Although not as highly-touted as outfielder Wil Myers, Leonard brings a lot to the table in his own regard. With a solid background in coaching, a solid year to develop in the minors and exceptional power and size, the 2011 fifth-round pick could very well turn into a stellar player for the Rays in the years to come.
The 20-year-old has plenty of upside, and here are three specific things you should know about Leonard as he enters an atmosphere where building through the farm system is everything for GM Andrew Friedman.
Major League Mentorship
Not hurting the cause for Leonard is his high school background. After going through two Florida schools in as many years, he decided to transfer one final time, only this time to a school in Houston, Texas.
According to a report by Justin Barney of the St. Augustine Record, Leonard played out his senior year at St. Thomas High School under the tutelage of former Houston Astros second baseman Craig Biggio. That's not a bad mentor to have, to say the least.
It's pretty clear Leonard has known baseball was in his future; packing up and going to an unfamiliar state to learn from someone like Biggio shows a true love of the game and dedication, and the perseverance has paid off in a big way. Leonard's dedication was even further defined by his own words in an interview with Greg Schaum of the Pine Tar Press:
I have been playing baseball since I was 4 years old and it is everything I have ever known. My dad and I would go up to the field when he got home from work and hit for hours on end. This started when I was about 6 and continued up until the Royals selected me in the 5th round. My family has sacrificed a lot to make sure the family schedule revolved around baseball.
For such a young kid, he seems very grounded and thankful for the support he's been given to chase his dream of playing in the majors. In a homecoming of sorts to Tampa Bay, he will have that golden opportunity.
Apparent Lackluster Minor League Numbers are Deceptive
Leonard may not have the gaudiest of numbers playing in the Appalachian Rookie League (h/t MiLB.com), but one thing is glaringly obvious when looking at his numbers.
Over the last 10 games of the 62 Leonard played, he fell into a slump and batted just .147 in that span. That dropped his stellar average all the way down to .251. In spite of that, the numbers also reflect the power that Leonard possesses.
His 14 home runs, nine doubles and three triples shows that he has the ability to get an extra base hit at any time—and the speed to stretch a two-base hit into three every now and then. It also indicates that he has plenty of pop to his bat.
For a Rays team that has risen into a top 10 team in home runs over the past two seasons, Leonard would fit the bill to step in someday as a power threat.
Current Roster Indicates Further Development
As productive as the Rays' farm system has been, Leonard will be in good hands in whatever division he heads to. Having not yet reached A-ball, he has a ways to go before stepping onto a major league diamond.
With superstar third baseman Evan Longoria already on the club, there's no rush to get Leonard up into the big leagues. It will likely be at least another year before he gets his shot.
Considering also that Leonard committed 14 errors in just 55 games at third base for the Burlington Royals (h/t Baseball-Reference.com), he definitely needs to be better polished in that area.
Otherwise, Leonard may be destined to be a designated hitter whenever he reaches baseball's highest level.
The future is generally bright for Leonard, and you can bet that Friedman will have his eye on this intriguing, powerful youngster. But don't expect big things just yet, as he still needs to get through A-ball to be on the ultimate Rays' A-team.