Rangers feel late-bloomer Leblanc a steal

Rangers feel late-bloomer Leblanc a steal

ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' fourth-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, Charles Leblanc, didn't start playing baseball in America full-time until he joined University of Pittsburgh in 2015.

Leblanc, who grew up in Laval, Quebec, is young for a sophomore-eligible pick -- having just turned 20 in June -- and the only reason he was able to be selected was because he spent a year at a prep school in Canada after graduating from Georges-Vanier High School in Toronto.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound infielder was a standout for the 18U Canadian National team, and caught the eye of Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano when the team was playing a game in Florida. Leblanc had already been drafted by the Brewers in the 33rd round of the 2013 Draft as a 17-year-old.

Now, just two years after making the transition to America, Leblanc will get a chance to make another transition -- to the Major Leagues.

"He's mature for his age. There's no doubt about that. I think the fact that he's had that international competition, he's used to being away from home," Jordano said. "Coming to [Pittsburgh], it was a different place, different language and completely different environment than he's used to.

"That was a big transition for him. I think that helped him mature."

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Leblanc posted decent numbers his freshman year (.291 average and a .370 on-base percentage). But he tore it up his sophomore season, winning the ACC batting title with a .409 average -- the highest in the conference since Yankees outfielder Dustin Ackley hit .417 for University of North Carolina in 2009. It was also the 13th-highest average in the nation.

"He's a stud. The kid works so hard," Jordano said. "He became a different player this year."

The Rangers took notice of Leblanc's hard work and meteoric rise, and liked the attitude he brought to the field.

"Very competitive kid, kind of a unique situation with him being eligible and not having to be 21, said Rangers senior director of amateur scouting, Kip Fagg. "... We're very excited to have him. Like I said, very competitive kid with a chance to play up the middle."

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Leblanc is a little bigger than the average Major League shortstop, but the Rangers intend to at least give him a shot at the position to begin with.

"We have a vision [of him playing shortstop]. If he's too big we'll move him off," Fagg said. "We like his bat. He'll probably start there in Spokane and we'll see how it goes."

No matter where Leblanc plays on the diamond, or how young he is to be draft-eligible, Jordano doesn't expect him to be fazed by anything through his progression.

"He's been through a lot, in a positive way," he said. "So I don't think he's going to be intimidated whatsoever."

The Draft concludes on Saturday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m. CT.

Ryan Posner is a contributor for MLB.com based in Arlington. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.