The King Of Leone
There were no lofty expectations when Dominic Leone, an undersized right-hander from Clemson, was selected in the 16th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. The minors are littered with freshly squeezed collegiate starters who fit Leone’s profile to a tee. The harsh reality is that most of them don’t ever make it or even come close. Leone defied the odds simply by making it to The Show last season. He didn’t just make the Opening Day roster, he thrived, quickly establishing himself as one of the best relievers in the Seattle Mariners bullpen in 2014.
Leone racked up eight wins in relief, posting a stellar 2.17 ERA over 66.1 innings. While he did have some issues with free passes (3.39 BB/9), he struck out over a batter per inning (9.50 K/9) and his 54.7% groundball percentage was the 28th-best mark of any pitcher in baseball who threw at least 60 innings last season.
Leone is one of the most fascinating relievers in all of baseball from a dynasty fantasy perspective, not just because he successfully transformed from a mediocre collegiate starter into a dominant Major League reliever, but the way in which he did it. Late in his senior season at Clemson, Leone taught himself how to throw a cutter by watching YouTube videos of legendary Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. Seriously. The cutter, which has plenty of movement, perfectly complemented his three-pitch mix (fastball, changeup and slider) and instantly became his best offering, especially when he needed a strikeout.
In addition to adding the cutter, Leone tacked on nearly seven miles per hour of velocity to his fastball in between the time he was drafted and his Seattle debut by transitioning to the bullpen. According to Brooks Baseball, he averaged 95 mph on both his fastball and cutter last season.
“In college as a starter, I was anywhere from 90 to 94 on a really good day,” Leone told Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times. “When I got to Everett, it went up to 94 consistently. And then last fall it just really felt good and it was getting up 96-97 consistently.”
The Seattle Mariners boast one of the best bullpens in baseball entering the 2015 season, so the likelihood that Leone rockets past established veterans like Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen is extremely unlikely, but then again we would have said the same thing about him ever making it this far when he was drafted in the 16th round.
One interesting development (I know they just keep on coming) for Leone was that he significantly increased his usage of his cutter as the season went on last year, throwing it over 31 percent of the time in September.
It led to his best results of the season, as he surrendered just one run over his final 8.2 innings. The numbers are impossible to ignore and it seems like only a matter of time (or injury) before manager Lloyd McClendon puts Leone in high-leverage situations to prove he belongs at the back end of the pen.
At just 23 years old, Leone has stellar stuff and an even more fascinating backstory. Dynasty owners speculating on future closers should get to know Leone, who is going to be around for a long time in the Mariners bullpen. Don’t be surprised if/when the 38 year old Rodney finally runs out of imaginary arrows, he hands the imaginary bow to off to Leone one day on his way out of Seattle.