By Matt Williams
---- — Ask a lot of young men if they’d rather be working in Las Vegas or New York, and it’d be a lot like asking who’s the better Red Sox player between David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.
For Jack Leathersich, a 24-year-old flamethrowing left-handed pitcher from Beverly, working his way through the New York Mets organization means he’ll spend the bulk of 2014 in either Vegas (home of the Triple-A 51’s) or in the Big Apple at palatial Citi Field with the big club.
Leathersich’s journey to the Majors took another step forward recently when the Mets announced that he was one of 20 ‘non-roster’ players they’re inviting to spring training in Port St. Lucie, Fla. next month.
“I was thrilled. It’s going to be a great experience,” said Leathersich. “It’s an honor to get invited. I’m going to go in ready to go and see what happens.”
It’ll be Leathersich’s third spring training as a pro after signing with the Mets as a fifth round draft choice out of UMass-Lowell in 2011. He began last season in Double-A before earning a promotion to Las Vegas in June.
Various websites rate him as one of the top 20 prospects in the Mets system, and MLB.com puts him 17th up from a midseason rating of 21st last summer.
As a left-handed pitcher projected as a big league reliever, Leathersich is going to Port St. Lucie looking to show that he’s improved since last summer, but also to learn as much as he can.
“To be able to pick those guys’ brains, guys that have been doing it a while, to see how they carry themselves and how they go about their business is an experience,” said Leathersich. “I’m going in with open ears. I know you can’t take everything in because everybody’s different, but there are so many little tips that can help, and you pick and choose what’ll work for you.”
The move to Triple-A was a bit eye-opening for Leathersich, who turned in a 7.76 earned run average in 28 Vegas games. His strikeout rate was similar to what it was when he tore through Single-A, fanning 47. He ran into issues with walks, however, and he’s spent parts of the offseason looking to eliminate them.
“My arms feels great,” he said between workouts in Atlanta alongside the Mets’ Zach Wheeler. “It’s been timing and mechanics. Especially this offseason, my time, energy and focus has been on mechanics — cleaning some things up so I can throw more strikes.”
After the season, pitchers typically don’t throw for a few months to care for their arms. Leathersich did plenty of strength training at Cressy Performance in Hudson, and has relished the chance to work out with fellow pros down South.
When a pitcher is working on his form, there is simply no substitute for an actual dirt mound. Those are hard to come by in New England in January, when a surprise snowstorm can ruin a long toss session post haste.
“It’s such a big difference being outside and being on a dirt mound. I’m really lucky to be able to use some of these facilities. It’s been awesome,” Leathersich said.
“It’s just so much more realistic. Even just having a dirt mound, being able to wear spikes and plant your foot in there makes a difference. The temperature, the wind ... throwing inside can be great, but it is different.”
If Leathersich returns to Triple-A, it’ll be with a familiar face. The Mets recently named former Red Sox starter Frank Viola, who worked with him in Single-A, as the pitching coach in Las Vegas.
In the meantime, the goal for the Beverly High graduate is to throw strikes. Doing that will certainly lead to getting outs, and ultimately if the chips fall the right way, lead him to New York.
“I’m definitely very confident going into this year,” said Leathersich. “I’m excited to get down there and get starts. I’m going to keep doing my thing — and I think it’ll all pay off.”