The loud knocking of Jose De León gets answered
By Cary Osborne
Jose De León had been at Dodger Stadium mere minutes and he already accomplished a first in Dodger history. He became the first Dodger to wear No. 87 in the big leagues.
De León officially became a Dodger today with the callup from Triple-A Oklahoma City becoming official. One of the top right-handed prospects in the game and the Dodgers’ No. 2 overall prospect, according to MLB.com, will start on Sunday against the San Diego Padres in his Major League debut.
“I have everything mixed,” the 24-year-old said on his emotions one day before the start. “I just have to use that to an advantage. If somebody tells you don’t feel pressure they’ve never played the game. There’s always going to be pressure. It’s different when you take the pressure and use it to your advantage.”
Since 2014, De León, who wasn’t on any prospect radar prior to that season, has rarely buckled under pressure. He has climbed the minor league ladder rung by rung and dominated at nearly every level, starting with Rookie League Ogden. In five levels since 2014 he has a 2.66 ERA in 277 2/3 innings. He has also averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings and has a 5.0 strikeouts to walks ratio.
One of De León’s best attributes has been his ability to hide his pitches. Austin Barnes, who caught nine of De León’s 16 starts in Oklahoma City this year and was brought up to the Dodgers on September 1, said the pitches themselves are elite.
“I think his fastball-changeup combination is pretty special.” Barnes said. “People really don’t see his fastball, and his changeup plays really well off his fastball.”
De León began Spring Training in big league camp this year and appeared in three Cactus League games (five earned runs and five strikeouts in six innings). His minor league season was delayed by an ankle injury that cost him all of April. But he started fast and didn’t let up. In his first outing on May 3 for Oklahoma City, he allowed two hits and struck out nine in five shutout innings.
On July 20, he struck out 10, walked none and allowed four hits in eight shutout innings. Even with his success and the slew of injuries to Dodger pitchers, the Dodgers stayed patient. But the knocking kept getting louder.
In his last three outings, he struck out at least 10 batters in each and walked none. He allowed 11 hits, two earned runs and struck out 33 total batters. In August, he struck out 45 batters to just two walks.
Then Dave Roberts announced on Friday it was time for him to contribute to the big league club.
“I understand how the business works, so there’s nothing you can control,” De León said on waiting for a callup. “It’s up to them to decide when you’re coming up. … Timing is always perfect. Today was time for me to come here.”
De León said he’s had the same stuff for the last couple of years and his biggest leap has been on the mental side — not getting too high or too low. As for what we can all expect on Sunday, Barnes weighed in.
“I think he’ll be fine,” Barnes said. “He’s been ready for a little while now. Sure he’ll have a little nerves in the beginning. But he’ll get past that and throw well.”