Q&A with Rangers 31st round pick Matt Leeds

Corner infielder Matt Leeds was recently named an NCBWA first-team All-American after he batted .345 with 18 homers and 80 RBI during his junior campaign at College of Charleston. Lone Star Dugout interviews the Rangers' 31st round pick, who has already signed.

College of Charleston slugger Matt Leeds was recently named a National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association first-team All-American after he batted .345 with 18 home runs and 80 RBI in 60 contests.

While the Southern Conference in general is regarded as a hitter-friendly circuit, Leeds was one of the nation's top sluggers during his redshirt sophomore and junior campaigns. As a sophomore in 2010, he was named SoCon Player of the Year, posting a .326/.433/.690 slash line with 23 doubles, 21 homers, and 88 RBI. But the new bats, which took away much of the power throughout college baseball, didn't seem to slow Leeds down much.

After appearing in 30 games as a freshman with the Cougars, Leeds missed the entire '09 season while undergoing microfracture surgery on his knee. As he explains below, it was an extension of a knee injury he had suffered in high school. But Leeds proved to be fully healthy during his last two collegiate seasons.

The 21-year-old, who was drafted as a first baseman after primarily playing third base in college, has already signed with the Rangers and reported to the club's minor league complex in Arizona.

Leeds' decision to sign was made a bit easier because he already has his college degree. He recently graduated with honors from the school, was named an Academic All-American, and had a 3.93 GPA––the highest of all CofC athletes this past school year.

Leeds went to high school in the Miami area but hails from Long Island in New York. Due to his level of experience and collegiate success, he may ultimately spend the majority of the summer with the short-season Spokane Indians. But for now, at least, he is on the rookie-level Surprise Rangers' roster.

Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with the corner infielder.

Jason Cole: What are your thoughts on getting drafted by the Rangers?

Matt Leeds: Obviously I was very excited. I've looked forward to that day for awhile. I actually got off the plane from New York––I was flying from New York to Charleston, and I got a couple voicemails from some scouts. One of them was Chris Kemp with the Rangers. So when I called him back, he said, ‘Matt, we literally just announced your name. Congratulations, you're a Texas Ranger.' That feeling was pretty cool.

Cole: Having to get on an airplane during the draft––was that a bit of an anxious plane ride?

Leeds: Yeah. I was hoping to get picked up on Tuesday so that I would know by the time I had to fly. But that wasn't the case. I knew I'd be landing right around when the draft started on Wednesday––around noon. So I was hoping to hear my name be called pretty soon. I didn't realize it was going to be that quickly. But yeah, it was something to think about during the flight.

Cole: You mentioned Chris Kemp, your area scout with the Rangers in the Carolinas. Had you talked to him at all in the past?

Leeds: Yeah. I've talked to him a couple times on the phone. I know he has been at our ballpark the whole time. I talked to him––I knew he liked me as a prospect. He sounded excited when they drafted me.

Cole: Because you've already graduated from school, did that make the decision a little bit easier to go ahead and sign?

Leeds: Certainly. I knew I wanted to move ahead and play pro ball. It was tough to pass up that opportunity.

Cole: When did you get the deal done with the Rangers?

Leeds: Like right away. I got drafted around noon, and I talked to Chris again probably around 3:00 and then again around 7:00. And by then, we had already made an agreement. I haven't actually officially signed the contract yet. I'll do that in Arizona on Monday or Tuesday.

Cole: So you're going to Arizona, and then I assume to Spokane from there?

Leeds: Yeah, that's what they've told me so far, at least.

Cole: How much are you looking forward to getting out there and getting your professional career underway?

Leeds: I'm excited and I'm nervous. Both those emotions are really going on. I've never been to the west coast at all or to the northwest around Washington. I'm interested to see where I'll be playing. I'm excited to face professional competition and to see how I stack up.

Cole: As you come into the Rangers' organization, do you already know anybody playing in the system? How much did you know about the club?

