allowed a single run or less. He also saw eight different starts where the opposition piled on at least six runs.
He held the opposition to a .259 average but also allowed 21 homers – far more than the 14 he surrendered in each of his first two years combined. He allowed multiple homers in four games and a long ball in seven straight during one stretch of the season.
His 139 strikeouts were the second highest total in the league, as he fanned 9.02 batters per nine innings but his left on-base percentage of 64.3 was eighth from the bottom.
LeBlanc was, however, much better in the second half. Over his last seven starts he notched a 2.86 ERA and 4-2 record after notching a 6.46 ERA over his first 19 outings.
Clicking on all cylinders, LeBlanc was promoted to San Diego where he made five appearances, including four starts. He went 1-3 with a 8.02 ERA across 21.1 innings, yielding 29 hits and walking 15 – including at least three free passes issued in four outings – for a 2.06 WHIP.
"(Pitch sequencing is) the final piece of the puzzle," Padres roving pitching coordinator Mike Couchee said. "The stuff's good enough. I don't know if you got to see him pitch in San Diego. The command wasn't where it usually is and can be, but the fact that just learning sequences, learning how to read hitters' swings, read hitters' approaches, all of that stuff's going to be the final piece of the puzzle for him."
The Louisiana native has a below average fastball that sits in the mid-80s and hits 87-88 mph. He moved to the two-seam fastball this year to increase his movement after proving he could spot the four-seamer at will.
"At the beginning of the year, we were trying to get him to throw it and he hardly wouldn't throw it, so I said, ‘to heck with it,'" Portland pitching coach Glenn Abbott said. "This might sound kind of corny, but I did this and it worked. It's like you've got to find a way to get somebody to do something. I know even Buddy Black talked to him at the end of spring training about throwing that two-seamer. And you talk to him, ‘well, I just don't have that two seamer; don't have enough movement.' Well, I think, ‘you don't know until you try it.' You've got to throw it and all of that stuff.
"I said, ‘I'm not going to beat you over the head about the two-seamer anymore, you know it; you've got the information, blah, blah, blah.'
"Next thing you know, he's throwing it on his own, and he started throwing it a lot. It's almost like a kid: you want them to do something and the more you want them to do it, the more they want to fight it. He started throwing it and used it a lot to right-handers, and it ended up working out for him. He made a tremendous amount of progress from the first half to the second."
"I don't know if he has mastered (the two-seam)," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "The one thing that was evident with Wade is inconsistency of fastball command, and those things are going to get him into trouble. Without it, he can't get to the changeup and breaking ball sequences that make him successful.
"He has put together some good outings, but you can tell when someone starts backing up quality starts, as he did in the second half in Portland, then you know he's ready for the next step."
The trouble with the two-seamer was he struggled repeating his arm angle and tossing it with the same speed as his changeups. It was easier to telegraph, although it gave him a little more margin for error because of its cutting action. His command of the pitch was also off and LeBlanc would get into patterns where his next pitch was predictable. Hitters could then take him deep.
"Location, location, location," Portland manager Randy Ready said. "We've got to be able to locate a better fastball. That sets up all our secondary stuff. That's when you see Wade pitches better games, good command of his fastball, sets up all of his changeups and his curveball. That's when he has success. If he's not locating his fastball, that's when he falls behind and is getting in trouble. And all of a sudden they start looking, picking something up and are a little bit more patient with him and that's when thing start to heat up."
LeBlanc has two different changeups and both are plus pitches. For the first time in his career, however, the left-hander saw his changeup get hit. Part of that was due to the inconsistency with his fastball command and release point, and the other factor became more predictability.
The changeup is a pitch that LeBlanc throws 25 percent of the time. If his fastball command wavered, hitters would sit on the changeup and pound it, regardless of the depth and drop it has.
"He moved up pretty quick through the system," Abbott began. "In Triple-A, you can start running into some more disciplined hitters and you have more trouble. It was amazing, and I talked to him several times, anyways, he gets caught, guys were looking for his changeup and these more experienced hitters can hit it when they're looking for it.
"In the first half, he just almost hit a wall there. I told him all along even if they were struggling early, I told all three of them, ‘look, things will get better, don't panic, do not panic. It's all about how we finish, this is a marathon, this is not a sprint race here.'"
When he is on, LeBlanc drops in two devastating slips that are swing-and-miss pitches. When ahead in the count, LeBlanc throws the wipe-away changeup to get hitters swinging over top. Hitters get caught on their front foot lunging at a ball destined for the dirt.
His second changeup is one that is thrown more consistently in the strike zone. The two versions put hitters unawares as they don't know which one is coming and can be punched out looking just as often as swinging. He actually uses the same grip but varies the pressure on his fingers to get different movement.
LeBlanc also has a curveball that has good depth but will get loopy at times. It is a pitch he uses several times a game to get hitters thinking and keep them off-balance.
"He kept with his basics and next thing you know, the second half starts rolling around and he starts throwing the ball well," Abbott said. "He had like two outings in the second half where he didn't do very well, but the others he is pitching six, seven innings and he gave up one run. A lot of it is just a confidence thing. Here's a kid who has never struggled; he's never struggled in college or wherever he has played in pro ball. His changeup always, if he's in any trouble, his changeup always got him out of it. He had to learn that doesn't work all the time. You've got to learn to pitch and use your stuff. And, he did; he got so much better with it.
"He improved a tremendous amount in the second half. I was glad to see them call him up. I didn't know if they would since this was not his roster year, but they ended up making the call anyways. I talked to Randy, and they said he did pretty well. He said the first time he was nervous, he did ok. The second time, he said he did a lot better, was a lot more comfortable, so I was glad to hear that. Once they pitch a little bit, they'll get comfortable. That's a big jump. When you go to the big leagues, gosh dang, you've always wanted to go, but you're nervous and you're scared and you want to do good. A lot of times you can get in your own way. Maybe if they get a few games under their belt and relax a little bit, then they can pitch like they can."
The Alabama alumnus doesn't have a great pickoff move, and if a base runner guesses right when he flashes his high leg kick – one that he uses from the windup – they can get a solid jump. He has a second leg kick that is smaller and allows him to be quicker to the dish. LeBlanc and his catchers threw out 6-of-17 base runners attempting to steal.
Conclusion: Everything LeBlanc does is based off fastball command. If he can't get to his changeup or has to rely on it too much, hitters are able to sit, wait, and attack. If his fastball is providing first-pitch strikes and the lefty works ahead in the count, LeBlanc has a lot of options to get strikeouts or weakly hit balls.
It was inevitable that LeBlanc would see some struggles during his career but he finds a way to overcome them. He has a chance to claim a starting job with San Diego this coming season. If he can improve his command, LeBlanc has the tools to be a quality back end starter for many years.
Talk about this story on our subscriber-only message boards