For Ryan Leach, the 2016 season was a progression of what he started in 2015. For Sam Dexter, this past summer was an introduction into the grind professional baseball can be. Now, the pair of central Maine natives look forward to building off this season and taking the next step in their baseball careers.

Dexter, of Oakland, was drafted in the 23rd round in June by the Chicago White Sox and spent time with three teams in the White Sox organization this summer. A native of Farmingdale, Leach completed his second full season pitching for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Canadian-American Association.

Pitching out of the bullpen, Leach threw in 38 games this season, going 3-1 with a 2.70 earned run average and three saves. Leach pitched 46 2/3 innings, allowing 38 hits and 26 walks while striking out 38. This season, Leach was primarily used as a setup man and an occasional closer for the Capitales. Quebec finished in second place in the regular season standings, losing to the Rockland Boulders in a three-game semifinal series.

Leach joined Quebec for six games in 2014 before joining the team for the entire 2015 season. With that experience, he was more confident when he took the mound this season. His sinking fastball was Leach’s best pitch.

“I challenged (hitters) hard inside,” Leach said. “I had confidence in my stuff. I was confident in getting ahead of batters and I was definitely a lot more aggressive, and they were definitely more confident in me, too.”

Quebec manager Pat Scalabrini used Leach in more high pressure situations in 2016. Canadian-American Association teams played series against the Cuban National team and a team of Japanese players this season, and those games counted in the standings. Against Cuba, Leach got a two-inning save.

“It was challenging. They have guys who know how to hit,” Leach said.

Against the New Jersey Jackals, Leach was asked to get a save with the bases loaded and one out. He came on and struck out a pair to end the game.

“It’s fun to be out there and not be nervous,” Leach, who played his college baseball at Franklin Pierce University, said.

Dexter knew that coming out of the University of Southern Maine, he would have a steep learning curve, especially at the plate. In 47 games spread across stints with Rookie League teams in Arizona and Great Falls, Montana, as well as one game with the low-level Single-A Kannapolis (North Carolina) Intimidators, Dexter hit .235 with two home runs, 17 runs batted in and 16 runs scored.

“I had a blast, first of all,” Dexter said. “I got to see three different parts of the country… The grind doesn’t change. It’s competitive out there.”

Dexter struck out 19 times in 149 at bats, as he got used to seeing pitchers throw in the 90s game after game.

“I can’t remember many guys throwing in the 90s every night (in college). I pretty much knew that going into it. I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of velocity like that.”

Dexter had to change his mechanical and mental approach to hitting. For example, he had to make the leg kick of his swing less violent. When he faced college pitchers with fastballs that might top out in the high 80s, that would work. With pro pitchers throwing harder, there was simply no time.

“I could get away with stuff at USM I couldn’t out here,” Dexter said. “I never worried about hitting. I always thought it would come.”

Defensively, Dexter showed versatility. While playing most of his games at second base, Dexter also saw time at third base and shortstop.

“It’s good to move around and be ready to play anywhere,” he said.

For both Dexter and Leach, the offseason is a time to continue working hard to be ready for the spring. Leach signed his option with Quebec for the 2017 season, although he and his agent are looking into opportunities to sign with a minor league team with a major league affiliation. Leach said he’s drawn some interest from the Cleveland Indians.

Dexter said he’ll head back to Arizona for spring training in March, with the goal of starting the season with Kannapolis, the low-A team the White Sox have in the South Atlantic League.

“I just need to get bigger and stronger,” Dexter said. “I have plenty of stuff to work on.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]e.com

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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