Low-key Leake unaffected by success - East Valley Tribune: Sports

Low-key Leake unaffected by success

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Posted: Thursday, June 11, 2009 6:20 pm | Updated: 2:42 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Mike Leake still won't buy into his own hype. As the Arizona State baseball team mapped out its journey to Omaha, Neb., on Monday - one day before Leake became the eighth overall choice in Major League Baseball's amateur draft - the team's ace worried about how much money he would be allotted on the road trip.                                 

College World Series team capsules  |  UNC coach has right touch

Mike Leake still won't buy into his own hype.

As the Arizona State baseball team mapped out its journey to Omaha, Neb., on Monday - one day before Leake became the eighth overall choice in Major League Baseball's amateur draft - the team's ace worried about how much money he would be allotted on the road trip.

Never mind the fact that he is due a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $2 million in the coming months, or that he could be starting in a couple years in the major leagues, where players have access to lavish all-you-can-eat pregame and postgame buffets.

"What's he going to get, a couple million at least (when signing)?" Arizona State coach Pat Murphy said. "And he was worried about per diem."

Maybe that's what makes Leake great.

College World Series team capsules

UNC coach has right touch

Since he's smaller than most pitchers and can't throw as hard, the junior right-hander never looked at himself as a legitimate professional entity, the kind that get scouts buzzing.

"I'm not a prospect, really," said Leake, hours before the Cincinnati Reds clearly decided otherwise in Tuesday's draft. "I'm 5-10."

His numbers, of course, scream "prospect."

As the Sun Devils prepare to take on North Carolina on Sunday in their first game of the College World Series, Leake sits with a 16-1 record and a 1.36 ERA. He has struck out 150 batters in 132 2/3 innings, walked just 21 and held opponents to a batting average of .175.

Those statistics have made him one of five finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given to the top college player in the country.

With his "limited" arsenal, how does Leake do it? He simply goes out and pitches.

His fastball is good enough to get batters out, so Leake never obsessed about adding two or three miles per hour to it.

His location has always been pinpoint, and at ASU, he gradually mastered the mental side of the game.

All of a sudden, the non-prospect became one of the best pitchers in Arizona State history.

"There aren't too many better that I've been around," Murphy said.

Leake has four pitches, of which two - the fastball and curveball - are considered above average.

And while he can hit 94 mph with his fastball when he needs to, he rarely does. Instead, he relies on its movement to baffle hitters.

"He's fought the urge that many pitchers have as juniors to prove to scouts how hard they can throw," Arizona State pitching coach Josh Holliday said. "He's proven to them that 'I am a winner,' that 'I am a pitcher.' That takes tremendous discipline and maturity.

"Could he throw harder? Probably. But that would go against what he's tried to become since he came here, and that's a great pitcher."

Perhaps more than anything else, Leake is a gamer.

Which, at Arizona State, lends you to an awfully favorable comparison.

Dustin Pedroia supposedly didn't have the size or speed to get it done at the next level, either, but the MVP trophy on the Red Sox second baseman's mantle will end that debate quickly.

"All the general managers will call me, or the scouting directors will call me, and they say, 'This guy reminds me of Pedroia,' " Murphy said. "How cool is that, to get that comparison? They're totally opposites personality-wise, but then you start thinking about on the field, and they're pretty similar. (They) get it done."

After Saturday's win over Clemson in the super regional, Leake was low key.

After becoming the eighth player chosen in the draft, he barely cracked a smile.

"I think everyone around me was a little more excited than I was," Leake said.

He was happy that draft day was over - not because it made him a multimillionaire, but because the Sun Devils still have unfinished business at the College World Series.

In a year with a massive roster overhaul, Leake could have looked out for himself, focused on the draft and forgotten about trying to get to Omaha. He saw the juniors before him step one foot out the door before the season had ended.

"I've seen (the draft) affect seven, eight, nine out of 10 players," Holliday said. "But we're not dealing with a normal guy here. He's a very mature, driven young man who understands who he is."

Leake was recently named the Academic All-American of the Year due to his 3.42 grade-point average, and in actuality, he knows exactly how fortunate he is.

But he won't switch roles. He's a fighter, determined to scratch and claw for everything.

Leake did make one concession following the draft: On a team full of college kids, he promised to buy dinner in Omaha.

But only after they win a game.

That's Leake. Always getting what he wants.

"Mike dances to his own tune," Murphy said. "He knows what he wants in life, and he does it."

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