Leon came to the Tigers on the recommendation of Brian Reid, prior to the 2004 amateur draft. After a standout freshman year at South Mountain Community College, a year that saw him post a .374/.461/.519 line, the Tigers popped Max in the 50th round. As a draft-and-follow candidate, Max returned to the Cougars for the 2005 season, and again impressed the Tiger brass. Though not as impressive as his debut campaign, Leon notched a .305 average with 19 extra-base hits in 44 games. During his freshman season, Max was named ACCAC 1st Team All-Conference and All-Region.
After signing, the Tigers sent Leon to extended spring training to continue refining his skills, and he would not make his competitive pro debut until the following season. In 2006, Max bounced all around the organization, playing 17 games with the GCL Tigers, 12 with Oneonta, seven with West Michigan, and even six games with AA-Erie. Through all of that movement and adjustment to different levels, Leon struggled to a .189/.280/.242 line.
During the winter, Max refined his skills by playing in the Mexican Pacific League, and his performance in 2007 clearly exhibited the additional work he put forth in the off-season. Spending the entire season at Lakeland, Leon was one of the Flying Tigers more consistent offensive threats. His .299 average and .364 on-base percentage were needed assets on a team that struggled to score runs. Despite the difficult hitting environment throughout the Florida State league, Max managed 16 doubles and two triples, and even swiped 14 bases in 15 attempts.
Coming out of South Mountain CC, Max had played second base almost exclusively, but has since demonstrated that he is capable of playing throughout the infield. He spent the majority of his time at third base in 2007, and his progress in the field was rapid. His footwork improved quickly, his throws became more accurate, and his ability to judge plays grew by leaps and bounds. Leon is unlikely to ever be a plus defender at any position, but he can handle himself well enough to avoid being a hindrance to the team.
Offensively, Leon has a well-rounded skill set. He has demonstrated excellent hand-eye coordination and a subsequent ability to hit for average. Given his willingness to hit the ball to all fields, Max projects to hit for average at any level. He recognizes pitches well, and has excellent judgment of the strike zone. Expect him to routinely walk about as much as he strikes out, and as he continues to refine his approach he could become a player who routinely walks more than he whiffs.
Max is a solid athlete with the ability to adjust to the game on the fly. He has a good understanding of the game, but still needs plenty of innings in the field and at-bats to refine his instincts and situational awareness. He is an above-average runner, but his frame is likely to add some bulk in the lower half, which could slow him down some as he matures.
Overall, Leon projects as a solid reserve down the line; a guy capable of playing multiple infield positions and being adept enough with the bat to be a threat when thrust into the lineup.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Leon has avoided major injuries throughout his college and professional careers. He has demonstrated a strong work ethic and training regimen, which should allow him to work through minor, nagging injuries with ease.
Max will again play for Tomateros de Culiacan this winter in the Mexican Pacific League, with hopes that the additional experience will enable him to make additional strides forward in 2008. After his success at Lakeland this season, he should be in line for a promotion to Erie next year, where he will receive his first taste of truly advanced pitching.
Leon is unlikely to ever develop into an everyday third or second base prospect, but he will still carry value to the organization. Players with the ability to play multiple infield positions, hit for average, and get on base, are valuable at any level; and always have the potential to become contributors to a big league bench in the future.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.