David Lebron, pitcher, a 26th-round draft pick of the Texas Rangers, acquired by the Orioles in February and now playing for the Frederick Keys, was kind enough to sit down with me this week.
Matt: So David, you grew up in Miami-Dade County, is that correct?
David Lebron: Yes
Matt: So, with that area being such a talent-rich area, do you think that drove you to succeed?
Lebron: Yeah no doubt. I mean, growing up, we’re playing a lot of good talent down there. It kind of brings out the best in everybody, you know competing with high caliber players year in and year out. Baseball down there is a year-round sport. The only weather interruptions that we face are hurricanes and pretty much the rainfall year-round. But, for the most part, it’s very….it’s a big culture down there for baseball and it has grown on me ever since I was a little kid.
Matt: Did you get to play with any guys that are in the majors now (from Miami)?
Lebron: Yeah, I got to play against Manny Machado once in the fall of my freshman year of High School. I had a few other buddies that are playing pro ball right now. I played with Albert Almora…travel ball growing up and a few other guys that are playing in pro ball, not necessarily in the big leagues yet. Victor Caratini, I played with him at Miami-Dade. So, being able to play with some of those guys and kind of being able to see what they’re about, how they go about their business, definitely puts things into perspective, about how to go about your business and how big this game really is.
Lebron: It’s an honor. I go there and have two good years, get a lot of good exposure with scouts and professional baseball teams out there. It was a blessing, a blessing in disguise. I got to do two good years at the College of Central Florida before going to Tampa, worrying a lot about the mental game and then going to Tampa and being able to take that professional baseball culture in a college atmosphere and build that into my repertoire moving forward.
Matt: So in 2018, you were named Division II Pitcher of the Year. Between Division II and Single-A where you are now, where do you see the difference in talent level?
Lebron: There’s a lot of talent in the Sunshine State Conference, they had a lot of draft picks, and they usually lead Division II in draft picks every year. As far as talent goes, it’s baseball, there’s talent all over the place. The only difference you see is, the higher you move up, the hitters are more selective, looking for one pitch, you know? They’re not going to chase any breaking ball that you throw. That’s probably the only difference that I see. Hitters are more patient and more selective. You can’t just come out here and blow a fastball by them. It takes a lot more than that to get hitters out. So, for the most part, that’s the biggest difference that I’ve seen between college and playing baseball here.
Matt: You were actually drafted by the Texas Rangers. I know you didn’t spend too much time over there, but did you see a difference the two organizations? Texas and the Orioles?
Lebron: Not too much, they’re both very big analytically. The new modern data and the new-age baseball…the only difference I’ve seen as far as structure goes over there is…they’re (Rangers) very structured in the way they do their throwing program. Everybody has to do the same thing, more or less. Here, there’s a lot more flexibility, a lot more of ‘be who you are, everybody’s different, have your own routine.’ So, there’s no code of what you have to do every day. It’s kind of like, ‘do what works best for you, and go about your business just like you would in the years past leading up to getting here.’
Matt: Have you gotten a chance to work with Chris Holt at all?
Lebron: Yes, a lot actually. We had a good bullpen session today. (He’s) a very good guy…knows what he’s talking about…goes about his business in an aggressive manner that helps you visualize what your capabilities are, and that’s something that I really like about him, he’s going to tell you exactly how it is, not what you want to hear sometimes, but it’s what you need to hear. So, he goes about it in a way that’s very productive and that’s gonna help you grow and use your weapons to the best of your ability, and not just have average weapons…he’s going to bring out the best in you in all your pitches.
Matt: To piggyback off that, how receptive are you to the new technology? Obviously, spin rate is a huge thing.
Lebron: I’ve definitely been open-minded to it, coming out of college, I wasn’t too in-tune with it. I was more, ‘At some point you have to go out there and just pitch, you have to hit your spots, regardless of what your spin rate is.’ Your spin rate is going to be what it is, there really isn’t too much you can do to increase that. You can increase your spin efficiency, which kind of relates to your true spin on your pitches, but for the most part, I was always like, ‘You gotta go out there and pitch, hit your spots, work the corners, work up and down.’ I got here and now you’re learning more about where your arsenal plays, what your hot zones are, where damage can be done if you ‘live’ in a certain area. That’s something I’ve been very open-minded to, trying to soak everything in. But the analytics to me, it was like something to keep an eye on, it’s something to learn about, but not something to tie yourself into and knock your head on, knowing at some point, you still gotta go out there and pitch and to execute pitches is the ultimate goal.
