Once upon a time back in 2013, right-handed pitcher Jose De Leon was a 24th-round pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers without much fanfare attached to his name.
As the years built and his feet got wetter in full-season ball, though, the accolades began to pile up. De Leon dominated in Rancho Cucamonga and Tulsa in 2015, striking out a remarkable 163 men in 114.1 innings across both levels and wrapping the year at Double-A. Prior to the 2016 season, Baseball America selected De Leon and his devastating sweeper as the 23rd-best prospect in the game, his first appearance on that vaunted list.
After the 2016 campaign, the Dodgers cashed in on their rising star, sending him to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for do-it-all Ben Zobrist-type Logan Forsythe. Forsythe continued to get on base with the Dodgers (.351 OBP in 2017), but didn't do much else besides provide acceptable versatility. His OPS+ in LA in 2017 was 83, following up above-average 124 and 113 marks in Tampa with a defined thud. Once again, it appeared Tampa Bay had won a value swap by extracting Forsythe's best, then dropping him off on Andrew Friedman, who should've known better.
Unfortunately, De Leon didn't become the prize the Rays had anticipated receiving, either. He debuted with a tough quartet of starts with the 2016 Dodgers, then got one additional, abbreviated start in Tampa the next season. He didn't make it back to the bigs until a four-inning cameo in 2019, then found his career derailed by the pandemic, as so many did. His career big-league bWAR, as it stands now, is -1.7. He's a Minnesota Twins minor-leaguer -- or, will be, when the 2023 season officially begins.
For now, though? He's a Puerto Rican hero, providing an electrifying 5.2 innings pitched to begin an eventual perfect game in the first round of the World Baseball Classic. Now 30 years old, De Leon finally has his moment -- and very well could parlay it into what the Dodgers (and Rays) had envisioned for him way back when.
Former Dodgers top prospect steal Jose De Leon breakout pitcher of World Baseball Classic pitcher
From here, Puerto Rico will advance into a far-more-harrowing one-and-done competition, taking on Mexico for the right to face a Japan team led by Shohei Ohtani, Roki Sasaki and Munetaka Murakami.
At this point, though, why would De Leon be afraid of anyone? He's always had the pedigree, even though once upon a time, only the Dodgers believed in his professional chances and took a flyer on him in the 24th round. That list quickly expanded to include the rest of baseball, highlighted by the Tampa Bay Rays poaching him as his prospect star rose.
Now, after De Leon's spent a few dormant years in this game, bouncing from the Reds to the Red Sox to the Blue Jays, he's shining once more. He's doing it for his country.
It may not be a "perfect game" in the record books. It may not be a perfect career, either.
But it's perfect for De Leon, right here, right now.