BY MATT DIFILIPPO

Staff Writer

Jared Barkdoll expects the e-mails. They all say how great this player is and how much you could really use him.

Barkdoll coaches the Florence RedWolves, a team in the Coastal Plain League. The CPL is a collegiate summer baseball league based in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, and featuring mostly Division I players. One of the e-mails Barkdoll received was about Ryan Leach, a Hall-Dale graduate who now pitches at Division II Franklin Pierce University.

Barkdoll did some checking, and found that Leach is a sidearm pitcher who throws strikes, racks up strikeouts, and most importantly, gets people out. This summer, Leach is now one of the top relievers for the RedWolves. In six appearances, he’s 1-0 with 0.84 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.

“It’s great,” Leach said in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s just what I hoped for. It’s great competition. The weather’s warm, so it’s easy to throw. I met a lot of new people. It’s a great experience.”

The CPL has some famous alumni like Kevin Youkilis (who played for Florence in 1999), Justin Verlander, and Ryan Zimmerman. One of Leach’s teammates, Joel Fisher, started 33 games as a sophomore at Michigan State this season. Two players from South Carolina — the two-time defending Division I champion — haven’t joined the RedWolves yet because South Carolina is playing in the College World Series this week.

Those kinds of things make it tough to get away with a mistake. Leach is primarily a starter at Franklin Pierce, and went 6-4 with a 3.59 ERA as a sophomore this spring. He quickly adjusted to having to be ready to throw in a few minutes, but he also has to adjust to smarter, more talented hitters.

“They know in counts what to look for,” Leach said. “So you’ve got to get after it early. They hit fastballs well down here.”

Leach goes in knowing batters have seen more overpowering fastballs. He’s increased his velocity, and said he consistently throws 87-89 mph and tops out at 90. But while he doesn’t throw in the high 90s, he also doesn’t lay it down the middle with nothing on it.

That last part is key, because with the wooden bats, a batter who gets jammed can’t hope to flip a soft liner over the shortstop’s head, like you can with aluminum bats.

“Ryan has such good movement on his pitches,” Barkdoll said. “He just gets inside and breaks a lot of bats.”

The RedWolves play mostly every day, and Barkdoll would like to get Leach more work. Ideally, he’d like to use Leach to help preserve a lead, but the RedWolves are 6-11 and inconsistent offensively. So Barkdoll gets caught in not wanting to use Leach in a meaningless situation, because he might need him the next night.

“I would like to pitch him every other game, but we’re struggling to score runs,” Barkdoll said. “If we have a lead in the fifth, sixth, seventh inning, I’m bringing him in the game.”

When he does come in, Leach said the RedWolves draw about 1,200 fans per game, and most teams draw a couple thousand. Leach, who is listed at 6-feet even, said fans on the road will often get on him about his height.

“It’s pretty short for that league,” Leach said. “I usually hear ‘Little Guy’ a lot. Fans are pretty ruthless. All in good fun, though.”

Leach said he lives with a host family about 10 miles from his home park, and the bus rides to road games are often three hours or more. Before the season, he set a goal of making the CPL all-star game. The all-star game is July 23, and rosters will be announced early next month.

“He definitely has a shot,” Barkdoll said. “So far this year, he’s been one of the best relief pitchers that I’ve seen. I’m kind of biased toward him, because he’s on our team, but he’s definitely been a very good relief pitcher in this league.”

Down the road, Leach would like to draw interest from a major league organization and perhaps get drafted. Barkdoll said Leach would need to add some velocity as he gets older.

“He’s just a really good college pitcher,” Barkdoll said. “I think he’s got a chance, just like anybody else.”

“I’m working toward that goal,” Leach said. “Hopefully it turns out my way.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.