Griffin Fabits • College Times
On the eve of Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, Mike Leake busied himself by packing for Houston.
There were rumors surrounding the Seattle Mariners’ right-handed pitcher, who was likely to be dealt by the 4 p.m. deadline on July 31. But Leake was a Mariner until told otherwise, and that meant readying for an upcoming three-game series versus the Astros.
Several clubs were rumored to be in on the 31-year-old, ASU product, who flashed signs of brilliance in 22 starts with the Mariners this year. The Arizona Diamondbacks did not appear to be one of those clubs.
That was, until, D-backs’ general manager Mike Hazen swooped in to acquire Leake in a buzzer-beater deal completed just moments before the clock struck 4.
The full trade, announced several minutes after the deadline, saw the Diamondbacks receive Leake and cash considerations for prospect Jose Caballero.
“(The deadline) was definitely a little bit of anxiety waiting around and thinking,” he said, before an August 15 game versus the San Francisco Giants.
In two starts with the Diamondbacks, as of August 15, Leake yielded 10 earned runs in 10.1 innings pitched. With the Mariners, he went 9-8 with a 4.27 ERA. He lifted his trade stock in July, throwing to the tune of a 3.00 ERA, including his complete game, one-hit shutout against the Angels on July 19.
More than a decade ago, Leake was a freshman at ASU, just a few miles from his current Chase Field office, with big-league aspirations. He had been a four-year standout at California’s Fallbrook High School, a two-way player with tons of power and a rocket arm to boot before committing to the Sun Devils.
In Tempe, his reputation soared to one of the most decorated players in the nation. He pitched 127 innings as a true freshman, sporting a 3.69 ERA and striking out 94. By the time his junior year rolled around, Leake was a strong candidate to be selected in the first round of the 2009 MLB draft in June.
He solidified his first-round stock when he posted a 1.71 ERA his junior year, holding batters to a pedestrian .193 average, and earning National Player of the Year honors by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Leake was selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 draft after his illustrious season.
A decade later, the San Diego native is toeing the rubber for the Diamondbacks. Suddenly inserted into the chase for a postseason berth is a luxury that had been lost on Leake in previous seasons.
“Last year and a couple years before, I wasn’t really in (the postseason hunt), so it’s a treat to be back in. It’s definitely different than being on a sub-.500 team, but it’s definitely nice.”
The Mariners were 47-63 at the time of Leake’s trade. He hasn’t pitched in the postseason since 2012.
There are struggles pitchers encounter upon being dealt mid-season. Here is Leake now, thrust into a new locker room, pitching for a different organization that houses different philosophies and tendencies, with a six-week stretch of the biggest baseball to be played.
“The challenges intertwine along with soaking all the information in,” Leake said. “It’s obviously going to be a little different than other places or what you’re used to. You continue to take the information, such as the signs, and try and catch on as quickly as you can. But then again, the philosophies are still give and take.”
“It’s just another teacher you’re learning from.”
It was Hazen who ultimately brought Leake back to Arizona for a second stint, but regarding his first, when he joined the Sun Devils in 2006, it was the standard of ASU baseball that reeled him in.
“The family atmosphere that (then-head coach Pat) Murphy was creating, along with the university. I mean, even though it’s big and somewhat of a commuter feel, it still feels like a university that’s together. I think that’s unique and I think the comradery that players before — and the history of it — as well as what Murph was continuing, was what drew me in.”
Leake also reveled in the fact that, during the heyday of ASU baseball, he was in the thick of it, a mainstay in getting the Sun Devils to three consecutive conference titles and two trips to the College World Series.
“It was kind of a treat to blend in with that environment, a bunch of bashers, and still mix in.”
Playfully reminded that, he, too, was a “basher” — Leake launched the only two home runs of his ASU career in 2008 — he smiled, shrugged and said, “Yeah, I hit a couple.”
“But just to feel like I was contributing was the ultimate feeling with a team that was known for the last few years and more.”
After spending five-and-a-half seasons with the Reds, Leake had a short-stint with the Giants, before playing with the St. Louis Cardinals and Mariners.
In Arizona, on the mound at Chase Field, Leake feels at home, a sort of comfort that’s reminiscent to his college days in Tempe. And, fans, too, should treasure the acquisition of Leake if he’s able to replicate the success he had with the Sun Devils, perhaps becoming a driving force to getting his new club to the postseason.
“It’s a treat to be able to play here. I had success at Arizona State and hopefully I can have success here, too.” CT