FORT WAYNE, Ind.– After taking six straight prep players in the 2017 draft, the Padres selected starting pitcher Aaron Leasher from Moorehead State University with the third pick in the sixth round. The six-foot-three lefty boasted an unremarkable 4.19 ERA as a junior, but both his strikeout ability, 105 strikeouts in 92.1 innings pitched, and knack for hammering the zone made him an intriguing day two selection.
Yet, Leasher’s first taste of the minors was a bit of mix bag as he walked over five per nine innings but effectively limited any damage, not allowing more than two earned runs in any of the last six starts to close out the season. Although those control issues unfortunately carried into the early part of 2018, Leasher has walked just two hitters over his last three appearances.
Perhaps, the most impressive aspect of his young career is that Leasher has given up only two home runs in his brief minor league career- an accomplishment that he shares with fellow TinCaps’ starter Nick Margevicius, who was taken one round after him in last year’s draft.
Last week, we caught up with Aaron Leasher to discuss his acclimation to full-season ball and experience leading up to the draft.
MadFriars: To start the year, you struggled with walks, but that wasn’t an issue in the last game. What was different about this start?
Aaron Leasher: I’m just trying to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters, especially with the defense playing well right now. Just throwing strikes can take you deep in a ballgame and getting in pitchers’ counts and not hitters’ counts.
I feel like I continue to hear similar words from other guys on the staff. Is that something Burt Hooton preaches often?
Aaron Leasher: Yeah, he definitely preaches it a lot. You know, just throwing strikes, in general, is a huge part of the game. He laid out the numbers for us, and when you fall behind in the count, it just changes things so much.
Once you pound the zone and establish the strike zone, it can help you in a lot of ways.
How does your mindset change when you fall behind in the count?
Aaron Leasher: When you get behind in the count, you have to throw strikes. You’re looking for swings at that point- whether their strikes or contact to let your defense back you up. You just have to execute the pitch ahead and hope it induces weak contact.
Is there anything that Burt Hooton has honed in on your development?
Aaron Leasher: I would say just being able to throw strikes and use your pitches, utilizing my memory. If I throw a good pitch, I need to realize what I did to throw that good pitch, so that I can store it away and repeat it. That’s his main thing- forget about the bad pitches and put them away and remember and repeat the good ones.
You’ve only allowed two home runs in your minor league career. What has been the key to keeping the ball in the park?
Aaron Leasher: I think getting ahead of hitters and keeping the ball down in the zone, trying to make as few mistakes as possible to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. When you see a home run, it’s normally a mistake, or a hitter knows what’s coming and ambushes it.
Can you tell us a little bit about your arsenal, including what you’re most confident in and what you want to sharpen?
Aaron Leasher: So I throw a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a changeup, and a slider. Both the fastballs are definitely the biggest pitches in my arsenal and the ones I need to work the offspeed pitches off, so I need to establish the fastball.
As far as offspeed pitches, my changeup is probably the best. It’s a come a long way in the last two and a half years. My slider has sort of always been there, but it was a little iffy in spring training and the early part of this season. Though, every once in a while, it will be really good. I think honing in on that pitch to get it to the point I can bring it into every start and get swings and misses.
Since it’s been almost a year since the draft happened, I wanted to ask you about your experience a bit.
At Moorehead State, the strikeout and walk numbers were superb, but the ERA was a bit high. How did that affect you heading into the draft and where you thought might get selected?
Aaron Leasher: I don’t think it affected it much. A lot of the people and scouts that I was talking to understood the field I was playing at had very small dimensions; it was 285 feet to right center. They understood the strikeouts and the walks as the thing to look at.
And the ERA wasn’t good, as you said, but I don’t think it hurt me a ton. I think those who saw me understood what the situation was. From the last month of the season, I had a pretty good idea of where I was going to go, and it ended up where I was.
You said that you had a little bit expectation of where you might be drafted, but was it still nerve-wracking once the draft itself started?
Aaron Leasher: I wouldn’t say nerve-racking, but there were a lot of things going on that day. It was excitement and anticipation about seeing where I was going to go, so I just tried to stay even keel as I was going to be excited no matter the outcome whether it was day two or day three. Also, I had my family with me, so I just tried to stay calm and enjoy the moment.
In terms of goals, both individual and the team’s, what are you working towards this season?
Aaron Leasher: I think the biggest goal for me is to just stay consistent over the course of a season. In college, you play just 50-60 games, which is a ton of games. But [it] doesn’t compare to a 130-140 game season, so I think just staying consistent from my first outing to my last outing and staying strong throughout the long season are my goals.
Having longer starts and keeping my stamina up as well.
For the team, the goal is just to win. I think we have a really good farm system at every level, so whether I am here or at another level, [the goal is] to compete and win games.
There’s a bevy of talented pitchers in the system. Are there any who have really impacted you this offseason/season?
Aaron Leasher: Definitely, I think you can learn something from every pitcher on every staff that you are on. Obviously, we have tremendous talent on this team but there’s no specific guy that stands out. If a pitch isn’t working for me, I’m going to ask a guy what his grip or plan is.
Just asking guys- and it can even be texting guys that I used to play with in past years- to try and learn from whoever is around me.