I spent yesterday in Hickory checking out the Crawdads as they battled the Lexington Legends. I came away in absolute awe of Crawdads third baseman Charles Leblanc. It’s easy to become short sighted when you get one look at a player either when you catch them on an off day or on a great one. Today I happened to catch Leblanc on an epic day, but we will get to that a little bit later.
Drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 draft (129th overall) Leblanc was a draft eligible sophomore from the University of Pittsburgh. He originally hails from Quebec, Canada and caught the eye of professional scouts when he was a headliner for the 18 and under Canadian National team. In 2013, he was selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the closing rounds of the draft. As a sophomore shortstop at Pitt he won the ACC batting title hitting .405 which was 13th in the nation.
With a fantastic gloved prospect (Anderson Tejeda) as the primary shortstop for Hickory it appears that the Rangers have moved Leblanc over to the hot corner. Based on his listed height 6’ 3” it is probably a better fit. However, his shortstop background shines through as his athleticism was on display defensively. He made an absolutely brilliant play on a screamer that he caught on a tough short hop to his glove side. He kept his composure and fired a perfect strike across the diamond for an out. He also executed a difficult double play going to his right, running across the bag to beat the runner and then throwing across his body for the second out. In the ninth inning, he again flashed the leather going to his right, short of the bag into foul territory and throwing a laser to first. In 25 games at Hickory the defensive statistics are lackluster with 9 errors on the books, but what I saw on display today was excellent. I won’t hold the errors against him because I saw dynamic range, arm, and fast twitch reflexes.
At the dish, Leblanc hits from the right side, keeping his elbows around the letters with a constant pre-swing waggle and a neutral stance. Tonight’s Lexington pitchers weren’t among the toughest Leblanc will face in the SAL, but he really owned them. His first at bad he barreled a ball for a solid single. In his second he annihilated an offering over the wall to the left field power alley. His third at bat resulted in a scorched line drive single with slice spin to the opposite field. In his bid to have a perfect night he was facing a sidewinder right handed reliever. He blistered a 2-0 pitch to short and reached on an error when the ball proved too hot to handle. His numbers at Hickory thus far indicate a very solid approach and understanding of the strike zone. His strikeout rate is 14% and his walk rate is 12%. His OBP at Hickory stands at a very respectable .374. These numbers are fantastic for a player who just turned 21 and is getting his first taste of full season minor league baseball. From my observations, I think the bat will play at third and the power will develop. I would love to see him face some of the more talented pitchers in the SAL and see how he handles the test. Playing collegiate ball in the ACC and playing for the Canadian national team would lead me to believe that he has faced and succeeded against advanced arms. Looking back at the box scores I noticed he went 0-2 against Lakewood’s triple-digit flamethrower Sixto Sanchez on July 30th. However, he took a walk and didn’t strike out in the game.
As I stated in the opening of this article, it’s easy to become short-sighted based on one look at a ball player, but I am really enamored with Leblanc. I was lucky to catch a game in which he could show off multiple tools. He showed range going left and right at third base. He showed a cannon arm making some very strong throws. He showed an uncanny ability to barrel up the baseball and he displayed power by hitting a bomb to his pull side. I am all-in on Leblanc and very excited to see what he becomes. This is a player that is certain to be shooting up the Rangers prospect lists in the very near future. I would be willing to bet the farm that he is among the organizational top 25 prior to the start of 2018, and if he is even close to as good as what I observed today he will quickly join their top ten. Leblanc looks like a player that could be a starting third baseman for a very long time. I see a ceiling of a .300 hitter capable of 20-25 bombs while playing stellar defense at third base, and that my friends is what we recognize as an all-star.
Follow up: Leblanc moved up to Hi-A, Down East in 2018 and his offensive skills continued to develop. Defensively he seems to be trying to find a home, as he has split time between third, second and first base. The day that I saw him at Hickory he looked like a world beater with the glove, and the shortstop pedigree he had in college leads me to believe he has the skills to play third base. When I saw him in Hi-A he was serving as DH so I didn’t get to see the glove at work. If he can stick at second I think the offense will be exceptional for a position that typically doesn’t see an awful lot of impact bats. He’s still definitely still a guy to follow. I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles the biggest jump in the minor leagues in 2019 (A ball to AA).