SPRING TRAINING: Rays’ Leonard has great experience after unexpected move in high school

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

 

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Patrick Leonard (67) fields a ground ball between innings against  Baltimore Saturday at Charlotte Sports Park (Sun Photo by Tom O'Neill).

Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Patrick Leonard (67) fields a ground ball between innings against Baltimore Saturday at Charlotte Sports Park (Sun Photo by Tom O’Neill).

PORT CHARLOTTE — It’s difficult for most teenagers who are forced to move during high school.

It becomes even harder when that move comes right before your senior year.

But when your family moves from Jacksonville to Houston, it helps make things a little smoother when your new high school baseball team is on the verge of a state championship.

That’s exactly what happened to Tampa Bay Rays infielder Patrick Leonard.

“It was tough accepting that we were moving out there, but once I was there it was fine,” Leonard said. “I had a great time in Houston. We had a good team in Jacksonville, but it wasn’t quite the level of the team I was on in Houston.”

Not only was being part of a state championship team a memorable experience for Leonard, but he had a future baseball Hall of Famer as a head coach.

Former Houston Astros infielder/outfielder, and member of the 3,000-hit club, Craig Biggio, was able to provide the 17-year-old Leonard with some guidance.

“I didn’t really know much about the game then,” Leonard, now 24, said. “Craig kind of talked to me about a lot of defensive stuff and mental parts of the game. Craig was a big help for me and it was a lot of fun playing for him.”

Away from playing high school baseball, Leonard had the opportunity to work with scouts and get his name out there as the upcoming 2011 MLB Amateur draft loomed.

“I got a lot of exposure out there,” he said. “I don’t think I would’ve gotten the same looks I did in Jacksonville as I did in Houston.”

Obviously, nobody knows where he would’ve been drafted had he stayed in Jacksonville. Maybe it would’ve been in such a low round that Leonard would have stuck with his commitment to the University of Georgia.

But rather than playing with the Bulldogs, the Kansas City Royals selected him in the fifth round.

“I was excited about going to Georgia,” Leonard said. “Once I learned more about the opportunity that pro ball had to offer, if I went to college, I could’ve gotten hurt. That was a big offer they were giving me. I couldn’t turn it down.”

Leonard spent the next year and a half getting acclimated to the Royals’ system and making friends, but then, just like in high school, he was abruptly taken out of that comfort zone.
“Honestly, until this very second, I’ve never thought about it that way, but yeah I think it did prepared me,” Leonard said, reflecting on that move in high school.

The infielder was one piece in a blockbuster trade which sent James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays in exchange for Leonard, highly-touted prospect Wil Myers and pitcher Jake Odorizzi.

It took Leonard some time to adjust to the idea of being traded.

“At first I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is a good thing,’” he said. “(I thought) maybe the Royals don’t like me. But looking back at it, the Rays wanted me. It wasn’t because someone else didn’t like me. It was because the Rays did like me.”

He’s been with the organization for a few years now, but this is his second spring with the Rays in big league camp. Leonard says he feels much more comfortable this year.

“Last year I was really close to (Johnny) Field. It was me and him, and we felt like everyone else were big leaguers. We were trying to get acquainted,” Leonard said. “Coming in this year, we know everyone and it’s been a great camp so far.”

So far this spring, Leonard is 3-for 13, with all three hits going for extra bases.

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