Monday, February 13, 2017

2016 Jose De Leon

It’s almost baseball season!  As much as I enjoy the football season, there is something about the start of a new year of baseball that really makes me smile.  And of course, this goes hand in hand with baseball cards.  

Last week was a really interesting look into a player that seems to have almost all the pieces put together but is just missing that special something to put him over the top: Matt Olson (his 2015 Inception card, to be exact).  This week I wanted to delve into a player whose name had been tossed around a lot over the last year, and who was traded just a few weeks ago.  Today I am looking at the 2016 Jose De Leon card.  

Player History:

Unlike the previous three players I have profiled, De Leon was not highly touted heading into the first year player draft.  Coming out of Souther University, he was not chosen until the 24th round of the 2013 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

After impressing in workouts, De Leon’s debut was not impressive in Rookie Ball.  In 14 games, he posted a 6.96 ERA and a record of 3 wins, 5 losses.  Not exactly setting the world on fire.  

Yet, he came into the 2014 season as the tenth ranked prospect in the organization.  In between Rookie and Full Season A teams, he went 7-0 in 14 games with 119 strikeouts.  To say he was much improved would be a huge understatement!  And it’s the strikeout numbers that really garnered attention as he has improved and progressed. 

The strikeout numbers in particular were what projected him as the #7 prospect with the Dodgers heading into 2015.   Some of the things being said about De Leon as a potential Big Leaguer by scouts were:

  • With the way De Leon has taken off the past two seasons, his ceiling is that of a no. 2 starter, possibly the ace of a second-division team.
  • He has an impressive three-pitch arsenal, a strong mental approach to pitching, and enough durability to remain a starter long term. 
And it was during this time that people whose opinions seem to matter started really taking a look at De Leon’s mechanics.  What people saw was that:
  • He gets an aggressive push off the rubber, starting his weight transfer early and dropping his center of gravity rapidly [which] creates a bunch of deception.
  • The ball absolutely jumps out of his hand from a three-quarter slot. His fastball worked 90-94 (t95), primarily hovering around 91-92 early and ticking up to the higher end of the velocity band as he got ahead.

Splitting his season between Advanced A and AA minor league teams, De Leon faced tougher competition but still managed to strikeout 163 batters in 23 games, averaging just over 7 strikeouts a game!  That’s just crazy!  His ERA took a bit of a hit, rising to 2.99, but the overall body of work was obviously something to be excited about!  

The excitement carried over into 2016, with De Leon positioned as the third overall prospect for the Dodgers. Scouts were writing that not only was De Leon still devastating with his fastball, but he had worked hard to make his change up had become a major weapon against batters from both sides of the plate.  One quote in particular was great:

  • De Leon's delivery produces extension and deception, which makes the whole package play up. But don't take our word for it, just ask Cal and Texas League hitters, who struck out 35 percent of the time against De Leon last season.
Does that make anyone else think of Reading Rainbow? Anyone…?
Sticking with the strikeout theme, De Leon had a ridiculous 111 strikeouts in 16 AAA games.  By the end of the season, his minor league career could be summed up as follows:
  • G: 67 W: 23, ERA: 3.35, IP: 330.2, SO: 446, WHIP: 1.13, HR: 30, AVG: .221
  • 2016: AAA All-Star, PCL Pitcher of the Week
  • 2015: Mid-Season All-Star, Pitcher of the Week
  • 2014: Organization All-Star, Pitcher of the Week x2, Post Season All Star, PIO Pitcher of the Year
This was worthy for a September call-up and Major League debut against the Padres on September 4th.  De Leon struck out 9 batters in 6 innings, but gave up four runs on five hits and never really seemed to hit his stride.  The following three games were not much better, giving the overall impression of a disappointing first cup of coffee for the highly touted strikeout machine.  
So with the tantalizing number of strikeouts and strong progression through the minors, why was De Leon traded to the Rays on January 23rd of this year?  A lot of speculation was centered around the overall depth of the Dodgers pitching; they started something like 17 different pitchers last season at the big league level and still won the division.  With great depth comes a surplus and De Leon still carried big name value and potential despite his struggles in four games at the professional level.  With the trade the Dodgers definitely got a player that filled a hole (even though Chase Utley resigned about a month later), and the Rays got a guy who projects to be their top overall prospect and a challenger for a rotation spot during Spring Training.  
Look of the Card:

Originally I had no desire whatsoever to collect the 2016 Inception set.  When it came out I was knee deep in and focused on completing the 2013 and 2014 sets.  And the simple fact is that the look of the card was not super appealing to me to begin with, even less so than the 2015 version.

