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Reds anoint Leake as fifth starter

Reds anoint Leake as fifth starter

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Pitcher Mike Leake walked out of the manager's office and back into the Reds' clubhouse trying his hardest to contain a smile.

First, Leake spoke quietly to Travis Wood as the lefty was packing his bags. The two bumped fists and wished each other well.

The 22-year-old Leake was informed Friday afternoon that he was picked over Wood to be the Reds' fifth starter in the big league rotation. That also means he will get to skip the Minors completely and begin his pro career in the Major Leagues.

"It's kind of surreal right now. It has to soak in a little," Leake said moments after receiving the news from manager Dusty Baker, general manager Walt Jocketty and pitching coach Bryan Price.

Since the Reds do not need a fifth starter until April 11 vs. the Cubs, Leake will remain in Arizona and continue Spring Training. He is a non-roster player and will technically be assigned to the Minor League camp and a roster move will be made before his start. Cincinnati will have to remove someone from its 25- and 40-man rosters.

Spring of Leake
After being named the Reds' fifth starter, Mike Leake became the 13th pitcher and 21st player overall to be selected in the First-Year Player Draft and skip the Minor Leagues completely.
Draft Player School MLB team
Spring 2009 Mike Leake* Arizona St. Reds
Spring 2000 Xavier Nady Cal-Berkeley Padres
Spring 1995 Ariel Prieto* Fajardo University (Cuba) A's
Spring 1993 Darren Dreifort* Wichita State Dodgers
Spring 1989 John Olerud Washington St. Blue Jays
Spring 1988 Jim Abbott* Michigan Angels
Spring 1985 Pete Incaviglia Oklahoma St. Expos
Spring 1978 Tim Conroy* Gateway H.S. (PA) A's
Spring 1978 Bob Horner Arizona St. Braves
Spring 1978 Brian Milner Southwest H.S. (TX) Blue Jays
Spring 1978 Mike Morgan* Valley H.S. (NV) A's
Spring 1973 David Clyde* Westchester H.S. (TX) Rangers
Spring 1973 Dave Winfield Minnesota Padres
Spring 1973 Eddie Bane* Arizona St. Twins
Winter 1973 Dick Ruthven* Fresno St. Phillies
Spring 1972 Dave Roberts Oregon Padres
Spring 1971 Pete Broberg* Dartmouth Senators
Spring 1971 Rob Ellis Michigan St. Brewers
Spring 1971 Burt Hooton* Texas Cubs
Spring 1969 Steve Dunning* Stanford Indians
Spring 1967 Mike Adamson* South Carolina Orioles
*Denotes pitcher

The Reds selected Leake with the eighth overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State, but he did not play professionally last summer. He received a $2.27 million bonus when signed on Aug. 15.

"Neither Walt nor I have ever had a player that didn't have any professional experience, but he's special," Baker said. "He's a different young man. He's poised and disciplined. His pitch selection, his control, his command are far beyond his years.

"He came here to make the club. I could tell by the way he acted and the way he paid attention."

Since the amateur Draft began in 1965, only 20 players had skipped the Minor Leagues and debuted in the Majors -- the last being outfielder Xavier Nady with the Padres after he was picked in 2000.

The last pitcher to make the leap was Ariel Prieto, who went through the 1995 Draft, but was older and had pitched in Cuba before defecting. Darren Dreifort was picked by the Dodgers in '93 and went straight to the big leagues in '94, although he was sent down later that season.

Leake was aiming very high when he was drafted and before he opened camp.

"I had the inner confidence that it was going to happen," Leake said. "I had to just keep it in me and not let anyone else see that I was thinking that. It's a quiet confidence I have that I try not to let people see. I go about my business."

In six spring games, including two starts, the right-handed Leake was 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA, 16 hits, four walks and 10 strikeouts over 18 innings. The 5-foot-10 right-hander tipped the scales in his final outing vs. the A's on Wednesday, when he allowed two earned runs and four hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

"We're very confident in his ability to pitch at a high level. He demonstrated that this spring," Jocketty said. "We drafted him with the idea he was going to be a guy that would get to the big leagues quick. We didn't figure it would be this quick."

Wood, 23, had more experience than Leake as he rose up to Triple-A Louisville last season. His numbers were similar in his six games with a 1-1 record and 3.50 ERA and 17 strikeouts. But he also had 12 walks and didn't fare as well over his final two outings. The Reds optioned him to Louisville.

"We thought Wood needs to work on his command some more," Baker said. "He needs to tighten up his breaking ball. He's very, very close."

The Reds had a large contingent of candidates for the fifth spot, including Cuban sensation Aroldis Chapman, Wood, Matt Maloney, Micah Owings, Mike Lincoln and Justin Lehr. Chapman had a great camp before back spasms on March 22 set his hopes back and it left the battle between Wood and Leake. Chapman was also optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Friday.

Ironically, so much media attention was placed on the left-handed Chapman, his 100-mph fastball and his chances at the fifth spot that Leake slipped quietly under the radar. Coming in, Leake seemed to have a distant shot at making the team, but kept impressing and kept forcing the issue.

"I've always gone out there with confidence," Leake said. "I don't see it as cockiness. I just didn't feel like I had that much pressure on me. I did what I could."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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