Matt: What does your pitch repertoire look like? What are your strengths on the mound?
Lebron: Well pitch repertoire, to begin with: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Slider. My strengths being my: Fastball, Changeup, and Slider. The curveball is coming along…if I can get that going on a consistent basis, then that’ll help carry me for years to come. As far as my strengths go, I believe any pitcher has to have the ability to throw a fastball where he wants it and be able to command it consistently. At the end of the day, you can’t just go up there and flip breaking balls or throw a changeup 24/7. Like, if you’re able to command your fastball, everything else will live off of that. I’ve always been a firm believer of that. I’ve never been the type to shy away from throwing fastballs to a hitter just because he’s 6’5”. Everybody here can hit the ball, its pro baseball, you’ve just got to be able to command your pitches. I take a lot of pride being considered undersized for your prototypical pitcher, so I love facing the big guys, the big dogs, the top prospects. I love going after those guys, because that’s going to bring out the best in you as well as showing you, ‘Hey, this is where your strengths are, you’re facing the best of the best.’ It kind of builds confidence in you. I have confidence in my capabilities, but I love facing the top prospects, the big guys. I feel like you’re locked in a lot more. Unfortunately, it’s a bad way to put it, to be locked in to certain guys. But, that’s when you’re very tuned into what’s going on. Hey, ‘Let’s go, if you’re the best of the best, let’s go, I want to see what you got.’
Matt: So give me a name of a prospect you faced that was a really difficult hitter to face.
Lebron: I wouldn’t say difficult per se, but I’ve faced Luis Robert, he’s one of the best minor leaguers all-around. For some reason every time I face him, I’m locked in. I got to meet him in the offseason in Tampa, and my buddy Laz Rivera and I know he’s one of the biggest prospects in all of baseball. Every time you face him, its like, ‘Hey, this is going to be fun.’ You get to go after it. I’ve faced Nick Madrigal, he’s a good…he barely strikes out. I was able to get him out, you know strike him out once. After that, you know it’s a dog fight. He’s a very good hitter, very patient, very selective. I’ve faced Nolan Jones from Lynchburg, very talented hitter. Congrats to him, getting selected to the Futures Game as well as DL Hall and Grayson (Rodriguez). A lot of hard working talent out there, it just puts it into perspective, the talent out there as well as just here in the Carolina League, itself.
Matt: Alright, so just getting off baseball a little bit. What would be your favorite hobby?
Lebron: I would say just spending time with the family. That time, it’s hard to come by sometimes. In the offseason, I try to dedicate and spend some time with them, above anything else. I do that, I do some fishing sometimes, and that’s it for the most part. I love working out and going to the gym, just breaking a sweat. That’s it for the most part…hanging with some friends.
Matt: I know it’s different for a pitcher, but what would be your walk-up music?
Lebron: Right now, I’ve had ‘Ric Flair Drip,’ for possibly…I want to say…I’ve had it this year, I had it last year in college. It’s nothing that really reflects who I am per se, but it’s just something that hypes me up. At the end of the day, players choose a song that represents who they are, or their background, or where they come from, something they can relate to. For me, it’s just something to hype me up, gets me going, and pumps me up. To each their own.
Matt: Last question for you, what’s the thing you like to do the most on an off day?
Lebron: Catch up on some sleep, easily. I’ll binge watch on Netflix and Hulu.
Matt: Okay, what do you binge watch?
Lebron: A lot of ‘Chicago PD’…drama…action type shows…a lot of stand-up comedy. Actually for the most part, I know our next off-day is coming up in a week and a half or two, we have a golf tournament we’re going to go to. I’m pretty pumped for that. I haven’t hit the links in a while, so I might be a little rusty, but we’ll see.