The Colorado Rockies signed free agent catcher Cole Leonida to a minor league contract on Monday, according to RockiesRoster.com's transaction notes. The 27-year-old catcher is a product of Grandview High School in Aurora, as well as Georgia Tech, and he previously played six seasons in the Washington Nationals' organization.
Advancing as high as Double-A with the Nationals—he reached Harrisburg for part of 2014, and got five at-bats there at the beginning of 2015 before being released by the organization—Leonida now returns to his hometown team as a minor league catching depth option. He won't see time in the big leagues, or anywhere close, this summer, but as the Rockies have proven in the recent past with other acquisitions, they've made it a point to bring in catching help this offseason.
Scouting Cole Leonida
Like countless catchers before him, Leonida has shown some interesting power at times in the minor leagues, and has proven he can take a walk occasionally, though he's never come close to hitting for average at any stop and ultimately that might be his undoing at higher levels.
Some stats from his career in pro ball, all with the Nats' organization:
|6 yrs||MiLB Career||WAS||252||928||789||105||167||43||3||20||85||105||251||.212||.314||.350|
Leonida has gone through some lean years at the plate, to be sure—especially for a high round draft pick out of a major college program, and especially in the low minor leagues, even for a catcher.
But even more than that, Leonida's biggest problem thus far might be that he hasn't been able to stay on the field for anywhere close to even 100 games in a full-season league. He's averaging out to just over 40 games played per season (granted, including short-season totals in his first two years), so it might be that the Rockies don't even fully know exactly what they have in him coming into spring training.
Leonida again brings what so many catchers do: little offensive firepower to a position that requires a significant defensive investment. There are two wrinkles that are interesting for the Rockies, though; in limited play, Leonida has slugged 20 home runs and another 43 doubles, so it could stand to reason he might have a little pop in his bat if he can put together a full season. And, even though he strikes out quite a bit, he's shown the ability to take some walks, too. It's well documented that the Rockies need some help with that in their minor league system.
Here are a few of Leonida's at-bats on tape from 2014, when he was in the High-A Carolina League with the Potomac Nationals:
Obviously, not a ton to see there, other than what looks like a fairly conventional approach at the plate for Leonida. (All his other notable YouTube clips are of his college career, which by now is too long ago to have real relevance for us in 2016.)
Leonida's best comp on the Rockies
Like Cameron Garfield before him, it's tough to pick a comp for Leonida on the Rockies, or even in the Rockies' minor league system. These guys coming in certainly aren't Tom Murphy, they're most likely not Dom Nunez, and they're probably just minor league catching depth. In fact, they may never make it out of spring training, depending on the Rockies' needs as they evaluate who to assign where for April.
That doesn't mean a player like Leonida isn't valuable, though. Georgia Tech has a good baseball program and the Nationals drafted him in the sixth round for a reason; granted, he's 27 now and has to see success in the high minors or else it's probably not going to work out for him, but right here, right now, Leonida has a shot as good as any with his hometown team.
What to expect in 2016
After general manager Jeff Bridich traded away two catchers in the deal that brought back David Hale and (since released) Gus Schlosser from the Atlanta Braves last winter, the GM has slowly been adding minor league catching depth at various levels through his tenure. Leonida represents another addition to a minor league system flushed with talent, but perhaps a little short on catching options for the future.
We'll see how it pans out this spring, and as Purple Row spends time at Salt River Fields in March, we'll do our best to catch up with Leonida and an assortment of other new Rockies faces to gauge their expectations and outlook ahead of 2016.