After Cincinnati picked PAC-10 Pitcher of The Year Mike Leake with their first pick in last year's major league baseball draft, the organization fully expected a bright big league future out of the young right hander. What they didn't expect was for that big league future to start later that spring. Astounding everyone, Leake showed up at spring training pitching like a polished veteran and demonstrated skills and mental fortitude far beyond his years.
In fact, he pitched so well, he ultimately became the first player in over twenty years to make a major league roster without having ever played in the minors. Still flying somewhat under the radar at the beginning of the season, the gutsy young phenom jumped out to a 7-1 start with a 3.45 ERA and quickly became an early front runner for the NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Leake continued to impress throughout the season with his tenaciousness on the mound and sheer instincts for the art of pitching. Ultimately, Leake posted an 8-4 record with a 3.78 ERA in 22 starts, and played an essential role in Cincinnati's first playoff appearance in 15 years.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mike about his rookie campaign, his nutrition and conditioning strategies, and his outlook for next season.
A.I really did not have any expectations going into spring training. All I knew is that if I went in there and put a little brand in their brains they would have to consider me for the job.
Q. You not only made the big league roster out of spring training, you started the regular season undefeated (4-0, 2.45 ERA) after your first 10 starts. Did you honestly expect to have that much success right off the bat?
A. I always expect a lot out of myself. If I did not have similar results I would have been disappointed with myself.
Q. You were the first pitcher since Jim Abbott in 1989 to skip the minor leagues and go straight to the major leagues. What were the biggest challenges about pitching a full season in the majors fresh out of college?
A. To be honest, the most challenging part was not based on innings or rest. It was allowing myself to be okay with having a sub-par outing every once in a while. Usually I would be angry if I would have a bad outing in college. It's such a long season you have to let go of bad outings.
Q. The Reds media guide lists you at 6-1, 190 pounds, but the reality is you're about 5-11, and maybe 175 pounds? Though small in stature by big league standards, and not throwing the hardest stuff, you still experienced a lot of success in your first year in pro baseball. What are your greatest assets as a pitcher?
A. The greatest assets are a pitcher's mind and instincts. You could have the most dominating pitches, but if you can't puzzle them together you get passed up.
Q. Enduring the longest season in all of professional sports, how important is it for a baseball player, particularly a pitcher, to maintain a sound fitness and nutritional routine? What does your workout routine consist of during the season?
A. It is crucial for the long run. I usually workout a couple times between each outing with some conditioning as well. You also need to mix in some shoulder exercises to keep the arm strong.
Q. Many training professionals believe that strong legs make a strong pitcher. What's the most important leg exercise you do?
A. I would have to say different variations of the squat and sprints.
Q. What's the #1 telltale sign for you that you've really got good stuff on a given day (i.e. velocity, location, movement, stamina, etc.)?
A. Location and movement are keys for me. Without either I know it's going to have to be a hard working day on the mound.
Q. Traveling and playing every day can play havoc with a nutritional regimen. What's one food you always try to have with you and eat on the road?
A. I like to keep a protein bar of some sort with me in case I need a burst of energy, particularly a Supreme Protein bar!
Q. That's interesting. Many professional athletes swear by Supreme Protein bars
A. They taste good and they pack a large amount of protein to keep the body running!
Q. What are your plans this off-season? Are you adhering to any particular type of workout routine? Please elaborate.
A. I will be working out and conditioning for three months up until spring training. For two months, I will be doing shoulder exercises and for a month and a half I will be playing catch.
Q. Though losing in the first round to the defending NL champion Phillies, the Reds made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. What are your expectations for this young and talented team next year?
A. Team expectations I try to stay away from. The only expectations I have are for the team to stay focused and not allow this last year to get in the way of the focus for the current season.
Q. The Reds pitching staff is filled with an abundance of young, talented arms, all of whom will be competing for a rotation spot with the big club next season. What will be your approach coming into spring next year?
A. I can only control myself. My job is to take care of my business and not allow the results of my fellow pitchers to change who I am as a ball player. Believe!
- Thanks Mike, and congrats on a terrific rookie season!