The journey started for this year's No. 8 pick Mike Leake as soon as the right-hander fired his first pitch Thursday for the Peoria Saguaros, a fastball that touched 89 mph and fell squarely into Matt McBride's glove for a strike.
Ten pitches and two singles later, the Reds prospect was faced with his first test in his unofficial professional debut in the Arizona Fall League. He responded in a way that showed why scouts rated the undersized California native as the Draft's top pitching prospect behind No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg. After inducing a lineout, Leake fanned Lucas May and Dayan Viciedo to close his first professional inning.
Overall, Leake allowed four hits and a walk over two scoreless innings in the Saguaros' eventual 17-9 loss to the Peoria Javelinas in front of a crowd of 259.
"When you get your first time facing quality players in Major League Baseball, you've got a little bit of nerves," Leake said. "I just went out there and tried to do a little too much [at first]. But in the end, I kind of came out with a good result."
Leake admitted he tried to be "too dirty" with his bag of pitches, instead of letting hitters get themselves into trouble. But given that it was his first game action in a month-and-a-half, Leake wasn't too disappointed in the 46-pitch effort.
"There will be nights where I will be in a groove," he said. "And there will be nights like [Thursday] where I try a little too hard.
"It's nice to know [when I'm not in a groove], I can still get these guys out."
A former standout at Arizona State University, Leake is the school's highest-drafted player since 1998 and is coming off a highly decorated collegiate career.
He was named the National Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award (won by Strasburg) and the Dick Howser Trophy. This past season, Leake became the first player in Pac-10 history to be awarded with the conference's Pitcher of the Year award in back-to-back seasons, and he led the nation with 16 victories.
He posted a 1.71 ERA over 142 innings pitched and held opposing batters to a .193 average.
Those stats are backed up by plus-plus command of an impressive arsenal that includes an 88-94 mph fastball, a cutter and a devastating changeup that he'll throw at any point in the count. Leake worked off that trio of pitches Thursday to set up his curveball and slider.
Fellow Reds prospect Yonder Alonso blasted a two-run homer for the Saguaros, while Dodgers prospect Andrew Lambo fell a triple short of the cycle and drove in four runs for the Javelinas. Russell Mitchell (Dodgers) added a homer, a double and four RBIs in the winning effort.
Despite the team's loss, Leake was just happy to be back out on the mound.
"I didn't know what to do with myself when I wasn't playing," he said of the long layoff between his college season and the AFL.
Now that his baseball itch has subsided, Leake can get back to his main goal: showing the big league team what he can do.
"Eventually I want to be wearing this [Reds] jersey with a different hat," Leake said. "I didn't get the full feeling [Thursday], but now I have something to look forward to -- wearing that Reds hat. And hopefully I can get there sooner rather than later."
Brittany Ghiroli is a contributor to MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.