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Cubs Prospect Perspective: Ben Leeper

The righthander has climbed quickly through the system and might be ready for Chicago soon.

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Dylan Heuer

Ben Leeper has a fantastic backstory. On the verge of retiring from a game he loved due to injury, he decided to try one more time, to go out on his terms. His last chance has worked out quite well, so far. His late-season usage in Des Moines dovetailed ideally with a topic I heard on Sirius XM FC recently, and it broaches a concept I wanted to talk about, anyway. As such, here is my profile (sort of) on Ben Leeper.

Whether you’re aware of it or not, European football is having a mild crisis. With all the teams and all the leagues, the goal seems to be “have a valid match or two every day.” In futbol, it’s realistic to expect “recovery time” after each match. Leagues, though (tell me when this starts to sound familiar), want to have more dates with more games. More tickets. Teams, especially the more elite ones, play in multiple schedules at the same time. Champions Leagues, and similar premises, are the rule, not the exception. At least, for the good teams.

As such, three games in eight or nine days isn’t out of the question. Yay, selling tickets. Yay, making more money. No, this doesn’t sound “eliminate days off and double-headers in baseball”, at all. Futbol has injuries. Computer programs can’t eliminate injuries from players being tripped. Toss in COVID protocols, and teams have a curious balance to keep. Playing the game to get the gate is important, but so is a level of keeping players healthy. Taking to the pitch with 13 players is far from ideal for league/game integrity.

Ben Leeper, right-handed relief pitcher

Born June 15, 1997, Bedford, Texas.
Acquired as a post-draft free agent in 2020 from Oklahoma State University

Leeper was absurd in 2021. The “try him in Double-A Tennessee” thing only required 10 outings to realize time was being wasted. 14⅓ innings. Nine hits. 22 strikeouts. Des Moines time. After Triple-A was no more of a mystery than Double-A, the Cubs had two questions to navigate. Chicago or naaaah? When to slow him down?

Moving him to Chicago, while it might have sated a few people, was determined as foolish. Adding Leeper needlessly to the 40-man roster would have made other 40-man choices tougher, and sent someone useful away, eventually. The other question was more pertinent. When should his innings be curtailed? The last month or so of the Triple-A season, Leeper was invisible. He was still healthy, but the Cubs brass wanted Leeper ready for 2022. Using him in games wasn’t needed for that. He pitched one game in early August, and could have been in witness protection the rest of the way. He was being protected.

Now, I take a veer.

I haven’t sought out articles regarding whether pitching injuries were “up” in 2020 or not. It was a popular theory, accurate or not. As of mid-December, there’s a realistic chance of a shortened 2022 campaign. How short? We’re all guessing. If there is a shortened season again, will that lead to problems with pitchers (currently on the 40-man roster) getting in enough innings to develop? Whether that was accurate in 2020, or not? Is the mindset: “Get the right number of innings for our recent draft picks, and increase the likelihood that they will be properly ready in two years, regardless the guys on the 40 man roster now.” valid? Once that jumped across my radar, it hasn’t left.

The Cubs ought to commit to properly developing Leeper, Caleb Kilian, Daniel Palencia, Max Bain, Ryan Jensen, and whoever else you wish to include. Not that the current MLB players don’t matter; they do. However, entire MLB job descriptions exists for people who spend zero minutes a day dealing with current big-league players, Getting load management dealt with for those types of players is huge in 30 MLB front offices.

To the winners will go some of the spoils.

How will the Tottenham and Leicester City football clubs deal with their current schedules with COVID outbreaks? It’s a different question than how many innings should (insert developing pitcher in the Cubs system) pitch in 2022, but load management and development are closer than they are far apart. If Ben Leeper is better than Iowa’s opposition in 2022, again, he will get a call to Chicago. If there are games in Wrigley to summon him for. Asking the difficult questions with long-term goals in mind is the adult thing to do.

When it’s time to call up Leeper, he should probably get called up. Even if it means trading a useful player for a prospect to create a spot.