First taste of pro ball hasn't hit top prospect Leiter yet

February 22nd, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. --  doesn’t think he’s started to feel like a professional baseball player just yet.

Leiter, the Rangers’ top-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, was drafted at No. 2 overall last summer, but he didn’t report to one of Texas' Minor League affiliates immediately. Instead, because of his workload during his sophomore season at Vanderbilt -- 110 innings as the Commodores finished as the College World Series runner-up -- he spent the rest of the summer and fall in Nashville, Tenn., working out at the pitching lab there.

Feeling like a professional, Leiter said, likely won’t really hit him until he’s on the mound in April for Minor League Opening Day. 

“I would say that won't really kick in until I get into the swing of things in a season,” Leiter said. “I think it's kind of just getting into the daily routine of things, until there's a hitter in a different color uniform and an umpire back there and some fans in the stands. I would just say it's not fully there yet.” 

And while he may not feel like it now, Leiter has been working and preparing like a professional. The right-hander has been in Surprise since about mid-January, living at the Rangers’ dorms and ramping up with bullpen sessions and live batting practice on his own schedule as he prepares for his first Spring Training.

While it’s different with the ongoing MLB lockout, Leiter joined more than 100 other Texas prospects in Surprise this week for a Minor League minicamp as he continues to prepare for his professional debut. He threw his first bullpen session in minicamp on Tuesday, though he’s thrown multiple within the past month already.

“Obviously I haven't been through a camp yet, so I don't know what a real one feels like,” Leiter said. “But this feels right. Everyone's been super awesome, from the staff to the players, and I’m just looking forward to getting it going and getting into the spring and then into the summer. … There's a lot [of anticipation], but again, it's trying to keep it day by day and doing what I can to put myself in a good position and continuing to improve in every way possible.”

Some members of the Rangers’ big league coaching staff are on hand as support for the Minor League minicamp, but they aren’t fully immersed as they would be during a regular Spring Training.

Even so, Leiter said co-pitching coaches Doug Mathis and Brendan Sagara have both been available to break down TrackMan data or how his pitches can be improved.

Despite coming into the organization as a well-rounded and polished college pitcher, Leiter emphasized that there are always things to work on. In the offseason, he focused on tweaking his slider and changeup grips, and he has continued to improve those two pitches, among other things, in Arizona.

“You're never going to feel perfect,” Leiter said. “Sometimes you just have to kind of look back on where you were a year ago and compare it to today and realize how far you've come. I'm always working on my changeup, the feel and consistency and being able to land in any count and then kind of use it in a different way with two-strike counts to get a swing and miss. [I’m also] continuing to focus on command and how my body moves.”

Though it’s been a short time in the organization, Leiter has already impressed coaches and front-office members throughout.

President of baseball operations Jon Daniels said last month that Leiter's pure talent, drive and competitiveness are all what make him so well-rounded, despite having not thrown a professional pitch yet.

“Jack Leiter is a very good pitcher and he is a tremendous person,” said Rangers farm director Josh Bonifay. “He goes about his business the right way and he shows up. He's a part of the group and it's fun to watch him. He's got an electric arm and he's got big-time stuff. So we're very excited about it and him.”

While Leiter seems to be on the fast-track to the big leagues, he hasn’t let any of the outside noise affect how he’s gone about his business this spring. Whether he opens the season at High-A Hickory, Double-A Frisco or elsewhere, he believes he has what it takes to be an MLB pitcher down the road.

“The way I see things, if you pitch like a big league pitcher in High-A, you’ll be in the big leagues when the time is right,” Leiter said. “If you pitch like a High-A pitcher in Triple-A, you're going to get hit around and you’re not going to have success. It’ll happen when the time is right. I want to do what I can to pitch like a big league pitcher. Whatever level they start me at is great, but I just want to focus on what I can control.”