EDITOR’S NOTE: Though the big-league Cubs season has ended, there’s still Cubs-related baseball this year. Eight Cubs prospects will be playing for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League. AFL games begin Tuesday, and Tim will be presenting profiles of all the Cubs players on the Solar Sox before game action begins.
Have you ever had one of those odd moments where you run into a person in a spot that seems entirely odd? For instance, you’re visiting China, and you see a neighbor from three doors down while visiting the Great Wall. “Odd meeting you here.” Today’s piece on Erick Leal has a bit of that.
Designated for Assignment trades can be the coolest. In February 2013, the Cubs were pushed into designating Tony Campana. Much to the surprise of some, Campana had more value than “claimed on waivers.” The Cubs received two players for Campana. One of the was pitcher Jesus Castillo, who the Cubs sent to the Angels in the Joe Smith trade in 2016.
The other was Leal. A 6-3 right-handed pitcher from Valencia, Venezuela, Leal has tended to be a “one stop per season” type in the Cubs pipeline. 2014 saw him in the Arizona Summer League. 2015 had him pitching a bit over 60 innings in Boise. South Bend was the stop in 2016, and he was as good as ever in 2017 in Myrtle Beach.
Strikeouts hadn’t really been Leal’s forte, though. His top strikeout season was in 2016. He fanned 86 in just under 130 innings. Which is death in a “strikeouts or else” landscape. In 2018, his season started with injury. He was repeating Myrtle Beach, and had a late start. In addition, he was moved to the bullpen.
He responded with a fantastic season. Leal’s WHIP was 0.817, and his ERA ended at 1.41. As innings limits curtailed the starts for some of the Pelicans pitchers, Leal started some games later in the season. Eight of his 21 appearances were starts.
By the end of the season, he had become a bit of a no-brainer for the Fall League. He had pitched very well, and his innings had been limited due to injury. If he’s better than the Fall League, he becomes a reasonable possibility at a MLB roster spot eventually. Despite his lack of strikeouts in prior seasons. Also, by accepting a spot with the Solar Sox, he necessarily inked a contract with the Cubs for 2018.
When Leal gets to camp for the Solar Sox, he will be reunited with Castillo (from the Campana trade), who started 20 games for the Angels affiliate in Mobile this time around. No word on if Campana will show up to complete the tri-bond.
By now, Cubs fans should be realizing the upside of having accessible, low-cost team-controlled bullpen options. I’d probably put Leal’s percentage chance at a MLB career in the 30 percent range. Whether that comes to fruition or not, he’s had a rather good professional career for a player added in a trade for Campana.
Leal is more about command than velocity. However, shorter stints have ticked up the miles-per-hour. Getting extra opportunities for people like Leal to show how they compete against better competition is a secondary reason for the Fall League. The other reason, is to let the hyped prospects try to embarrass pitchers like Leal. Or try to.