December 9, 2010: LeClerc signed with the Rangers as an international free agent, via scout Willy Espinal, out of the Dominican Republic. Texas had also signed Jose's brother, Angelo.
In 2014, Baseball America rated Jose as the 16th-best prospect in the Rangers' organization. He fell to #20 in 2015, and to #21 in 2016. He was rated #22 in the spring of 2017.
MLB debut (July 6, 2016): Leclerc's MLB debut came against the Red Sox when he came in relief of starter Martin Perez, who'd given up 11 runs before the fifth inning was over. Jose did his part, keeping Boston from scoring, and only allowing one hit over 2 2/3 innings.
Jose was having dinner with his family a few weeks ago when he turned to his sister Angelina and asked her a question. "Did you ever think we would come here?' Leclerc said.
The answer was simple. "No." When you grow up poor in a small town in the Dominican Republic, when your father walks out on the family when you're a baby, when you go days without any food or shoes to wear, it's almost impossible to dream about pitching in the Major Leagues.
"We suffered a lot," Leclerc said. "It was hard. Sometimes we would go to the park to play baseball and we wouldn't have any food. We hadn't eaten anything; when we came back, we would have nothing." That is no longer the case. Leclerc, who has taken over as the Rangers' closer, no longer has to worry about where his next meal will come from. His family still makes their home in Esperanza, a town of 42,000 people in the northwest part of the Dominican Republic. But they no longer live in the two-bedroom wood shack where Leclerc was born.
One of the first things he did when he signed with Texas was buy his mother, Fiordaliza, a new house. It was the least he could do for a woman who passed on the toughness it took for Leclerc to succeed as a Major League pitcher.
"My hero," Leclerc said. "She was my everything. She had to do anything to support us. It wasn't easy, especially if you are a woman. There was a lot of work she had to do for four kids. She had to work whatever she could do … she worked in different factories … clothes, shoes, whatever. She also worked in the farms around the area, picking tobacco." There is no welfare or public subsistence in Esperanza. Leclerc and his family—two sisters, a brother and a devoted mother—were on their own.
"Here, you can get help," Leclerc said. "But in the Dominican, you don't get help from anybody. Somebody might say one day, 'Hey, you don't have food? You're having a bad day, OK.' But money, it doesn't happen. Me and my brother, we had to work. When we were 10 years old, we had to work on the farms, pick tobacco, bananas, a lot of things like that." I didn't see my father a lot, maybe two days out of the year. I don't know where he worked. He left the family and moved to the capital [Santiago]. He said he didn't have any money or job to support us. I don't even remember when my father and mother were together. I was very young."
Leclerc stayed out of trouble by staying close to his mother and by playing baseball. His older brother Angelo—who spent seven years in the Rangers' and Red Sox's farm systems—was always getting in fights with other kids, but Jose was too easygoing for that.
"God gave me the strength to be strong," he said.
Jose played in the local leagues, or sometimes with his friends on a small patch of ground next to a dry riverbed. He played wearing the same shoes he wore to school.
"When we were younger, the stadium was far," Leclerc said. "We couldn't go there because we didn't have a car or walk because the stadium was too far. We saw this playing space next to the river. So we played there."
Leclerc was "discovered" by Nino Maizal, a local engineer who was also a baseball coach with a big heart for the local boys. He coached Angelo and asked Jose to join as well. Maizal did something even more important. He pointed out Leclerc to Adolfo Burgos, one of the many "buscones" who scour the Dominican Republic for talent and then sell players to Major League teams. They often have an unsavory reputation, but Leclerc speaks highly of Burgos.
"He really helped me a lot," Leclerc said. "I still talk to him all the time." Leclerc was 15 when Maizal told Burgos about the slight hard-throwing right-hander in Esperanza. Burgos asked Leclerc if he wanted to move to Santiago, about 100 miles away.
"They ask me if I want to go there," Leclerc said. "I had nothing to eat and they said they had free food. So, I said, 'Yeah.' We lived together. Just tried to do the best for my family. Get up at 6:00 a.m., run and work out every day. After practice, I would run again. A lot of work, but I had to do it, because my family had nothing."
Leclerc must have done something right. Rangers scout Willy Espinal had signed Angelo two years earlier and was all over Jose, signing him for $90,000. Rangers assistant GM Mike Daly was involved as well, and remembers watching Leclerc's tryouts at the club's academy at San Pedro de Macoris.
