Sometimes all a ballplayer can do is battle.
That is the situation that prized Pittsburgh Pirates prospect Brian Leach has faced throughout the 2011 season. Issues with mechanics have translated into struggles on the mound for the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander. He was demoted to the Bradenton Marauders of the Class-A Advanced Florida State League after compiling an ERA of 9.00 over 10 appearances that encompassed 15 innings with Double-A Altoona.
Leach's second go-around in Bradenton has not gone swimmingly either as he has compiled a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 9.19 in 10 appearances. In his last appearance and fifth start with the Marauders, Leach surrendered three home runs en route to giving up five runs over 4 1/3 innings of a 10-2 loss to the Clearwater Threshers on July 26.
Most disappointing for Leach is the fact that his last outing came five days after he struck out five in three perfect innings of relief against the Tampa Yankees.
“I went to the (Arizona) Fall League last year, so I had a lot of hopes coming into this year,” Leach said. “Basically, I think I have hit rock bottom. There's only one way you can go once you hit rock bottom and that is up."
"I've been trying to maintain a positive mindset and not think too much about it because I think I'm good enough to be in the major leagues someday," he added. "I'm going to keep working at it until they tell me that I can't.”
Leach is able to draw perspective on how far he has come as a pitcher and the support he has received from his family. He only made one appearance as a pitcher in high school, claiming that he gave up 13 runs over two innings.
The first destination out of high school for Leach was Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. He transferred to Northwest Mississippi Junior College to continue his career as a first baseman/designated hitter.
“I kind of worked on mechanics and stuff (at Northwest Mississippi Junior College),” Leach said. “Then, I went to Southern Mississippi (University) redshirt junior year and got drafted. It's been a fun road.”
Despite compiling a record of 2-4 and an ERA of 7.42 in 11 appearances during his lone season at Southern Mississippi, Leach's potential caught the eye of the Pirates' player development staff. A year after being drafted in the 38th round of the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, Leach was selected by Pittsburgh with the 744th overall draft pick.
Leach had a record of 1-3 with an ERA of 3.98 in 16 appearances, which included eight starts, for the State College Spikes of the New York-Penn League in the summer of 2008. He earned a promotion for the 2009 season and spend the entire campaign with the West Virginia Power of the low Class-A South Atlantic League.
Of his 32 appearances with the Power, Leach got the start in 12 of those games. His final numbers for the 2009 season were a record of 7-4, an ERA of 2.96 and 88 strikeouts against 91 hits and 39 walks over 109 1/3 innings.
Earning another promotion with his performance at West Virginia, Leach started the 2010 season with the Marauders. He was 9-9 with an ERA of 3.85 over 27 appearances, including a career-high 25 starts, and a career-best 138 innings of work.
Any anger about getting demoted to Bradenton quickly faded as Leach realized the organization was doing right by him. Currently, Leach is focused on regaining command of his repertoire and restoring his confidence.
While this season has been far from ideal, former junior college outfielder Jerry Leach's son will continue to battle.
“My father and I were talking the other day about challenges in my life,” Leach said. “He told me that I've never seen you back down from a challenge. You've always gone in confident and an I'm going to win attitude. Of course, you're going to get beat some. It's still not going to stop me from getting knocked down and getting right back up.”