The first thing that I did not like was the deep blues and purples in the background.  To me, those thick, dark colors were nothing at all like the lighter toned colors of the previous three years.  Obviously the goal as a card company is to not be the same every year, but this just seemed a jump way too far away from the color schemes that had been so amazing.

The whole space theme in the background was also not something that really appealed to me.  The clouds of 2013, the woodgrain of 2014 and even the baseball theme of 2015 were all so simple compared to the space images of 2016.  Nothing about the background of 2016 says “Inception” the way the first three did.  It just didn’t seem to fit. And in general, the space reserved for the autograph is not nearly as integrated into the theme as the previous years.  My eyes are drawn to the space more than the actual autograph.

It was not until I held the De Leon in my hand that I felt any differently.  A friend on Twitter sent me a couple of the cards and Jose was the first one I pulled out of the envelope.  Admittedly, I immediately thought they were much cooler in person than in pictures.  So my bleak opinion of the set was immediately upgraded to “ok, not bad.”

I am disappointed that the backside of the card no longer has interesting facts about the player.  

What changed for me was when I realized I was starting to look at prices of 2016 cards and realizing I was just as excited about them as I was for the other two years.

As for the De Leon picture, its interesting that I like it so much considering I really don’t like how the Dodger blue works on the background of black, blue and purple.  Even the gray hat just doesn’t look like it quite fits.

What I absolutely love, though, is the intensity on De Leon’s face in the picture.  It’s like he is trying to will the ball in mid-flight to cross the plate with pinpoint precision.  The obvious twisting of the jersey and his arm highlight the violent velocity with which he has hurled the ball. Without ever having seem him pitch, I would have expected more of a leg kick on the follow through, but maybe he is really that much in control of his body motion. 

As for the autograph, I am pretty sure I would never have known that it said Jose De Leon.  As someone who has a J to start his name, I can attest that it’s not easy to make a good looking cursive capital J when you are in a hurry or tired…but this is just not good looking at all. I like the capital D in the middle, but again, a disappointing signature on the whole. 

Card Value:

When I looked at the offerings of listings and sales for this card, I had two main thoughts: 1) The wide range of prices reflects the differing opinions on whether or not De Leon has a bright future or not, and 2) I love that an autograph of a guy who could be a starter on a Major League team for a very long time could be bought for a very small investment (thank you Bowman!).

The listings on eBay range from $7.99-$53.72 right now with 5 listed between $20-$25.  That’s where the highest concentration was in terms of market value of supply.  The sales bear out that buyers is not exactly demanding De Leon at those prices.

Here are some final sale prices recently:
  • Lot of 6 De Leon base autos sold for $21.50 $20, 
  • A lot of De Leon and two other Inception cards sold for $20, $15, 
  • Lot of 3 sold for $14,
  • Lot of 2 for $12, 
  • Lot of 2 for $11.50, 
  • Lot of 2 for $3.56, $2.24, /99 for $3.27
  • Some of the single sale prices: $20, $15, and lower
  • A /99 parallel sold for $3.27

There was no specific trend of prices being up at certain times and down at others.  Overall on eBay, there were 60 sales of the base card since Nov. 10.  That doesn’t include parallels or Origins, of which there were quite a few as well.  

And as for COMC Listings: 
  • 14 listed from $9-$19.99 (reflecting a slightly cheaper demand than eBay)

  • Sales: 34 total, up to $4.99…15 sold in the first quarter of release

So again, as with a lot of Inception, the expectations for De Leon vary but it would seem that card prospectors are not foreseeing great things for career.  

I personally am excited to see how things work out for Jose down in Tampa.  Tampa has a history of being ultra-careful with their high octane, high potential arms; it could just the change of scenery De Leon needs to make the jump from big time prospect to big time MLB pitcher (funny how many times I have already written that for this blog!).  

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