If the Cyclones are going to win their second New York–Penn League championship this week, Jack Leathersich will be a big part of it.
The Cyclones’ 21-year-old flame-thrower has a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, an unhittable curve, and oodles of big league swagger.
“I would say I’m confident,” said the Beverly, Mass., native, who struck out 26 batters in his 12-2/3 innings, an amazing statistic. “That’s the way you have to be as a pitcher. If you don’t act like that, you’re gonna struggle.”
Leathersich has been doing anything but struggling since joining the Clones mid-season. In fact, his coaches are convinced that he’ll be wearing Met pinstripes within two years. He naturally agrees.
“As long as I keep pitching well and keep helping the team win, I think that I’ll be up there soon,” said Leathersich.
Ego is something that the southpaw — whose brash style and aggressive delivery have been compared to former Met Billy Wagner — has in spades.
“He’s got big balls,” said Ken Haring, head coach of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks, where Leathersich led the pitching staff as a junior with 6-2 record and 1.62 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .175 batting average. “He’s got that swagger. That’s 90 percent of it.”
At the same time, both current and past coaches have called him “a flake,” with an unpredictable sense of humor.
“He hung his mother’s sports bra up in the dugout as a ‘rally bra’ to win the game,” said Haring. “Who does that? He never takes anything too serious — except when he’s between the lines.”
There’s nothing funny about the bigger-than-big-league strikeout numbers he put up — a feat that Cyclone pitching coach, three time All Star and Cy Young Award-winner Frank Viola, called “mind-boggling — even for professional baseball.”
But there is work to be done before this Class A minor leaguer can join the likes of Ryan, Seaver or even Gooden.
“His stuff is incredible,” said Viola. “His biggest thing is trying to repeat his delivery. His arm angle changes from pitch to pitch. He needs to be consistent with his fastball, his change-up and curveball. When he does that, he’s going to be devastating.”
He’ll start next season at a higher level in the Mets organization, where he’ll need more than a cocky attitude and a wicked breaking ball. He’ll need a good change if he wants to hang in for six or seven innings instead of two — the maximum he’s been allowed to pitch as a Cyclone.
Leathersich’s father, Lew, said his son grew up imitating the arm movement of two-time Cy Young award winner — and fellow Massachusetts southpaw — Tom Glavine. But where Glavine was cool on the hill, Leathersich has always been intense.
“He never talks at all on the day he pitches. It’s all mental,” the father said. “He’s sort of a freak of nature. He’s worked very, very hard. He works out like a madman — but he’s also been lucky.”
Leathersich was drafted by the Mets in the fifth round, which is very high, but coming from a Division II school means he has more to prove among all the Division I players and former pros, he said.
“I’ve always just had a chip on my shoulder since I was a D2 guy,” he said. “I just never cared about what anybody has said about me. I’ve just always gone out there and done my thing.”
His coaches say the attitude is a good thing and hasn’t gotten in the way of his playing.
“He’s just letting these guys know, ‘Hey, I’m Jack Leathersich and I’m as good, if not better, than all of you guys,’ ” said Viola. “When you have that attitude, nobody can tell you can’t do something.”