Position: Left-handed Pitcher
De Leon was signed out of the Dominican Republic in November of 2005 by the Tigers' Ramon Pena. Having signed too late to start his professional career as a 17-year old, Darwin debuted for the Tigers Dominican Summer League affiliate in June of 2006. Working primarily in relief during his first season, de Leon saw action in nine games spanning 18 innings. He only allowed eleven hits and managed to strike out a whopping 29 opposing hitters.
In 2007, de Leon opened plenty of eyes with an absolutely dominating repeat performance in the DSL. This time working as a starting pitcher, he appeared in thirteen games while notching one complete game shutout along the way. In 70-plus innings de Leon allowed only 36 hits and 23 walks, while striking out a staggering 110 hitters. His nine wins against no losses were good enough for second in the league, while his 0.76 ERA and 110 strikeouts paced the Dominican circuit. With a 0.00 ERA and perfect 3-0 record, de Leon took home the TigsTown DSL August Pitcher of the Month award, while capping his season by being named the TigsTown DSL Pitcher of the Year.
The Tigers aggressively assigned De Leon to Oneonta for his first trial stateside, and he handled the opportunity well. Ranking sixth in the league in wins (6), De Leon posted a 4.20 ERA in 55 2/3 innings. While he wasn't dominant, his performance as a 19-year old against largely college competition in the NYPL, was a sign that he could be a player to watch.
De Leon has a relatively polished arsenal for someone of his young age, relying on very good command to force his stuff to play up even more. His fastball now sits in the 88-90 range with some late movement when down in the zone. His body grew some between the 2007 and 2008 seasons, and as a result his command suffered slightly. He was still able to throw strikes routinely, but his location within the zone took a step back; leaving him slightly more hittable.
He also mixes in an above-average curveball with solid late bite, and he has shown feel and a willingness to throw a change-up at times. Darwin must improve the command of both off-speed pitches, though he does throw strikes with them routinely. His change-up will require significant work to remain a positive offering, and he will likely need it to continue collecting outs against right-handers at higher levels.
Given his slight frame, there is an expectation that he should gain some velocity with time and increased physical maturity; something we began to see last season. As he gets used to his body in space as he continues maturing, it is reasonable to expect his command to return to previous levels. He has mid-rotation potential right now, and if his stuff continues to grow that projection could change.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG SS-A
De Leon has handled relatively light workloads well in his first three years, and he should begin to see a climb in his innings as he makes his full-season debut in 2009. Don't be surprised if the Tigers manage his pitch counts and innings very carefully this year to ensure his health.
De Leon will be one of the leading candidates for the West Michigan rotation as he enters spring training in the coming weeks. His solid showing the NYPL, and the general tick forward his stuff jumped in 2008, are very positive indicators for him heading into 2009. His command was still coming back around during the Instructional League, and there is a chance the Tigers may deem it more appropriate for him to iron out the kinks in extended spring training before making his big league debut. Either way, De Leon is likely at least three years away from knocking on the big league door, and at only 20-years old, he has plenty of time.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.