RAYS: Groomed by Dodgers, De Leon eyes future with Rays

By Bryan Levine, SunCoast Sports

PORT CHARLOTTE — Trade rumors ran wild this past winter for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In need of a second baseman, reports of the Dodgers acquiring Brian Dozier from the Minnesota Twins appeared imminent.

The big return for the Twins would’ve been young prospect Jose De Leon.

“It was really hard (listening to) what they were saying,” De Leon said. “I thought I was going to get traded to Minnesota. Then when everything cooled down and settled, that’s when they told me I was traded to the Rays. It was a surprise, but a pleasant surprise.”

With a plethora of pitching prospects in the Dodgers’ system, the highly-touted De Leon became an expendable commodity, one they sent to Tampa Bay on Jan. 23 for second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Unfortunately for the 24-year-old, he was traded to a team with one of the better pitching staffs in baseball. It’s perceivable that had the Dodgers kept De Leon — assuming he never hurt himself — he could’ve been on their Opening Day roster.

De Leon doesn’t allow himself to focus on things like that.

“You have to be a positive guy,” he said Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park where he’s on a rehab assignment with the Charlotte Stone Crabs for a forearm injury. “It’s a tough sport. It’s so unfair sometimes, but that’s part of the game. You have to know it and embrace it, and staying positive is the only way to success. …

“They gave me an opportunity, and the Dodgers were great to me, but now it’s a new chapter and I’m living in it.”

The Dodgers groomed De Leon from a 24th-rounder (724th overall) into one of the top right-handed prospects in all of baseball.

De Leon went 7-1 with a 2.61 earned run average at Triple-A Oklahoma City last season, and in 2015 he led the minor leagues with an average of 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He was eventually called up last September to the Dodgers, where he went 2-0 with a 6.35 ERA in four starts.

“It’s something you dreamed of and I never thought it would happen that quick,” De Leon said. “It didn’t hit me until the day after I made my debut. Looking at everybody in Dodger Stadium, there were about 43,000 people. I had never played in front of that many people. It was awesome.”

He says it was special to be able to share that experience with his family.

“All the sacrifices they made for me growing up when I was in Puerto Rico, I was able to see my parents, look them in the face and tell them how much I appreciate them and that we did it,” De Leon said.

De Leon was impressive in his debut with the Stone Crabs. He whiffed seven batters in 3.1 innings of work in his first appearance of the 2017 season.

His fastball, slider, changeup combination was crisp, and he says it was the best he’s felt in a while. He’ll likely be with the Stone Crabs for at least one more start before moving to Triple-A Durham, and possibly being in line for a call up to the Rays if the opportunity presents itself.

But for now, he doesn’t have to worry about listening to any trade rumors.

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