(Photo via the Colorado Mesa baseball website, seen here)
Regular season games started over the weekend for some Division II schools. Colorado Mesa was picked to repeat as Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Champions. The Mavericks have won six consecutive conference championships, and they reached the Division II national semifinals in 2017. Two players that contributed to the team’s success in 2017 will return in 2018. Kyle Leahy, a pitcher, and Zach McLeod, an infielder, will try to lead their team to another conference title and add a national title to the trophy case. During a tournament at the University of California-San Diego on February 9-11, the fourth-ranked Mavericks split games with the seventh-ranked UCSD Tritons.
Kyle Leahy, who throws a fastball, curveball, and slider, took a big step forward during his sophomore year. During his freshman year, Leahy allowed eight earned runs and eight walks in 9 2/3 innings pitched. As a sophomore, Leahy posted a 13-0 record with a 1.41 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and four complete games in 108 2/3 innings pitched. His stellar efforts earned him RMAC Pitcher of the Year honors in 2017. His ability to improve his command helped him as a sophomore, as he posted 96 strikeouts to only 13 walks. In a game versus New Mexico Highlands on March 31, 2017, Leahy struck out 15 batters and walked two hitters in eight innings. His 6-foot-4 frame helps him throw downhill.
In 2017, Leahy reduced extra-base hits, as he held hitters to 11 doubles and zero home runs. He also reduced his batting average against from .325 during his freshman season to .211 during his sophomore year. Holding his gains will bode well for his team while also boosting his draft status in 2018. Even though fifteen of his seventeen appearances were as a starting pitcher in 2017, he appeared in two games as a relief pitcher.
During the 2017 summer, Leahy pitched for the Waterloo Bucks in the Northwoods League. The right-hander started five games and posted a 1.20 ERA in 37.1 innings pitched. While Leahy demonstrated that he can support his success with a 1.15 WHIP, his strikeouts dipped (4.8 K/9) during the summer. With the results, we would expect him to keep the hard contact at a minimum with similar strikeout numbers in 2018.
First Start Impressions
More than a dozen scouts were on hand to watch Kyle Leahy remain undefeated as a college pitcher, as his strong outing propelled fourth-ranked Colorado Mesa to an 11-1 victory over seventh-ranked UCSD. Leahy pitched effectively against UCSD’s offense, who led their conference in homers in 2017. The right-hander struck out three and allowed two hits and two walks in five innings of work. His fastball velocity ranged from 91mph in the third inning to 88mph in the fifth inning. Leahy paired a fastball with a breaking ball most of the afternoon. While Leahy had five fly ball outs and five ground ball outs, inducing double plays in the first and fourth innings helped his cause when men reached base.
When working through the Tritons order for the first time, Leahy established his fastball early in counts. His two-seam fastball’s movement allowed him to strike out Steven Schunknecht looking in the second inning. Leahy preferred to throw his fastball inside to most of the left-handed bats in UCSD’s lineup, and he worked away from most of the right-handed bats. During the third inning, Leahy started his pitch sequences with breaking balls early in counts. Throwing a breaking ball away to Tritons shortstop Shay Whitcomb led to a 5-3 putout in the third inning. Kyle Leahy varied his opening pitches in the fourth inning, as he threw an inside fastball to Tyler Durna, a breaking ball high to Zander Clarke, and a fastball up to Alex Eliopulos. While Leahy missed high with some of his fastballs in the fifth inning, his ability to hit outside corner locations and inside locations kept hitters off-balanced throughout the game. Moving the ball around the zone further supported Leahy’s ability to limit hard contact.
The Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selected Zach McLeod, a senior shortstop at Colorado Mesa, as a preseason player of the year. As a high school senior in 2014, Perfect Game ranked him as the 15th best third baseman in the state. The infielder has shown plate discipline since his freshman year at Colorado Mesa. In 154 ABs in 2015, he walked 12 times and struck out 24 times while posting a .399 on-base percentage. His ability to make consistent contact contributed to a .351 batting average, 20 doubles, and a .571 slugging percentage in 2015. His patience and doubles led to an appearance on the All-RMAC team as a freshman.
During his sophomore year, his performance dropped a bit. He drew fewer walks (7) in 171 AB, and he struck out 34 times in 2016, as his on-base percentage dropped to .292. Hitting only eight doubles and two home runs contributed to a lower slugging percentage, .357, as a sophomore. While he struggled at the plate at times, stealing five bases and committing fewer errors landed McLeod a spot on the All-RMAC second team.
As a junior, he improved his patience at the plate. The shortstop elevated his on-base percentage to .392 by reducing his strikeouts (23) and making consistent contact. McLeod hit for more power, as he hit 13 doubles and five home runs with a .508 slugging percentage. If the shortstop can continue to improve his plate discipline, we can him to see more pitches he can drive into the gap.
Even though Zach McLeod went 0-7 in two games against UCSD. He was able to get around a fastball at the letters.
While McLeod swung underneath a pitch near the letters, his quick hands allowed him to get the barrel on the ball in enough time to make decent contact.
In his second at-bat on Sunday, he swung at another pitch up in the zone.
Swinging at a pitch up in the zone made it difficult to get his bat on an even plane with the ball, which would have allowed McLeod to drive the pitch. Instead, his bat path remains flat and moves under the ball, which led to an infield pop up.
In his third at-bat, Zach McLeod worked the count in his favor to 3-1 after seeing two fastballs up and two sliders away. After fouling another fastball back to run the count full, he popped up on a fastball away to the right fielder in foul territory. Seeing McLeod stay disciplined in his third at-bat was encouraging, as he only saw four pitches in his first two at-bats. While McLeod displayed the ability to drive balls in the gap and hit for power during his junior year, he will need to find better pitches to drive for doubles.
Kyle Leahy and Zach McLeod will look to repeat their strong 2017 seasons and lead their team to another conference championship. Monitor Kyle Leahy’s ability to work his pitches to all parts of the zone and limit hard contact throughout the 2018 season. Track Zach McLeod to see if he can find pitches that allow his quick hands to drive balls in the gap.