I had the chance to talk to New York Mets left-handed pitching prospect Jack Leathersich last February before he headed to Port St. Lucie for the start of Spring Training.
With the news that Jack has been promoted to Triple-A Las Vegas, I thought today would be the perfect time to look back at what me and him talked about during our phone conversation where we both covered a lot of ground.
Jack is 2-0 with three saves this season and a 1.53 ERA. He also has an incredible 55 strikeouts in 29.1 innings and 194 strikeouts in 114.0 innings overall during his minor league career.
After being taken by the Mets in the 5th round of the 2011 MLB draft, Jack has now completed two solid and exciting years as a pro, and has quickly risen up the ranks of many a Mets top prospects list. The talented southpaw has posted some dazzling strikeout numbers at each level as he quickly moves through the Mets system.
Jack, 22, is a well grounded young man who loves the game and has a profound respect for the art of pitching. He sees each new challenge as another opportunity to learn more about his craft and improving his approach. In my conversation with him, I could tell how important winning was to him and he often mentioned how much he wants to help his teammates and the team succeed.
In our interview, we discussed how far he has come in the last two years in terms of his development and what his goals are for this season. I asked him who he likens himself to, some of the players he’s looked up to, the things he’s learned as a pro, and a host of other subjects. Enjoy the interview…
Joe D. – First of all congratulations on a successful second pro season last year and for helping St. Lucie get into the FSL playoffs. It must have been quite an exciting year for you. Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers at MetsMerizedOnline.com. Here goes and reply back at your convenience.
Joe D. – When did your workout schedule begin and can you describe your regimen and how you stay in shape in the offseason?
Jack - I started working about September 10 which was about five days after the season ended. I work out and train at Cresse Performance where they have a new facility with everything we need. I know Eric Cresse personally and he’s the best of the best. It’s a large facility and a lot of the pros all go there — they have two cages and two mounds, a full staff and all the workout equipment you need.
Joe D. – What specifically do you work on when you’re Cresse’s, do you have a specific program or regimen that you go through?
Jack – They designed a personal workout program that is suited to my needs and goals. It focuses on heavy legs, shoulder care, and of course arm care. After a long season, stuff starts to break down and you need to get it back to full strength.
Joe D. – How was your stamina at the end of the season?
Jack – It was good. After my first year in 2011, going from my final college season and then onto Brooklyn, I got very tired at the end of the season and I just broke down. I learned how hard a season can be and how long it is. That offseason I learned that there are things I can do that will help me stay strong all year. I don’t really take a long break after the season ends and I prefer instead to workout and build my strength and stamina. I did a pretty good job last year and I stayed strong and felt better because of it. That’s why it was important for me to continue what I started as far as working out after the season. so that I could take care of my arm so that I could keep it as fresh as it can be. Having a tired arm my first year was one of the worst things.
Joe D. – What was the most important lesson you took from last season?
Jack – Being more consistent. Last season I was blessed because I got to work with two great pitching coaches, Frank Viola and Phil Regan. Those two are the best of the best and there aren’t two better pitching coaches anywhere. Sometimes I can get a little inconsistent with my mechanics and that’s always been my biggest downfall. But those two really helped me to become more consistent with my delivery. Also, I sometimes have a tendency to start flying open a little bit and I end up leaving too many balls up which can get me into trouble. But they taught me how to keep the ball down more consistently and especially with my breaking ball and changeup.
Joe D. - Describe your arsenal for me.
Jack - I only throw a four-seam fast ball, I don’t throw a two-seamer any more because it was slower and flatter, so now I just stick with the four-seamer. My other two pitchers are a slider and change-up, I guess you’d say that’s pretty standard for a lefty.
Joe D. - What kind of action and movement do you have on your fastball, it’s obviously missing a lot of bats.
Jack - It runs in late and has nice action. I try to keep it low in the zone and outside with it early, and then I like to come in on a hitter late in the count. My goal is to try and catch the hitter off guard.
Joe D. - Are you working on any new pitches or are you going to stick with those three for now?
Jack - Obviously I’ve thought about it and I’ve thought about a cutter or something like that. But I don’t really believe that the more pitches you can throw the better you are. I’ve really worked hard this offseason to make my three pitches the best that they can be. Trying to work on a new pitch can make you lose sight of making the pitches you already throw, better. I think it’s important for me right now to focus and just work on refining the pitches I already have. It would be great to come into a game and have all three of them pitches working like they’re supposed to all at once.
