This year, I decided to broaden my appreciation for the game of baseball by attempting to do something I've long felt to be too intimidating; become more acquainted with the players who are set to headline the annual MLB First Year Players Draft. Of the hundreds of players set to be drafted this summer, there are two who I'm planning to highlight on the blog this week. Today, we're going to dish on Vanderbilt starting pitcher Jack Leiter, and on Saturday, we're going to examine his teammate, fellow starting pitcher Kumar Rocker.
So without further ado, let's dive in.
The first thing that immediately jumps out about Jack Leiter is his last name. As to be expected on the Long Story Sport blog, Jack is yet another son of a former ballplayer. The father in question this time, Al Leiter, played for four clubs over a 19-year career and finished with a 162-132 record, a 3.80 ERA, 1,974 strikeouts, and a 40.0 bWAR. He was a two time all-star, and was a part of two World Series winning teams, first in 1993 with the Toronto Blue Jays, and second in 1997 with the Marlins.
But if collegiate scouts, and my own two eyes, are right, it appears that Al Leiter's greatest legacy for the game might be his 20 year old son, who's currently dominating right now with the Vanderbilt Commodores. And as you'll soon find out, it wasn't nepotism that brought the young Leiter to where he's at today, it's been his intense attention to detail and his eye popping results as an amateur pitcher that have made him a must-see prospect for teams that are desperately looking for their next ace.
The first time that I became familiar with Leiter was just a few days ago when I read that he had thrown a no-hitter against SEC rival South Carolina. I clicked on the link to read more, and I quickly had to shovel my jaw up from the floor once I read the finer details. According to the article, after he started his day by walking his first batter, Leiter recorded 27 consecutive outs on his way to his first no-no of his collegiate career, and Vandy's first since the 2019 season.
What made this performance striking to me wasn't just that he hadn't given up a single hit, it was that he struck out 16 hitters. If you look at the entire history of no-hitters in Major League Baseball, the record for most strikeouts during a no-no stands at 17, which is shared by Nolan Ryan and Max Scherzer. Closing out the 27 outs for Leiter were eight fly outs and three ground outs.
Over the course of the game, Leiter threw 124 pitches, with 81 of them being called strikes. His resulting 65.3 percent strike to ball ratio isn't just an impressive mark for a pitcher in college, but also in the big leagues. According to efastball.com, the average strike to ball ratio for a big league pitcher during an entire season is around 62. While this was only from one game, it's still a strong indication that Leiter was playing at a high level by every measure.
If you watch the highlights, which are down below, you'll become familiar with Jack Leiter's imposing pitch repertoire. The two main pitches that are worth bringing up right now are his deadly curveball that dives down better than some bigger leaguers' hooks and a fastball that some scouts are calling the best single pitch anywhere in collegiate baseball right now. His heater tends to fly at around 92-95 MPH, but can reach as high as 97 or 98 when he's really dealing. But it's his deadly accuracy with his fastball, and the little bit of movement it sports, that truly make this pitch so dangerous to opposing batters.
Now I don't want to come on here and make it seem that Leiter had one great pitching performance and now he's a top draft prospect all of the sudden. Leiter has long been on many scouts' radars since he was playing in high school. In fact, before he was hurling gems for the Commodores, Leiter was drafted by the New York Yankees out of the Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey back in 2019. He could've already been working within the Yanks' minor league system right now, but instead, he elected to go work on his craft at Vanderbilt, where they've churned out some pitchers you might have heard of like David Price, Sonny Gray, Mike Minor, and Walker Buehler.
During his freshman year in 2020, Leiter appeared in four games and finished with a 2-0 record, a 1.72 ERA, and 22 strikeouts over 15 and 2/3s innings. The only reason he didn't play longer was because the NCAA season was canned in March 2020 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even so, Leiter's work on the field was quickly praised by coaches and scouts alike, most of whom compared his early performances with fellow Commodore Kumar Rocker.
This season, Leiter has been able to continue his strong form and has even rivaled Rocker on many experts' draft boards. While there are some other potential players who could take the top spot, including duel third baseman and pitcher Brady House, and shortstop Matt McLain, I expect Leiter to be picked somewhere in the top five. Teams at the top of the draft board like the Pirates, Rangers, and Tigers could all use some more arms for their starting rotations right now, and aside from Rocker, Leiter might be college baseball's most complete pitching prospect heading into the draft.
Nevertheless, I hope that I was able to explain some of the reasons why Leiter is such a touted college player. From his pedigree as son of a former ballplayer to his eye-opening performances at Vanderbilt, Leiter is a guy who any team would be fortunate to have waiting in the wings. Whether that's the Pirates, the Rangers, the Tigers, or anyone else, Leiter's ride up the minor league ranks will certainly be one of the bigger stories for years to come.
Featured Image - Joe Howell/Vanderbilt University Athletics via AP
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