"Just a guy who really competed," Daly said. "A really good arm with swing-and-miss secondary stuff. Once we signed him, it was obvious how much he loved baseball and had a great work ethic. He was really into baseball. We had a TV on at the academy and he was always watching baseball games."
Maybe that's because he couldn't watch television growing up. Maybe that background had something to do with giving Leclerc the mental toughness needed to climb through Texas' farm system and develop into a dominant closer. The Rangers got an idea of that toughness this past year. Leclerc was in their bullpen for most of 2017, but with a 3.94 ERA and 40 walks in 45.2 innings. Texas loved the stuff, but the front office's notes on Leclerc going into the offseason cited a need to "rebuild his confidence." When the Rangers got to Spring Training, they found that Leclerc had already done that.
"Things got really challenging for him," manager Jeff Banister said. "It seemed like some of those things affected him. It challenged his confidence. He made a point this winter to regain that confidence and he came into Spring Training with a different look in his face and eyes. He worked really hard at maintaining his focus and keeping a good tempo on the mound."
The motivation is family. Not only does Jose take care of his mother, but he and his wife, Oclenni, have their own son, Joshuel. "My whole life my family is everything," Leclerc said. "It was not easy where we were from and who we are. From nothing, to get here, was incredible. But everything I do … I do it for my family." (T.R. Sullivan- MLB.com-September 6, 2018)
|Birth City:||Esperanza, D.R.|
|Draft:||2010 - Rangers - Free agent - Out of the D.R.|
LeClerc has a 93-98 mph 4-seam FASTBALL with late life that misses bats or gets bunches of groundballs, and an occasional 92-96 mph 2-seam SINKER. Jose gets good break on his 77-81 mph downer CURVEBALL, and an 87-90 mph CHANGEUPs. One has unusual cutter-like action which some scouts call an 88-90 mph CUTTER.
Jose has the stuff to be a quality reliever, but has to improve his control to stay in the Big Leagues. He mainly relies on his fastball-changeup combination, though he will mix in an occasional fringe-average curve to give hitters another look. Fastball command and general wildness have long been an issue, but he could land a job in the Rangers bullpen and stay there if his control improves. (Spring 2017)
Jose's scouting grades on the 20-80 scale: A 65 fastball, a 55 curveball, a 50 changeup, but a below-average 40 for his control.
Jose has been a relief prospect his entire career, and it's a role that suits his power approach well. He has one of the most unusual changeups in baseball because it has sharp cutting action instead of fade. It's a plus pitch that he can manipulate to get harder diving action at times. He adds and subtracts from his curveball, which is an average pitch that flashes better at times. But mature hitters can hit his curve because of the way it breaks early out of his hand.
LeClerc's strikeout rate has improved every year of his career, and he induces grounders at an above-average clip. He has the stuff to pitch late-inning relief, but he needs to be more aggressive attacking hitters and throwing strikes, especially early in the count. (Spring 2015)
2016 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 55.3% of the time; Sinker 6.9% of the time; Change 7.7%; Curve 6.9%; and Split 23.2% of the time.
2017 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 43.7% of the time; Sinker 8.4% of the time; Change 7.3%; Curve 6%; Cutter 3.6%; and Split 31% of the time.
2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 44.3% of the time; Sinker 3.4%; Change 6%; his Curve 3.4%; and Split 42.8% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 95.8 mph, Sinker 95.6, Change 88.3, Curve 77.7, and Split 81.7 mph.
2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 41.5% of the time, his Sinker 8.8%; Change 11.4%; Curve 3%; and Split 35.4% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 97 mph, Sinker 96.3, Change 90, Curve 79.5, and Split 82.2 mph.
2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 57.5% of the time, his Change 10.6%; Curve 14.9%; and Split 17% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 95 mph, Change 87.6, Curve 79.8, and Split 82.1 mph.
Jose misses a lot of bats.
2014 Season: No Carolina League reliever stuck out more batters (12.4 per nine innings) or allowed a lower opponents' average (.193) than LeClerc. He saved 14 games, but that did not put to rest any internal debate in the Rangers organization about making him a starter.
Jose was a starter in 2015, and the results were not pretty. But the Rangers planned to keep him as a starter to open 2016.
The question is whether he can ever get that aggressive delivery under control to be able to repeat his release point and keep the ball in the strike zone consistently. (Spring 2016)
January 25, 2019: Jose Leclerc received the 2018 Pitcher of the Year Award at the Rangers Winter Warmup at Texas Live!