Joe D. – Do you have a particular way that you like to go after hitters? What is your mindset when you take the mound? Do you have the same approach whether there are runners on base or not?
Jack – No, not really. I go up there and I’m just trying to get ahead in the count and get some outs. I’m not afraid to let them hit the ball, especially at this level where I know my teammates have my back and so far they have been unbelievable. They are out there making all the plays and I trust them. I try not to think about the situation and I pretty much prefer to just go after guys and attack that situation pitch by pitch. I try to stay calm and my goal is to keep my team in it and hopefully we end up with the “W” after the game.
Joe D. – So Basically you’re telling me you like to get up on the mound and just start pounding the zone, going after each hitter one at a time, and not being afraid to pitch to contact? You’re pretty much telling the hitter, “here’s my best pitch, take your best shot at it?”
Jack – Absolutely. Exactly. But don’t get me wrong… If I read the pitching report and I know that a hitter can’t hit a breaking ball then he’ll get the best breaking ball I can throw. I’m not trying to over-think things, I try to stay focused on how to get a hitter out. I believe that if I can make good pitches, I’m gonna get most guys out. I trust all of my pitches.
Joe D. – Are those pitching reports a big part of your preparation before each game?
Jack – Oh yeah. At the higher levels from what I’ve noticed you pay attention to details more and I learn a bunch about hitters from my teammates as well. I like to hang around the older guys who come to St. Lucie to do their rehabs – you can really learn so much from them and they are always willing to help. There’s a lot that goes into pitching. But the bottom line is that you really have to use your head out there and not over-think everything so much.
Joe D. – Normally, when you look at a lefthanded reliever and check out his splits you expect to see that he dominates lefthanded hitters more than righthanded hitters. Last season, LH hitters hit only .256 against you in St. Lucie, not bad. But you held RH hitters to a .205 average. Is that normal for you?
Jack – Actually, I didn’t even know those numbers. I don’t think about that too much. Obviously I have a different game plan for left-handed and right-handed hitters, but I basically try to stick with the same stuff – try to attack with my fastball and use my offspeed stuff when I need to. I mean lefty or righty, it doesn’t really make a difference to me – I don’t really mind facing either and you do have to get good at facing both of them.
Joe D. – We often see many left-handed relievers steered towards careers as a bullpen specialist in the majors or pigeon-holed into a LOOGY role. But sometimes you come across a southpaw like you that possesses great crossover stuff and is highly effective against both leftys and rightys. A lot of us are excited about the possibilities of your future moving forward with the Mets.
Jack – Thank you.
Joe D. – You started out last season with a bang, I mean you were untouchable. Then you had a couple of bumpy months in June and August, but you finished extremely strong and held the opposition to a .194 batting average in your last ten appearances with 24 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched. Did you make some sort of an adjustment toward the end?
Jack – It’s a long season and I’ve learned a lot last year about myself and about pitching. I went through a little rut those months and at the time it was really frustrating and I was being really hard on myself. But as I look back, it made me a lot better in the long run. It’s a learning process — there’s a reason why every pitcher doesn’t have a zero ERA. You’re gonna get hit at some point and what’s important is how you bounce back and that you are better because of it. I was unhappy at times obviously, but it was good and I’m happy now because I went through it and learned a lot from that last year. It was good.
Joe D. – From many of the other players I’ve watched and spoken to over the years, one of the common things I hear about when they are going through a rut, is that eventually they came out of it once they stopped thinking so much about it. The ones who come out of it quickly are the ones who stay positive, go back to basics, keep within themselves and basically start having some fun again.
Jack – Absolutely. Baseball is a game, but I also understand that it’s my job and I take that very seriously. What matters most to me is that the team is winning. No matter what I will always give my best effort when I’m out there so that me and my teammates win as many games as we can. I try to keep my emotions to myself and try to think positive all the time. Negative thoughts are not only going to make it tough on you, but it also makes it tough on your teammates and you don’t want to do that. Just like you said, it’s all about staying positive, keeping it fun and remembering it’s a game.
Joe D. – Don’t ever forget that, Jack.
Jack – Definitely, I won’t.
Joe D. - This will be your second spring with the Mets. What do they have you doing this spring? What do they have you focusing on?
