Draft 2010: Pitt's Leonard towers over peers
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He collects big hits aplenty.
He closes big games with aplomb.
He's, like ... a big John Van Benschoten?
Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano has more of a superhero in mind than the Pirates' failed 2001 first-round draft pick when trying to explain his 2010 Big East Player of the Year.
"He's ... he's," Jordano began. "He's, like, Superman.
"I told him one time I expect him to change in a phone booth. He's that good."
Two things about jolting Joe Leonard of the Panthers by way of Connellsville:
A look at players and stories that figure prominently for the Pirates and the area in this week's draft:
Thursday: More room for Pomeranz?
Friday: Texas pitcher makes his name
Saturday: Machado compared to Rodriguez
Today: Pitt's Joe Leonard of Connellsville and WVU's Jedd Gyorko.
Monday: The Pirates' approach to the draft.
• Event: Round 1 of Major League Baseball first-year player draft.
• When: 7 p.m.
• TV: MLB Network.
• Of note: The Washington Nationals have the first pick and are expected to take Bryce Harper. The Pirates pick No. 2.
• At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and size-14 hoppers, he is bigger than most of the rest of the position players in the 2010 major-league draft class, in which he is expected to be selected somewhere between the second and fourth rounds Tuesday -- the day after Monday's prime-time first round.
• He's a slugger, not a saver, and the mound is precisely where the Pirates tried to place that long-ago NCAA Division I home-run leader from Kent State.
Leonard, a third baseman who ranks among Division I's top batters, understands that he may move across the diamond if he fills out further.
"Probably third or first base or something like that," Leonard, 21, said of his major league future.
"If I gain some weight," he added, pausing to grin. "But I like third base for now."
"Reminds me of Casey Blake," one American League evaluator said, comparing him to the Los Angeles Dodgers' third baseman/first baseman who blossomed into a 21-homer, 75-RBIs batter in the majors. "Don't know about the defense, though."
Scouts like his frame, his arm, his hitting ability. That would explain why half the major league clubs sent representatives to cramped Trees Field little more than a month ago to catch two ranked teams and a passel of prospects in a Big East doubleheader. Connecticut third baseman Mike Olt, a power-hitter three inches shorter than Leonard, is rated the No. 98 prospect, six ahead of Leonard, and left-handed starter Greg Nappo is rated the fifth-best prospect in the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island.
In the second game, scouts saw Olt go 0 for 4, and Leonard chase Nappo in a six-run fourth of a 13-4 romp with an opposite-field single on his way to a 3-for-5 game with a double and three runs. Most of his games go that way, though usually accompanied by an RBI or two.
Leonard, while growing more stout since arriving from Connellsville High, followed a .335/37-RBI freshman season with a .316/35-RBI sophomore season at Pitt. Then this.
Entering the NCAA tournament, to which Pitt did not earn a bid, he ranked among Division I's top 40 batters in hits (sixth with 104), average (12th with .433), doubles (36th with 23) and RBIs (35th with 71 in 56 games).
Oh, and he stood 59th nationally in saves with eight.
"Right now, he might not put up the power numbers that the pro guys are looking for, but the power is in there," Jordano said. "At the next level ... they'll probably get him to lift the ball a little more. Then, he'll hit the ball out of every park in the country. He's going to be a monster."
Leonard is the son of a former Connellsville High player drafted twice: John, a right-handed pitcher, was taken in the 17th round in 1979 by the Boston Red Sox and in the first round of the fallen-through-the-cracks secondary phase of 1982 by the Baltimore Orioles.
Funny how one team keeps cropping up. The son wears his socks high because of short pants handed out last summer on the Maryland collegiate team operated by former Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. ("They only had pant lengths to here," Leonard offered. "It caught on.") And Baltimore sent national cross-checkers and assistant general managers to Pitt games to follow the son of a one-time Orioles draftee.
A handful of Pitt teammates are expected to be drafted as well: former Panthers quarterback Kevan Smith of Seneca Valley High at catcher, plus fellow catcher Cory Brownsten and shortstop Danny Lopez.
Leonard, the third Pitt player to win the Big East's Player of the Year, not only set the Panthers' single-season and career record for saves, this year he established new Pitt season marks for hits (in dramatic fashion with a two-run homer), doubles, total bases, RBIs and at-bats.
"Offensively, there isn't much he can't do," Jordano said. "He's one of the best we've ever had. I go back to the time I first saw him as a high school sophomore and said, 'This guy has to be a Pitt Panther.' Everything about him is professional.
"And I think his better days are ahead of him, when he gets into a pro environment where he's playing baseball every day. He's going to fill out even more."
You can tell from those size-14s?
Jordano smiled and concluded, "Everything about him is big."
First Published June 6, 2010 12:00 am