Leon finds his power stroke in AFL

November 5th, 2021

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- was playing well and had just arrived in Triple-A when he broke his left pinky finger sliding into a base in late July. The second-ranked Houston prospect, who missed nearly two months then batted just .100 the remainder of the Minor League season, has struggled to get going in the Arizona Fall League.

But Leon swatted his first home run in Arizona on Wednesday afternoon, helping his Desert Dogs to a 5-2 victory over the Saguaros. He drove a 94-mph fastball from Yankees right-hander Tanner Myatt 420 feet with an exit velocity of 111 mph and admitted it felt good.

"I was excited about it," Leon said via Glendale hitting coach Rafael Pena, who also coached him at Double-A Corpus Christi. "That's what we've been working on. That's who I've been in the past and that's what we're working on to do the same thing here at a higher level with quality pitching."

The Astros gave Leon the highest bonus in the 2020-21 international class, signing him for $4 million in January. With his combination of well-above-average raw power and speed, he's the best athlete in their system, and he also features top-of-the-scale arm strength.

Houston hasn't hesitated to challenge Leon. Not only did he head to Double-A for his pro debut, but he also played primarily at shortstop after spending most of his time in Cuba in center field. He also had to adapt to a new culture in the United States after defecting from Cuba.

"The biggest thing I've been working on since I've been here is my hitting," said Leon, who has made seven starts in center and five at shortstop in the Fall League. "That's the biggest gap between Cuba and here, the velocity and the movement and the spin. My mentality at the plate is changing too.

"It's a challenge to play two positions. I feel comfortable in center field, where I played professional baseball and growing up in Cuba. I'm also thankful that they're giving me a chance to learn a different position. That will give me more value, that they trust that I can do that too."

Leon was overly aggressive in his first couple of weeks in the AFL but has settled down some as he has gotten acclimated. He's batting .184/.298/.265 in Arizona after hitting .220/.339/.369 with nine homers and 18 steals in 72 Minor League games, mostly at Double-A.

Not only is he getting more experience against upper-level pitching in the Fall League, but he also has been reunited with fellow Cubans Yoelqui Cespedes (CWS 2), Orlando Martinez (LAA 26) and Yolbert Sanchez (CWS 15) on the Desert Dogs. They all know each other from playing in Cuba's top league, the Serie Nacional.

"We are good friends," Leon said. "We have played together before. It had been a while since I had talked to them. I'm pretty excited about that. That's one of the coolest things, when I'm in the field to have those guys right next to me."

Cardinals first baseman Juan Yepez (No. 27) also homered for Glendale, drilling his fifth of the AFL season off Nationals No. 7 prospect Cole Henry in the third inning. The blast traveled 386 feet with an exit velocity of 106 mph. Rangers second baseman Justin Foscue (No. 4) went deep for Surprise, tagging Angels righty Coleman Crow for a 391-foot shot at 105 mph in the first.

With the victory, the Desert Dogs pulled within two games of the Saguaros in the West Division. Surprise (13-6) and Glendale (11-8) sport the two best records on the developmental circuit.