Leeds: The only thing I knew about the organization was that they've had a lot of success recently, like going to the World Series last year. But I was drafted as a first baseman, and my friend Chris McGuiness is in High-A right now for the Rangers––in Myrtle Beach. He's a first baseman as well. He lives in Charleston and I see him all the time there. Hopefully I can catch up to him at some point.

Cole: What were your thoughts on your performance at College of Charleston this season?

Leeds: I had a good year last year, and I kind of had a very similar year this year––even with the new bat change. Going through the second time, you kind of know what to expect. Obviously everyone thinks they could have done better, and I thought I could have done better. But it was more of a leadership role this year than last year. I thought I developed more as a player that way.

Cole: You touched on the new bats. How much of a difference was there between the bats? Do you feel that it'll help make your transition to wood bats a little bit easier?

Leeds: I still felt like if you hit it on the barrel, it's going to go out. It maybe didn't go out as far. It took away the cheap home runs, and I think that's why you saw a lot of guys that didn't really have power but hit a lot of home runs––it probably affected those guys the most.

As far as the transition to the wood bat, it's still going to be different with the way they're weighted and the actual size of the sweet spot. It's still smaller on a wood bat, I believe. I guess it helps a little bit––the transition––but I wouldn't compare the metal bats to a wood bat at all.

Cole: You've had a couple knee injuries during your career, haven't you?

Leeds: Yeah, I had two surgeries.

Cole: Can you talk just a little about when they occurred and what exactly happened?

Leeds: The fall of my senior year (of high school) was my first one. I was playing shortstop and there was a popup over my head. I collided with the left fielder. He came in diving and basically his shoulder went through my knee while it was planted. It was sort of like a football tackle. I tore my ACL and LCL. So I had to get surgery on that.

And then my sophomore year in college, I got microfracture surgery on it. That's to repair the cartilage. It's kind of an extension of the first injury.

Cole: Do you feel anything from the injury now? I know you've had about two full years of playing since the surgery.

Leeds: Last year, it still bothered me during the year. And I wore a brace on it last year. But this year, I really didn't feel it at all. I didn't wear a brace at all. I even stole a couple bases. But yeah, it feels fine.

Cole: You're a switch-hitter. How long have you been doing that for?

Leeds: Since the sixth grade, I think.

Cole: Since you've been doing that for so long, are you to the point where both sides just feel natural to you?

Leeds: Yeah. Righty is my natural side, and if I take a lot of time off, the right-handed side always comes back quicker. But during the season, I guess it's hot and cold both ways.

Cole: What went into your initial decision to start switch-hitting? Did you notice that you could pick up being a lefty hitter fairly easily?

Leeds: Actually, it was more from basketball. Back then, the kids that could do layups with their right and left hand were the best basketball players––and the guys that could dribble with both hands. I was able to do that pretty well.

And then I just tried doing it in baseball, and I was able to do it. I actually read an article about Lance Berkman and how he started switch-hitting. He said he hit off a tire both ways to gain strength when he started switching to the other side, and I did the same thing.

Cole: Tell me about your approach at the plate, what you're trying to do when you're up there, and what kind of hitter you view yourself as.

Leeds: At College of Charleston, I was in the middle of the order. My mindset is definitely that I want to drive in runs, and I want to slug. I didn't want to get cheated at all by not taking my best swing at the plate. I consider myself a pretty aggressive hitter, and I just try to attack the baseball as much as I can.

Cole: You mentioned that you were drafted as a first baseman. Have the Rangers talked to you about where you'll be playing this summer?

Leeds: I'll probably be doing both, but I'm going to stick at third base for the time being. I played third base in college, so I'll probably play third this summer and then I'll probably see some time at first. I guess they'll evaluate me and decide which I'm best suited for.

Cole: As you look forward to working with professional coaching, is there anything aspect of your game that you're really looking to improve?

Leeds: There is tons of improvement in every facet of the game. I love picking the brains of guys that have coached and played at the higher level. In particular, on the offensive side, I want to know when to sit on certain pitches––pitch selection and that type of thing. I think that's something that comes with experience, and you can learn from guys that have experience. Learning which pitches to sit on is probably the thing I look forward to learning the most.

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