Dynasty Prospect Deep Sleep: Luke Leto
The 2019 MLB Draft is right around the corner, so why not kick off the hype by profiling a 16-year-old?
When I first envisioned writing this weekly column for Pitcher List, I have to admit that this is the kind of profile that gets me the most interested. As much as I enjoy watching minor league games to evaluate talent, there is nothing more interesting than scouring recruiting sites, local newspapers, and YouTube for the best prep/international talent in baseball, and then projecting it two or three years in the future for the draft — and then projecting it another two to three years further to the majors. This week’s Deep Sleep is all about the very long game.
Now that I have fully convinced you that I’m the type of guy for whom amateur draft/prospect rules and restrictions were invented, I’d like to introduce you to an exceptional young talent: Luke Leto. A 6-foot-2-inch, 190-pound, six-tool wunderkind, Leto is a rarity: a cold-weather-state prep star. Generally speaking, prep stars come from more traditional climates: Florida, California, the Carolinas, Georgia, Nevada, Texas, etc. In fact, in the past 10 years of the MLB Draft, there are roughly 13 high schoolers picked in the first round and about one of those comes from a cold-weather state per year.
What is a cold-weather state? In baseball terms, it is a state where you cannot play outdoor baseball year-round. So cold-weather states fall in areas that include New England, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the Great Lakes. There is a bias with cold-weather prospects, since they don’t get to play all year round (because indoor baseball just doesn’t exist) and don’t get to play against as good of competition as their counterparts from traditional baseball recruiting areas (the South, and the Southwest). Still, some of the best prep players in recent memory have come from cold-weather states: Mike Trout, Blake Snell, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Justin Upton … and Derek Jeter.
I mention Jeter last because like Leto, The Captain hails from Michigan, so naturally, there are a lot of comparisons between the two. Jeter and Leto play shortstop, they have an advanced hitting approach, and their tools are so good that they transcend the cold-weather state bias. In fact, Leto’s combination of high-end tools plus the fact that he isn’t as readily available to scout might actually be working in his favor. There are reports of entire crowds of scouts following Leto from one field to the next as participates in high-profile showcases.
If you’re still reading this, you are interested in what makes this kid better than other prep prospects. Let’s talk about Leto’s skill. Selected to the USA team for the U-15 World Cup in 2018, Leto showed what he was capable of, leading the team in average (.500), OBP (.667), and extra-base hits (4). He’s fast, posting a verified 60-yard dash time of 6.52 which qualifies him as a 60 grade. Not bad for a such a big kid, who speaking of size, has already shown home run power, hitting a pair of them as a freshman in high school and recording exit velocities of 93+ mph.
Mechanics-wise, Leto’s swing is right where it should be. He has a bit of a waggle before moving forward to swing, but that is something that is easily fixed. What is good about the waggle is it stops before he swings and his hands stay in the exact same position as he moves forward, making for a more repeatable motion. He clears his hips, which suggests he knows how to pull the ball, and the lack of a leg kick means he shouldn’t have a problem catching up to the inside pitch when his opponents’ velocity increases. But Leto is not a pull hitter, he covers the whole plate.
Oh, did I mention he can throw 93 mph? At 15 years old? I did say he was a six-tool player. Leto’s pitching is still very much a work in progress as his motion is nowhere near as fluid on the mound as it is at the plate, but his velocity is elite for his age, and there are makings of a decent curveball already. He pitches for the U.S. team, frequently posting blanks.
It’s understandable to write this kid off, saying he’s too young to pay attention to. Obviously, at 16, Leto won’t be drafted until 2021. This is the long game. He committed to LSU but isn’t likely to play in the NCAA — he’s simply too good. As things stand now, Leto is slated to be picked into the top 10 and will probably develop as a 3B if he continues to grow. Another effect of the warm-state-prospect bias is that it can cause prospects to drop during the draft (which is why Trout was selected 25th overall in 2009), which doesn’t seem to affect him. Still, he is one to keep an eye on as the years progress.
There is a flashier name in his prep class: Blaze Jordan has been hitting 500-foot bombs since he was 13, but Leto is a more rounded player and athlete. All of Leto’s six tools have room to grow, and should likely do so.