Every baseball team features one or two utility infielders, a role filled by a guy with great defensive ability who can play multiple infield positions, as needed. Utility infielders are usually not every day players due to their bats, but Lansing Lugnuts infielder Jason Leblebijian is trying to squash that stereotype, as he continues his journey through the Toronto Blue Jays minor league system.
Playing five different positions in 2014, Leblebijian displayed excellent defense all season, committing just eight errors for an excellent .980 fielding percentage. Leblebijian’s great season didn’t end in the field, as he displayed a respectable bat as well. The 23-year old infielder batted .248 with 23 doubles, two triples, five home runs, and 48 RBIs all the while maintaining a .322 OBP and a.378 slugging percentage.
“Playing a full season was what I expected it to be,” stated Leblebijian. “It was nice being on the same team the whole year. It was great going out there every day and competing. I really enjoyed it. We had a great group of guys here in Lansing. It’s been a lot of fun.”
“I feel there have been a lot of positives from an extra base hit and defensive standpoint,” he added. “Now I feel I need to work on getting more hits and raising my batting average that’s something I’m going to work on this season.”
The great two-way play caught the eye of 2014 Lansing Lugnuts hitting coach Ken Huckaby, who feels many fans underestimate what Leblebijian brings to the diamond every day.
“Jason Leblebijian played great all season,” stated Huckaby. “Everybody knows Leblebijian for his defense, that’s his major attribute, but he can swing the bat as well. I think a lot of people sleep on Leblebijian’s bat, but he can really hit the ball hard.”
As stated, Leblebijian played five positions this past season: all four infield positions, and a position many fans wouldn’t expect from a utility infielder. Pitching became a reality for Leblebijian in 2014. Forced into action on two separate occasions, Leblebijian pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing just two hits and no earned runs.
Pitching wasn’t expected from Leblebijian when he joined the Lugnuts’ in April, but it was a fun experience for the Illinois native who admitted he has not pitched since he was playing baseball in middle school.
“It was exciting getting an opportunity to pitch. I just went out there and tried to have fun with it,” explained Leblebijian. “I went out there and tried to throw a couple curve balls that were actually faster than my fastball. Vince [Horsman] told me to go out there and have fun. It was really cool to experience that. That was the first time I have pitched since 8th grade.”
“The second time was unexpected, but it was a lot of fun as well. Like the first time, you just try and have fun with it,” Leblebijian said, laughing. “Apparently there is a rule on how many warm up pitches you can have and I didn’t know it. Both Justin Atkinson and I were warming up and I thought it might be my time again and they called me out there. At that point you just need to have fun with it. It was nice getting some softly hit balls to get out of the inning.”
Spending part of his 2012 and 2013 seasons in Lansing, Leblebijian feels many of his Lugnuts’ teammates looked up to him as he was one of the older guys on the team who has appeared in more Midwest League games than any other 2014 Lugnuts player.
“I feel the younger guys look up to me and I try to help them out any way I can,” stated Leblebijian. “I usually help out with defensive aspects, but I like to ease their minds a little bit as well.”
Another aspect Leblebijian experienced by spending time in Lansing the past three seasons is different hitting coaches. Learning from Kenny Graham in his first two stints in Lansing, then Ken Huckaby this past season, was a great experience for Leblebijian who enjoyed working with both coaches.
“Both Kenny Graham and Ken Huckaby are great,” stated Leblebijian. “The thing I love about this organization is they keep consistency throughout the system. A lot of things they say are similar and you want to soak it all in. Huckaby played in the big leagues, so he’s great to work on your approach with. It’s an awesome experience playing in this system.”
Currently in Dunedin working hard on earning a promotion for the 2015 season, Leblebijian feels he’ll be well prepared to do just that after a busy off-season. The young prospect spends his winters working out at a local facility where he does more than just train.
“I work out at a local facility with other players that play minor league baseball. It’s great talking with guys that know what you’re going through,” said Leblebijian. “While at the facility I do some hitting instruction for younger players. The kids range from seven years old to high school and college players. It’s great working with them and I think they really get a kick out of learning from a guy in pro ball.”
Be sure to follow Jason Leblebijian in 2015 as he continues to be an excellent all-around player for one of the Blue Jays minor league affiliates.