Health Is Key For Leonora

TAMPA, FL - There was a point in time when outfielder Ericson Leonora was once considered one of the truly intriguing young position prospects in the Yankee farm system. However, as is often the case in another tale of wasted talent, injuries have derailed his progress over the years. He's proving though that if he can stay healthy that the still 22-year old could have some ceiling left.

[Photo by Mark Lomoglio

Ericson Leonora had his season last year once again derailed by injuries. He was limited to just 147 at-bats [68 of which came in a rehab capacity] and it was his third straight season in the United States where he failed to amass at least 200 at-bats. He went into this offseason with the goal of working on his fitness to better handle the wear and tear of a full season of baseball.

A few days into Spring Training last year Leonora had an appendectomy. Working his way back, which took roughly six weeks, he promptly tore a quad muscle in his first game back and wound up missing more than three months of the season last year before getting back into game action on July 12th.

He hit a respectable .272 with a .476 slugging percentage in the 40 games upon his return. Still just 22 years old, the Venezuelan hopes to improve on the numbers he put up but to improve and finally have a breakout year he’ll have to consistently stay healthy.

Though it's quite early, he’s done just that as he’s turned a good spring into a hot start to the year where he’s batting .297 with eight doubles and twelve RBIs in 20 games this year and currently riding an eleven-game hit streak. This is no surprise though to his hitting coach, Tommy Slater.

"What 'Leo' does well is when he squares the ball up," Slater said, "he really impacts it. It’s really a credit to him and the work he’s put in down in Venezuela during winter ball for the great start he’s had this season.”

In fact, Slater believes that if it wasn’t for his injuries over the years then he would be even more ahead in his development as a player and perhaps viewed as one of the better prospects right now.

"He had to deal with some injuries last year. 'Leo' had a pretty nice season for the Charleston team the year before all his injuries. So coming into this season fresh off winter ball we're starting to see the natural progression of Leonora both physically and mentally."

The work Leonora put in during the offseason seems to be paying off as he went down to his home country of Venezuela to play winter ball and it’s shown as he’s cut down his weight to a more slimmer 175 pounds, which helps him become more athletic at his corner outfield position.

"I hit the gym a lot during the offseason with the trainers,” Leonoroa said through the help of a translator. "I slimmed down some, i feel more ready and leaner on the field and not as big. I can move around more out in the outfield, be more flexible, and try to do more out in the field."

He has shown his high-ceiling talent in small glimpses over the years but it's been tough for him to break out since he inevitably has gotten hurt along the way. It can be hard for a player to sit on the sidelines for months at a time and not be able to play so being able to get out there on a consistent basis this year has really helped the mental side of his game.

“I was desperate to get back out there after missing most of the season [last year]," Leonora said, "desperate to get back into the lineup everyday and show what I can still do."

What Leonora has done so far this season hasn’t gone unnoticed by his manager, Dave Bialas. Bialas thinks his hot start this year started from the great Spring Training he had this year.

“He had a great Spring Training this year which has carried over into the year,” Bialas said. "One thing that really stood out to me was the way he kept hitting to the center of the field. A lot of the times these young hitters become pull happy and 'Leo' has showed he has the skills to hit to all parts of the field."

Leonora has shown that ability in spurts and now he and the Yankees believe a full healthy season could help propel him into top prospect discussions at some point down the road.

“It’s hard to hit home runs in this league. The air is heavy and the power alleys are deep in these parks. But he has the power to really succeed and he has the potential to have a big year this season," Bialas concluded.


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