A catcher like his father was, 20-year old Patrick Leyland is getting some playing time down in Florida with the big league boys, catching a few innings in today’s victory over the Rays in Tampa. Jim also played in the Tigers organization, but that’s where the similarities end. Patrick is a big, strapping youngster, whereas long ago Jimmy Leyland was just about as scrawny as he is now – a small little fella trying to make it to the big leagues playing a demanding defensive position.
The older Leyland never made it to The Show. When he was Patrick’s age in 1965, Jim was in the New York/Penn League trying to inch his way up the minor league ladder with hopes of someday serving as a caddy to Bill Freehan. But five years later he hadn’t advanced beyond Double-A ball and he finally saw the writing on the wall. He was officially listed as a player in 1970, but he hung up his catcher’s mask early in the season and took a job as a a coach for the team – Montgomery in the Southern League. The next year, Leyland took over as manager at Bristol and stayed a decade in the Detroit organization, shuttling players up to the Tigers with names like Kemp, Parrish, Whitaker, Trammell, Morris, Petry, and Gibson. Eventually, “Marlboro Jim” landed a big league managerial job with the Pirates, and it was there that Patrick was born, in Pittsburgh in 1991, on an off day between games two and three of the NLCS between his Dad’s Pirates and the Atlanta Braves.
As if he had any choice anyway, baseball has been in Patrick’s blood from day one.
After a standout career in high school in Pittsburgh, the 6’2 Leyland was drafted in the 8th round by the Tigers in 2010. Though many teams have drafted sons of players and managers (even executives) as a sort of favor to them, Patrick’s selection is not seen that way. Though he’s not a blue chip prospect, he has strong skills, especially with the glove. Being able to defend behind the plate and take charge of a game is a valuable skill for major league teams. Still, there’s no doubt that Patrick’s chances are slim at this time. he’s still just a kid, and his offensive production has a long way to go.
Last season he was invited as a non-roster invitee to spring training and appeared in a handful of games. This year he got the same deal after hitting .220 with little power in the NY/Penn League, the same circuit where his father once played.
The #77 on his back tells much of the story – Patrick is in camp to be a resource, a handy catcher who can take some reps so Alex Avila and Gerald Laird can rest when needed. Today he banged out a single late in a meaningless spring training game while hie father watched from the dugout.