Nico Hoerner is the biggest name to represent the Cubs in the Arizona Fall League and he’s caught the attention of coaches, players and media. Yet, right-handed pitcher Erick Leal might be gaining the most from his performance in the desert.

Leal missed all of the 2017 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and he was pretty down when he first heard the news. He thought his career was over.

However, with support and motivation from his son and wife, Leal rehabbed and after missing the first month of the 2018 season he returned to the mound at Class-A Myrtle Beach.

Even now, Leal says he isn’t 100 percent, but a 0.00 ERA in 17.1 innings in five Arizona Fall League starts is definitely a great sign for his comeback from elbow surgery.

Not only are the results great, but Leal is finally able to continue his growth as a pitcher as he tries to feel 100 percent again.

Via Baseball America.

“When I was doing my recovery I was thinking, ‘I’m getting older, I have to work hard, I have to bring it back really good because I don’t have time to lose,’” he said. “That’s what I proved myself, I could do that.”

Leal’s fastball sat just 90-92 mph on Tuesday, but batters struggled to square it up all afternoon. What really stood out was his 74-75 mph curveball with 12-to-6 shape and big depth, enough to draw repeated swings and misses.

In the Carolina League, scouts identified Leal’s changeup as a plus pitch and his best offering. Now in the AFL, he’s showing his curveball is a swing-and-miss weapon too.

“That’s coming really good,” Leal said. “I’m working on it here because you can’t throw many breaking balls when you come back from surgery. But I’m working on it everyday and it’s pretty good now.”

Leal struck out five batters on Tuesday, allowing only one hit and two walks in four innings. The 23-year-old from Venezuela has 17 strikeouts and nine walks, with only 10 hits allowed in 17.1 innings so far in the AFL.

The success and consistency has continued since Leal returned to pitch back in May. He made eight starts and pitched in 21 games for Myrtle Beach in 2018, posting a 1.41 ERA in 63.2 innings. Batters only hit .156, as he struck out 61 and walked 17 in his first season back from Tommy John surgery.

Leal will have one more start down in Arizona and this run may be enough to earn him a spot on the Cubs 40-man roster.

He was traded to the Cubs in 2013, and after a few good seasons he had the surgery, missing one full year of development. So, even with his great year at Myrtle Beach, he was still considered a long shot to be protected from the rule 5 draft this winter.

The Cubs have by Nov. 20, to protect players from that rule 5 draft.

Click here to read more about how the rule 5 draft works.

There’s also the chance that the Cubs could use Leal as a possible trade piece this offseason.

No matter what, Erick Leal’s emergence in 2018 hasn’t gone unnoticed and it’s just a great story to see. Remember the name Erick Leal. Either for the Cubs or another team, he’s going to be an interesting pitcher to pay attention to.