José Manuel Leiva
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 170 lb.
José Leiva set the Venezuelan League record for steals.
Leiva made his pro debut with the Philadelphia Phillies' affiliate Helena in 1982, hitting .316/.390/.338 with 33 runs in 59 games. For a guy who would be known for his steal success, he had an unimposing start - 24 SB, 15 CS. He was 4th in the Pioneer League in steals (between Ronnie Chapman and Orlando Blackwell) but led in caught stealing, by 5. In 1982-1983, he made his Venezuelan League debut, hitting .185/?/.259 with five swipes for the Águilas del Zulia.
He had a busy season with the 1983 Spartanburg Spinners - .272/.403/.364, 108 BB, 128 R, 9 3B, 78 SB (only caught 13 times), 17 assists in the outfield, 16 errors. He led the South Atlantic League in runs (19 ahead of Stan Javier), tied for second in triples (one behind Mike Stellern), was second in steals (a distant 67 behind Vince Coleman, who was busy setting the all-time minor league record), was second in walks (6 behind Ken Jackson), was 8th in OBP (between Javier and Mo Ching), tied Van Snider for 4th in outfield assists, led with 284 putouts in the outfield (34 more than Javier) and tied Johnny Wilson for second in outfield errors (6 behind Snider). He did not make the All-Star outfield as Coleman, Snider and Paul Hollins were picked. Among Phillies minor leaguers, he led in runs (19 ahead of Jeff Stone), was third in triples (behind Eddie Miller and Stone), was second in steals (12 shy of Stone) and was second in walks (again 6 behind Jackson).
In winter ball, he hit .311/?/.379 and stole 20 bases for Zulia then batted .462 with three triples, five steals, nine runs and six RBI in nine postseason games as his club won the title. He was second in the league in swipes, 23 behind Stone, who like Coleman, set a single-season steal record. His numbers dropped dramatically in 1984 with the Peninsula Pilots, as he hit only .210/.294/.248 with one triple, 13 steals in 20 tries, 32 walks and 42 runs in 87 games. In the winter, he hit .269 and slugged .343 for Zulia.
A second season with Peninsula was much better than the first on offense. His batting line was .258/.401/.320. In 95 games, he scored 73 runs, drew 69 walks and stole 58 bases while only being caught four times. His defense was not as good - 9 errors and one assist. He tied Kevin Bootay for the Carolina League lead in runs (despite playing 35 fewer games than Bootay), was second in steals (4 shy of Eric Yelding, who had 40 more games), missed the top ten in walks by two and was 4th in OBP (between Drew Roberts and Ron King). Among Phillies farmhands, he was 4th in runs, led in steals (17 ahead of Rod Wheeler), tied Jackson for the most walks and led in OBP (.015 ahead of Bart Kaiser).
Leiva hit only .230/?/.250 for the 1985-1986 Águilas but scored 32 runs in 57 games and stole 35 bases, his best in a LVBP season. He led the league in steals by one ahead of Otis Nixon and tied Gary Pettis for the third-best steal total in league history. It was the best steal total to that point in LVBP annals by a native player. He tied Cecil Fielder, Barry Bonds and Benny Distefano for 6th in the league in runs as well. He saw limited action and struggled with the 1986 Reading Phillies (.225/.372/.317) though his speed numbers were still very good (26 SB, 7 CS, 36 R in 53 G). Despite his shortened time, he tied Greg Edge for 5th in the Phillies chain in swipes and nearly made the top 10 in the Eastern League.
In the winter of 1986-1987, he hit .257 and slugged .314. He stole 22 bases and scored 37 times in 63 games then batted .318 and slugged .500 in five playoff games. He tied Terry Francona and Alexis Infante for 4th in the LVBP in runs scored and again led in steals, again edging out one of the Nixon brothers, this time beating Donell Nixon by two. He was now in the top 10 in Venezuelan League history in career steals despite not yet being 25 years old. As with Peninsula, he did better his second year with Reading, hitting .253/.364/.334 with 11 triples, 84 runs and 50 steals in 66 tries. He tied Doug Dascenzo for 6th in the EL in runs, was second in triples (one behind Rolando Roomes) and was third in steals (behind Dwight Smith and Jim Reboulet). In the Philadelphia farm that year, he was third in runs (behind Tom Barrett and Vince Holyfield), first in triples (two more than Barrett) and second in steals (six fewer than Holyfield).
Leiva hit .252/?/.315 and stole 15 bases for Zulia in 1987-88. He was a distant second in steals, 14 behind Smith. His 110 career steals were now 5th in LVBP history. In 1988, he played for Reading (.253/.357/.323 in 63 G) and the Maine Guides (.238/.378/.302 in 42 G). For the year, he scored 60 runs in 105 games and stole 44 bases while being nabbed 13 times. Though he only played about half the year in the EL, he was 10th in steals (between Omar Vizquel and Scott Little). For Phillies minor leaguers, he tied Kevin Ward for 8th with 60 runs and led in steals (5 more than Harvey Brumfield).
The Bolivar native hit .274 and slugged .322 for the 1988-89 Águilas, with 18 steals and 34 runs in 54 contests. He won his third steal title, beating Gary Thurman, Infante and Bryan House by five. He tied Rafael De Lima and Phil Stephenson for fifth in runs. He hit .224 with 10 runs in 20 games in his last postseason in the Liga while Zulia won its second title of his career. For his career, he was now up to third in steals in the Venezuelan League, passing Teo Acosta (121) and Ángel Bravo (119) as he was up to 128 - it had taken Acosta 23 seasons and Bravo 18 seasons to reach those totals, to Leiva's 7.
He signed with the Cleveland Indians for the summer of 1989 and ended his US career with the Canton-Akron Indians, hitting .216/.303/.267 in 38 games. He continued to play for several more winters. In 1989-1990, he was 4 for 23 with no steals and five runs in seven games. The next winter, he hit .246 and slugged .320, scored 33 runs in 53 games and stole 20 more bases. He was 6th in the league in runs and was third in steals, trailing Greg Briley and Luis Sojo. He passed Vic Davalillo (138) for third in league history in steals and then broke César Tovar's record of 146, finishing the year at 148. Leiva had done it in nine seasons, compared to 25 for Tovar and 30 for Davalillo.
Leiva split 1991-1992 between Zulia (.158/?/.211, 3 SB in 20 G) and the Caribes de Anzoátegui (.181/?/.234, 10 SB in 25 G). Despite his low averages, he was 5th in the league in steals. In his final season, he hit .267 and slugged .323 for the 1992-1993 Caribes with 27 runs and 12 steals in 47 games. He tied Darren Lewis for 5th in steals.
In 680 minor league games, he had batted .254/.369/.322 with 380 walks, 471 runs and 307 steals (caught 81 times only) in 680 games. He had fielded .961 with 50 assists in 602 outfield games. In 487 games in the LVBP, he had 259 runs and 173 stolen bases, hitting .250 and slugging .307. Through 2015-2016, he easily holds the league record in steals, 27 ahead of Tovar with no one on the immediate horizon of challenging him (no active players being over 100). Given his relatively short career (he was done by age 30), he is not among the leaders in any other category. Among players with fewer than 500 games, Roger Cedeño (113) is the only other player over 100 steals.