Written by: Mason McRae (@mason_mcrae)
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The son of a former big leaguer, Jack Leiter is far from the typical draft prospect.
Entering his senior year of high school, Leiter was still far from being universally considered a big-time prospect. ‘Old for the class’ and already 19-years-old on draft day was a major nitpick, and his size/inconsistent stuff had big league organizations double checking whether the right-hander’s immense bonus demand was truly worth the investment. Being a cold weather (Delbarton High School, New Jersey) arm didn’t help his cause, either.
Signability was also a huge issue for Leiter – as he was widely known as the toughest sign in the draft class. The teenager was reportedly offered well over $4 million on numerous occasions, including one offer from a team that neared $4.5 million. However, Leiter’s immense respect for the pitching powerhouse of Vanderbilt, and the ability to grow as a player under Tim Corbin, was a massive pitch for a son who had already been learning from a former professional pitcher.
After being drafted in the 20th round by his father’s former team—the New York Yankees—Leiter easily decided to head to Nashville and compete for a rotation spot on one of the best pitching staffs in the nation.
A freshman in the SEC, Leiter faced a tough road ahead, but it was cut short by COVID-19. His rookie collegiate year was trimmed to only four starts, though four gaudy outings. In his four appearances (three starts), Leiter threw 15.2 innings, allowing 5 H, 3 ER, 1 XBH, while walking 8 and striking out 22. His 0.83 WHIP, 1.72 ERA, and 12.6 K/9 painted a clear picture: he was as advertised, one of the most advanced freshman pitchers we’ve seen in a while. Opposing hitters slashed .098/.233/.118 during Leiter’s first taste of collegiate competition.
As an undersized pitcher (listed at 6’1, likely 5’11 or 6’0), Leiter’s not your traditional prospect. However, the right-hander’s height works to his favor. Throwing from an average release height around 5.4, Leiter optimizes his low release with elite vertical movement, and a flat vertical approach angle, three characteristics that often lead to an elite fastball, even with average velocity that typically sits around 92 mph. Combine those numbers with a deceptive arm action that hides the ball and fantastic lower half usage, you’re looking at someone that MLB organizational models will love due to ideal kinetic sequencing and Trackman data.
Leiter’s ability to miss bats was on full showcase this spring; an 11.5 SwStr% in total is well above average, though his 6.9 SwStr% on the curveball leaves some to be desired. Leiter’s top two offerings are the fastball (already mentioned above), which had an 11.3 SwStr%, and the slider (22.6%). While only thrown a total of five times (a sample too small to truly evaluate), the changeup did not miss a single bat.
The ability to get outs on the mound is one thing, but the ability to impress coaches who have been around elite talent their entire coaching careers is another. One of Leiter’s former coaches had this to say about him:
“Jack’s one of the hardest working kids I’ve coached. He was great to be around, well respected by teammates, and came to work each day with a plan that he’d execute perfectly.”
The gushing reviews didn’t stop there, two former teammates had this to say:
“For being who he is, the son of a big leaguer and a top prospect for so many years, Jack is one of the most humble and hard working guys I’ve played with. Some of the best competitiveness and poise I’ve ever seen on the mound, and his focus on the little things off the field is unmatched”
“Jack’s one of the smartest pitchers I’ve played with. He always has a game plan, and he always executes on the field. He was very fun to work with”
Currently 1st on my board, Leiter’s actually the highest graded pitcher I’ve evaluated (2019, 2020, 2021 drafts). Though it’s early, Leiter’s a name you’ll hear early in June of 2021, assuming good health between now and then. Players with the intangibles (work ethic, character) and talent of the right-hander simply don’t grow on trees. The reviews from former coaches/players speak for themselves, and similar to last summer, teams will be lining up for Jack early in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Follow P365 MLB Draft Analyst Mason McRae on Twitter! @mason_mcrae
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of photographer George Walker IV and the Tennessean