Prospect Profile: How Did Ben Leeper Go From Undrafted FA to AAA Already?

Not everything goes as planned in the life of a baseball player. But sometimes, things do work out in the way that you might least expect. Such is the case for righty reliever Ben Leeper who was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on Monday after debuting with the organization in May at Double-A.

Basic Info
Height — 6-0
Weight — 201
Throws — Right
From — Southlake, Texas
Age — 23

Coming out of high school in Texas, Leeper was a 5-foot-11, 193 pound starter. He was good enough as a true freshman to earn a spot on an Oklahoma State squad that included former Cubs prospect Thomas Hatch and that eventually made the College World Series. Leeper made only two starts in 2016, totaling 5.2 innings with a 3.18 ERA and eight strikeouts before hurting his elbow and undergoing Tommy John reconstruction.

After redshirting in 2017 while rehabbing his elbow, Leeper’s 2018 season can only be described as difficult. He appeared in 17 games, mostly out of the bullpen, and had a 12.69 ERA over 27.2 innings. He struck out 34 but walked 23 and it was clear he was adjusting to his new elbow and new role.

When 2019 came around, things started to click for Leeper. He took over the Cowboys’ closer role and earned an honorable mention to the All-Big 12 team. In 31.1 innings, he had a 4.31 ERA with 43 strikeouts and 23 walks.

He would spend the summer of 2019 in the Cape Cod League as he continued to build strength in his elbow, striking out 12 and walking eight with a 3.60 ERA in 10 innings for the Wareham Gatemen. Things were looking good heading into 2020 before the pandemic cut his senior season short at 7.1 innings with a 2.45 ERA and 14 strikeouts.

The shortened draft meant no one came calling for Leeper in the first five rounds, but his signing as an undrafted free agent continued a trend of the Cubs finding guys with loud tools that need refining. They were counting on coaching, development, and technology to push those player, and Leeper is showing early on that he did not need much of a push.

Matt Dorey, the Cubs VP of player development, spoke highly of Leeper’s fastball after instructional leagues last fall and said that he might be good enough to start in Double-A in 2021. Cubs Insider actually put his name down as a prospect to invest in back in April, and that investment looks to be paying off rather quickly.

Leeper spent about an hour in South Bend before he was diverted to Tennessee two days before the season began. He was used in a late-inning relief role while at Double-A, either as a setup man or closer. In 14.2 innings, he struck out 22, walked just four, and had a batting average against of .167 with a 1.26 ERA. Stats aside, what really caught everybody’s attention was his stuff.

Here is exhibit A, his nasty slider.

Leeper also has a MLB fastball and can sit 96 without much effort, but he can top out at 98 or 99.

He was basically a two-pitch pitcher in Tennessee, which is something the Cubs might work on, or they might just leave him as he is. Let’s see…a redheaded righty who pairs an upper 90’s heater with a wicked breaking pitch. That kind of sounds familiar.

For Leeper to go from not being drafted last summer to now being a phone call away from Chicago in less than one year is quite a leap. It’s also a pretty cool story and a testament to his talent and hard work, not to mention the Cubs’ scouting and development efforts.

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