Leon's dream within reach, but toolsy Cuban has work to do to join Astros

March 3rd, 2022

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- His dream of reaching the Major Leagues being closer than ever, Pedro Leon’s motivation has never been higher. He’s thought plenty of times about getting the call and reaching The Show, but understands it’s a call that may never come if he doesn’t remain driven and continues to improve.

That sets up 2022 as the biggest year in Leon's career, as the 23-year-old Cuban defector who signed for $4 million in January 2021 and was billed by the club as a “rapid mover to the big leagues.” The initial impression of Leon during his first year of domestic professional baseball was a mixed bag, with Leon playing more shortstop than center field and struggling to make contact at times.

Still, the tools remain: an 80-grade arm, above-average bat speed, streak-of-lightning speed and athleticism oozing from his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame. He arrived at Minor League camp last week eager to put it all together on the field.

“I’m very motivated, but obviously to get there you must get the results we’re looking for,” Leon said in Spanish. “Also, I must work on knowing how to handle my emotions, because one day you could be in Triple-A, get called up and the next day you’re playing next to [José] Altuve, and you think to yourself, ‘Wow, it’s true, I’m here.’ So, I must know how to handle those emotions. But I’m very happy knowing that could be a reality and that’s why I’m working very hard.”

Leon, the Astros’ No. 2-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, started last year at Double-A Corpus Christi and was promoted to Triple-A after 10 weeks, playing primarily shortstop despite most of his prior experience coming in center field. He batted .220/.339/.369 with a 31 percent strikeout rate, but last season came on the heels of a two-year layoff and came against the best pitching he’d faced. Also, his 2021 season was interrupted for two months with a broken left pinkie finger.

“I'm very curious after so much game action last year, especially against a higher level of pitching in the [Arizona Fall League], how he makes adjustments,” said Pete Putila, the Astros' assistant general manager for player development. “Just the fact he’s an athlete, I’m very curious to see how it comes out.”

Putila said the Astros plan to play Leon at shortstop and center field once again this year. After they signed him as an outfielder, they worked him out on the infield and were impressed by his footwork and, of course, his arm. He played an adequate defensive shortstop -- unlike in center, where he’s an elite defender.

“Honestly, it wasn’t much of a surprise, because those have been the talks within the organization,” Leon said about playing shortstop. “I knew I had to work on that. But now I must trust my God-given athletic instinct, keep working, stay disciplined with everything that has to do with that position, and little by little, I will see the results.”

At the plate, Leon said his focus with the hitting coaches so far this spring has been eliminating any unnecessary body movements and improving his contact rate.

“I wasn’t very happy with the year I had, but I made sure to remember what went wrong to improve in the offseason,” he said. “I think the main lesson was that since it’s a longer season, I must work on the mental aspect, so I’ve been focusing on that also.”

Leon, who has made a home in South Florida, will get another shot at Triple-A this year, where he could put himself in position to reach the big leagues. Prospect Jeremy Peña appears to be the starter at shortstop in Houston, but he’s unproven. The Astros’ center-field spot lacks stability, as well.

“Obviously, the main goal is getting to The Show,” Leon said. “Also going out and give it all, give 100 percent. There will be days that you’ll be tired, you forget you’re trying to achieve that goal, and you’re not completely focused. But each day you must look at yourself in the mirror and ask if you gave your 100 percent. That would be one of my main goals.”