Baseball

MLB Draft Prospects: Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt

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As the 2021 MLB season reaches its halfway mark, the upcoming MLB Draft draws closer. The annual event will be held at the site of the All-Star Game, Denver, for the first time ever. Other firsts include the post-College World Series timing as well as its Sunday, July 11th, start. The 2021 MLB Draft is going to be a part of a stacked card of Major League Baseball-sanctioned events, in addition to the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby, and the All-Star Game, in just a three-day span.

Still, the draft itself will be no less intriguing than the aforementioned three-day extravaganza. The conclusion of the latest NCAA baseball campaign, as well as its high school counterparts, has identified elite prospects that promise to mature into dominant assets on the highest playing level. To put this statement into perspective, first-round picks from the near past that are now climbing the MLB ranks include the likes of Casey MizeAndrew VaughnJonathan IndiaAlec BohmBrady Singer, among others.

Perhaps the most high-profile collegiate prospect heading into this year’s draft is Vanderbilt starter and son of three-time World Series champion Al LeiterJack Leiter. Here is what the Florida native brings to the table, plus who his potential suitors can wind up being in the 2021 MLB Draft.

Collegiate Path

Leiter’s baseball career began at Delbarton School, where he played three seasons for the Green Wave. Across 117.1 innings combined, Leiter only allowed eleven earned runs, making for an Earned Run Average of 0.84. Moreover, during the two campaigns that saw him as a regular member of Delbarton Green Wave’s starting rotation, he posted ERA figures of 0.65 and 0.60, respectively. Another highlight of his high-school tenure was a no-hitter in the late stages of the 2018 season.

This magnificent performance won him a plethora of awards, a place in the prestigious Perfect Game and Under Armor All-Star Games, and a credible profile before the thirty-two major-league scouting front offices. In his senior year, Jack Leiter was named Gatorade New Jersey Player of the Year and a member of the All-Conference (Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference) and All-County First Teams.

Leiter was also considered amongst the highest-ranked prospects prior to the 2019 MLB Draft, however, his intentions to play college baseball for Vanderbilt, to which he had already committed, were thought to be stronger. Most teams were certain that Leiter was to refuse an MLB contract and had no desire to waste a pick no a non-existent asset. Therefore, he wasn’t selected until the 20th round, when the New York Yankees took a risk-free chance on the Plantation, Florida native. As anticipated, Leiter did not sign, which virtually marked the beginning of his stint in Nashville for the Commodores.

This tenure would end up lasting shorter than expected due to unforeseen circumstances. At the outset of the 2020 NCAA season, Leiter was partially meeting the high expectations. Through three starts in interconference play, he turned in a 1.72 ERA with 22 strikeouts, just eight walks, and no home runs conceded. However, he didn’t get the opportunity to prove a successful transition of these figures into SEC play as the coronavirus pandemic put an end to the 2020 campaign.

Yet, a fresh new start in 2021 indicated that his brief dominance had been no fluke. Jack Leiter’s eighteen starts and 110.1 innings pitched were career-highs going back to the high school level. That workload didn’t serve as an obstacle to his efficiency but rather showcased his immense talent for the NCAA level.

Firstly, Leiter put on a 2.13 ERA, which was the third-best within the Southeastern Conference. Furthermore, his 179 strikeouts amounted not only to nearly 15.0 K/9 but to the third-best number in the conference. Jack Leiter finished the year not only as a member of a Vandy pitching staff that carried the program to a second straight CWS appearance but also as the best starter in the SEC alongside fellow ‘Dores hurler Kumar Rocker.

The Floridian also let some avid weaknesses loose. He surrendered almost four bases on balls per nine innings. That joins the 1.1 home runs allowed per nine as the troubling components of Leiter’s game. Nonetheless, his reputation as a top-two prospect entering the 2021 MLB Draft is just about untouchable. Meanwhile, the same applies to the high estimations attached to his future up through the moment he steps foot on a minor-league field.

