SAN ANTONIO, Texas – – With the big club searching for innings, Aarron Leasher, 25, a left-handed starter with the Double-A San Antonio Missions has emerged as a potential candidate to eat innings in the major leagues.
Leasher was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres in 2016 out of Morehead State, after an up-and-down three years, but put together an impressive 105 strikeouts in 92.1 innings against only 32 walks in his last year.
The 6-foot-3, 210 pound Michigan native struggled with his command his first two years in the organization but turned in a solid season in High-A Lake Elsinore in 2019, throwing 120 innings with a 3.15 ERA and a 113:34 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
This year he is having his best season in Double-A with a 2.56 ERA in 52.2 innings across 12 starts with 52 strikeouts against 21 walks.
“He knows exactly who he is and how he has to pitch to be successful,” said his manager, Phillip Wellman. “He has to command his fastball, and his changeup is so good and the hitters might know it’s coming and they still can’t hit it.
“I’ve seen times where hitters have seen him throw three straight change-ups and the batters still can’t do anything with it.”
We caught up with Aaron on our trip to San Antonio to talk about he how got better during the pandemic and how he attacks hitters.
Last year, because of the pandemic you didn’t get to play and only a very few minor leaguers were at the Alternate Site. So what did you do to stay in shape?
Aaron Leasher: Obviously a lot of unknowns in 2020, so I was trying to stay as ready as possible. I was throwing a lot of live BPs, trying to face hitters as much as I could. I tried to stay in game shape so if I did get the chance I would be ready.
I had a pitching coach who I was working with, so that also helped. I lost a lot of game reps, but I tried to use the time as productively as possible.
There were quite a few restrictions on major league baseball about how much contact the team could have with players away from the Alternate Site. So were there any guidelines that the organization gave you?
Aaron Leasher: Obviously everyone got sent home after Spring Training. They tried to give us updates and guidance when they could and there was always someone we could reach out to.
Then again, when you play professional baseball it’s kind of up to you to get better in your career. All of us had a pretty good idea of what we needed to get better at and how to go about doing it.
That’s something most of us miss – and many of us are former high school athletes – is how much at this level you have to figure things out on your own.
Aaron Leasher: You have to be your own coach and self-evaluator. The Padres have a big group of guys to help you out, but if you are not putting your own career in your own hands and doing what you can to progress, then you are doing something wrong.
The information is there, it’s up to you to access it and apply it.
What is the biggest thing that you have been working on? There is a ton of information, but you are the one that has to go out and put it in action on the mound. What did you learn that was really important for you and what was not as important?
Aaron Leasher: I’ve had a pretty good idea of what I needed to work on going into each season and a really good idea of what I needed to work on each off-season. For me, my changeup has always been my best pitch and making sure it stays that way. My breaking ball has always been a big challenge and right now my slider is the most consistent that it has ever been.
Figuring out when and when not to throw it and how to use it to keep hitters off of my fastball/changeup combination. Just to continue to develop all three pitches and how to attack hitters and keep them off of looking for a specific pitch.
Do you throw both a four-seam and two-seam fastball?
Aaron Leasher: All four-seam and they are around 90 to 92.
To me, when I see you are doing well – the fastball is always precise in its location. How big is sequencing for you?
Aaron Leasher: It’s huge. I try to throw everything for a strike and getting ahead consistently. My fastball is not 95 mph plus, so it’s not overpowering. If I can command it, and throw my changeup and slider for strikes in any count, that is how I am going to be successful.
When I watch you throw your fastball you try to hit all four quadrants of the zone. So when you throw your changeup, the batter thinks it’s a low fastball. So when your throw a breaking pitch up, is that a curve?
Because you are not throwing a high changeup that drops over the middle of the plate.
Aaron Leasher: I throw two sliders, one is slower and more curvy and then I have a sharper one with more depth which I throw as a punchout pitch. I typically live at the bottom of the zone, but I like to go into righties to get them off of the fastball.
I’ve got pretty good command on the inside part of the plate and a lot of it depends on the scouting report that day and where their hot zones are.
I used to see a lot of lefties, especially college ones, would have trouble coming inside to right-handed hitters because they didn’t want to miss over the plate. Was that the case with you?
Aaron Leasher: We are all going to have misses because when I miss I miss on the inside part of the plate. I don’t live there, but it’s more of a show pitch.
When you came back, you had thrown a lot of live BPs and worked out, but what was the biggest thing that surprised you about coming back to live competition?
Aaron Leasher: Probably just the overall routine of throwing every fifth or sixth day. Just making sure you are ready to go.