If you’ve heard of Michael De Leon, it’ s only because the Rangers gave the shortstop $550,000 last summer to sign out of the Dominican Republic. Until this weekend, De Leon had yet to play an official professional game, and was projected to most likely make his debut in the Arizona Summer League, or, if the Rangers felt like assigning him aggressively, short-season Spokane.
After the Rangers suffered a rash of injuries necessitating the call-ups of Frisco’s incumbent middle infielders, Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas, the 17-year-old was assigned to the RoughRiders as what was supposed to be a type of roster-filler. Not only did De Leon get to fill a AA roster, but he played in Sunday’s game, and is on the road trip to Midland and San Antonio with the team. Previously, the youngest person to appear in a ‘Riders game was pitcher Omar Poveda at age 18, and he only appeared in one game. It’s not certain that De Leon will get a second game with the ‘Riders, but his presence on the road trip makes it a possibility, and a 17-year-old getting into two games would be a hard record to break in the future.
If one only watched De Leon in the field on Sunday, it would be nearly impossible to tell that it was his first professional game. His first two fielding chances came on lazy pop-ups to short left, which he handled with aplomb, but his first true chance at short didn’t arrive until the eighth inning, where he got to show off with both the glove and the arm. The first batter of the inning hit a weak grounder right to where De Leon had him played, and the only sign of nerves was possibly evident in the throw to first, which caught the runner, but only barely. De Leon got a second chance, though, ranging to his left on another grounder. Though the transfer wasn’t perfect, the poise he showed in not giving up on the play was impressive, and a quick throw retired Corpus DH Preston Tucker.
The best play of the game was on the final out, and De Leon showed why he got a cool half-million as a 16-year-old. Second baseman Edwin Garcia gobbled up an Andrew Aplin ground ball, and flipped to a covering De Leon at second for the first out of the double play. The ball was a little on the outside of second base, meaning De Leon had to spin to throw accurately to first. He did so, firing an absolute strike to Trever Adams to beat a speeding Aplin, a play that even more experienced shortstops could have had trouble making. Of course, a single day of routine (and even highlight) plays means nothing in the grand scheme of things, but it’s an encouraging sign that he didn’t look overmatched in the field.
While De Leon is very exciting, he’s not even really ready for the level he currently occupies. He’s tall, but the 160 lbs. at which he is listed on the roster may be a tiny bit generous, and he has a lot of room to add strength. His plate approach and general hitting are still very immature, as could be expected of someone the general age of a high-school junior. De Leon could very possibly not see Frisco again until 2017, at which point he’ll be the ripe old age of 19, the same age at which Jurickson Profar and Elvis Andrus saw a full season in Frisco. Of course, as so many things go, there’s the sobering reality that De Leon could never see Frisco again, for a wide variety of reasons. His path to the game’s higher levels is not yet crystal clear, but the future appears to be bright for the current youngest player in organized baseball.