Statistical Assessment

Due to his quick progress and development on the collegiate stage, which prompted his high draft position, Jack Leiter has nothing but one season credible enough to serve as a useful tool for analysis. As already explained, his latest campaign had both positive and negative takeaways. But it needs to be noted that the downsides are in no way red flags or even weaknesses of a drastic concern.

Behind his near conference-best Earned Run Average spark some quite contradicting, albeit overall positive, figures in the three-true-outcome departments. Those numbers, of course, give out the best food for assessment. The absence of multiple played campaigns for the Commodores can take away from their effectiveness in terms of accurate predicting though.

Firstly, Leiter struck out an average of 14.6 batters per nine innings across his sophomore year with Vanderbilt. As mentioned, his 179 punch-outs were tied with teammate Kumar Rocker for the most in the SEC, however, Jack Leiter achieved that feat in fewer innings, thus having the most impressive number not just within Vandy but amongst all elite prospects in this year’s draft.

There should be no objections here. Yet, when it comes to containing risk, Leiter was, although the damages were controlled, beatable at best.

As regards ball control, he certainly didn’t look like an ace of any kind. Throughout the 2021 season, Leiter gave up 3.7 walks per nine innings. That is the highest mark out of any Southeastern Conference starter with more than 90 innings pitched. Furthermore, when the minimum sample is extended to 70 IP, he has given up the fifth-most bases on balls per nine innings.

Also, an issue arose against the big ball for Jack Leiter in 2021. Amongst the top six starting pitchers in the SEC in innings pitched, Leiter’s 1.1 HR/9 was tied for third. This might not seem so underwhelming at first sight. However, when compared to all other pitchers with at least 88 IP in the NCAA in 2021, Leiter finished tied for sixth-worst. Considering the possibility of a downfall in the initial transition to the professional game, this looks all the more problematic.

It has to be said was, though they aren’t red flags, Jack Leiter’s woes are consequential and of solid proportions. Although his place high on the draft board is barely challenged, fellow prospects such as Rocker and Texas’s Ty Madden could see more success going forward in Major League Baseball due to the risk-free performances they tend to turn in.

Potential Suitors

Pittsburgh Pirates, Round One, Pick 1

The Pittsburgh Pirates hold the first overall pick after an abysmal 19-41 record in 2020. According to MLB-dot-com, Leiter is the No.2 prospect in the draft, and the highest-ranked coming over from the college game, only trailing Eastlake, CA’s Marcelo Meyer.

The Pirates aren’t just likely to select Leiter based on his position on the board. They also lack significant depth at the position in their farm system. Quinn Priester is the only right-hander within the organization to be amongst MLB Pipeline’s top ten. In the meantime, there are no elite left-handed pitchers within Pittsburgh’s MiLB system.

Texas Rangers, Round One, Pick 2

Should the Pirates go with Meyer, the Rangers are quite the bet to go with a pitching prospect to boost their shallow farm system. Not only does Texas have neither a top ten left-hander nor a corresponding right-handed thrower but the club also has no pitchers in the top 100, per MLB Pipeline.

Boston Red Sox, Round One, Pick 4

As the Detroit Tigers have settled at No.3, a pitching draft pick is unlikely to come at this spot. The Tigers have a top 30 pitching prospect in Matt Manning, who is in his rookie year in the majors, as well as two others within their organizational top ten.

However, the Red Sox will be the next ballclub eager to add future reinforcements on the mound. Boston is in the same boat as the last-placed team in the AL West – without a pitcher in the top 100. Furthermore, the Sox have just three top-100 youngsters. This will force them to choose wisely but a pitcher is a much-needed upgrade to a farm system that isn’t rich in promising starters.

Follow me on Twitter at @TeodorTsenov for more of my content. Don’t forget to check out our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

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Teodor Tsenov is the Jets and Marlins writer for Overtime Heroics, as well as an NFL and MLB writer for Franchise Sports UK. From Bulgaria.