He also received confirmation from manager Chris Woodward on what his role with the Rangers will be going into Spring Training.
"He is going to be our closer," Woodward said. "He has earned that right. He is our best bullpen guy and one of the best pitchers in baseball."
Leclerc discusses his atypical changeup: “I was around 10 years old when I started throwing it—10 or 12—and I thought it was a regular changeup. When I was playing Little League, nobody told me that it wasn’t really a changeup. I just kept throwing it, kept throwing it, and when I signed my contract with the Rangers, the pitching coach told me, ‘That’s not a changeup.’ I said, ‘That’s how I hold my changeup.’ He said, ‘No, that’s a slider.’ But I kept throwing it, kept throwing it, and it was good.
“It’s a changeup grip, but I throw it like a football and it moves kind of like a slider. I don’t know why. I’ve tried to show it to my compañeros (teammates) and they can’t do it. Sam Dyson, he asked me to show it to him. A few others did, as well. Some of them could kind of throw it, but they couldn’t command it like I do.
“I throw it the same now as when I was a kid. Everything is the same. It is better, though. I throw harder now, so there’s more movement. But what it is … I call it a cut-change. It’s just something natural that I have. I don’t how I do it. For real.” (David Laurila -Fangraphs - July 16, 2019)
September 17, 2019: When Rangers manager Chris Woodward talks about closer José Leclerc, he does not begin with the usual stuff. Lately, the usual stuff has been really good. In Leclerc's last 16 appearances, he has made good on seven of eight save chances with a 2.25 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 16 innings after logging a scoreless inning in the 4-1 loss to the Astros. Overall, he's 13 for 17 in save chances this season.
As the Rangers prepare an offseason wish list, rotation depth and an everyday third baseman top their list. Closer? At the moment, that belongs to the 25-year-old righthander with the 97-mph fastball. But when Woodward is asked about Leclerc, he begins with how his admiration for his closer has grown day by day. He recounts that at one point, Leclerc approached Woodward and asked to be removed from the closer’s role.
“He wasn’t pitching that well,” Woodward said, “and this is how selfless this kid is. He came in and said, 'I can’t let you pitch me again in the ninth inning until I figure some things out because I don’t want to hurt the team.’ Who does that? He didn’t do it because he was scared or because he didn’t want to be out there. He did with the sole intent that he didn’t want to cause a loss. He felt like he was letting us down.
“I knew we had something special in that kid. That was the day. Some guys do it because they don’t want the pressure. He didn’t care about that. He felt like he wasn’t going to help us win. It was shortly after that he started to figure things out. He got better and it was like, 'All right, I’m good, I’m ready to roll.' He’s a special kid.”
Woodward believes that Leclerc going 19 for 19 in save chances in 2018 created unrealistic expectations for 2019.
“There’s no way as a closer you’re going to sustain that kind of success,” Woodward said. “You’re going to get your butt kicked at some point. How are you going to get through that? He felt he was letting his team down. He failed a few times. He didn’t let us down. He just was a human being.”
Back to the young man Woodward has gotten to know and the impact he has in the Rangers' clubhouse.
“What he does in this clubhouse, I don’t think any of you guys realize the impact,” Woodward said. “He’s a leader. He’s 25 years old. He’s a tremendous example for everyone in that bullpen. He’s got a heart of gold. He works his butt off. Most guys would be, 'I just have to worry about myself.' No, he’s taking those guys out and making sure they’re doing the right things.” (R Justice - MLB.com - September 17, 2019)
2021 Season: Did Not Pitch.
Jose made his MLB debut in 2016 with Texas. He had four successful seasons with the Rangers.
In July 2020, Leclerc tore his right shoulder muscle and was placed on the 60-day injury list.
In Spring Training 2021, Leclerc sustained a strain to his UCL and required Tommy John surgery. (Chris Giles - Oct. 22, 2021)
- June 18, 2022: Leclerc returned after two years on the shelf and two surgeries, including Tommy John. surgery in March 2021.
May 8-June 2, 2017: Jose was on the DL with bruised right index finger.
July 30-Nov 2, 2020: Leclerc was on the IL as he suffered a torn teres major muscle in the back of the right shoulder and will be out an extended period of time.
March 29-Nov 5, 2021: José underwent Tommy John surgery and was on the IL all season.
- April 7-June 18, 2022: Jose was on the IL while recovering from TJ surgery.