Jack – I haven’t had a chance to discuss what the plan is with my coaches yet, but I can tell you that I’m in the best shape I can possibly be in and that my arm feels great and I’m ready to go. It doesn’t really matter to me what their plan for me is, I’m more focused on doing what ever they need me to do to help the team win. Wherever I end up this season, my mindset never changes, I want to help my team win.
Joe D. – Speaking of where you end up, I have every reason to believe that we’ll be seeing you at Double-A Binghamton – perhaps even to begin the season. Going from High-A to AA is probably the biggest and most challenging jump for any prospect. How do you prepare for something like? What do you need to focus on to excel at that next level?
Jack – I try not to think about that too much. I’m just going to always try and put myself in a situation where I’m playing at my best and then see what happens from there.
Joe D. – So what are you saying – you’re a “take-it-as-it-comes” type of guy?
Jack – Absolutely. But look, I’ve heard that Double-A is a big jump and the that hitters are so much better up there and harder to get out, but that’s why I’ve been working on improving my offspeed pitches this offseason. And that’s why I’m very focused on trying to refine everything right now especially my offspeed stuff.
Joe D. – Since the end of last season, I’ve been telling anyone that will listen that you are the best left-hander in the system AND that I wouldn’t be shocked to see you in the majors as soon as 2013. Fast forward three months later… During a Q&A with season ticket holders at Citi Field in February, Mets Exec J.P. Ricciardi was asked what prospect he was most excited to see this season. Dude, he picked you! And not only that, he said you’re one of the prospects who could get a taste of the big leagues at some point this year. What have you got to say about that?
Jack – (After a nice chuckle) You know thanks so much, and J.P. – well he’s a great guy, and we have a pretty good relationship. That’s great, but it doesn’t really mean anything until I can go out there and do it and prove that I belong. I need to go out there this season and do my thing. I need to show them that I deserve to climb the ladder. Actions speak a lot louder than words. I’m gonna show up, let them know that I’m happy to be here, and that I’m ready to go. Let’s see what happens.
Joe D. - You spent some time in Savannah to start last season before finishing up in St. Lucie. Tell our readers what teammate you were you most impressed with last season and why? Who really stood out to you last year and who should Met fans be really excited about?
Jack - Oh yeah, definitely T.J. Rivera - he’s the one. He’s the real deal. I’ve never been around a kid who prepares as well as he does. He just really loves the game and it seems like every time I see him he’s out on the field working on something. Rivera plays hard and is completely balls to the wall – he’ll do anything to make sure we win. He’s a great teammate and obviously a great player and everybody should be real excited about him. If he continues the great things he did last season, and I’m pretty sure that he will, he’ll be a lot of fun to watch.
Joe D. – What baseball team did you root for growing up? Who is your favorite player? Is there a major league player, past or present, that you think you are similar to in style? Or someone that you can see yourself pitching like someday in the majors?
Jack – I was a Boston Red Sox fan growing up, but my favorite player has always been Tom Glavine actually.
Joe D. – No kidding? Glavine huh… Most Met fans are very familiar with that guy. What are some of the comparisons you’ve heard about yourself?
Jack – Obviously every pitcher is different, but I hear the name Billy Wagner a lot, although I must admit I don’t have the stuff he has.
Joe D. – Don’t sell yourself short. In preparing for this interview I discovered your numbers compared amazingly well to Billy Wagner at the same age and level, and you both have similar builds and height. Your strikeout and walk rates, and your WHIP, BAA, K/BB are actually all significantly better, and I for one am very excited about that.
Jack – I mean that’s what I’ve heard too, but I’m just trying to be my own player. Billy Wagner, man I loved watching him on the mound, he was just fearless every time he pitched. He couldn’t care less who was up at the plate because he knew he was going to get that batter out. And as for Tom Glavine, his command was ridiculous – he could the ball anywhere he wanted. I remember the times my dad and I would sit on our couch to see him pitch – analyzing everything about the way he pitched. He was fun to watch.
Joe D. – Give me a message for the fans… What do you want to tell them as we wrap this baby up?
Jack – I just want to win this year, wherever the team decides to put me. I’m committed to winning. I owe that to myself and my teammates. I’m going to go out there and do my job and that is to get outs - pitch by pitch. My desire is to win and I want to represent the Mets organization well.
Joe D. – Thanks so much, Jack. Go out there and have a kick-ass season….
Jack – You bet, it’s been a pleasure