Leiter flashes ace potential in dominant start

May 8th, 2022

It had been a little shaky for Jack Leiter since his much-anticipated professional debut back on April 9, but on Saturday, the Rangers’ top prospect gave everyone a glimpse of his ace potential.

Leiter fired his best pitching performance to date, allowing just two hits across six innings with five strikeouts in Double-A Frisco’s 5-0 victory. It was the first time this season he hasn’t walked a batter.

"I've just been working on being more efficient with my body, being more efficient with my pitches, being more on line to the plate and simplifying everything," Leiter said of his improved performance.

MLB’s No. 17 prospect collected two punchouts in the first, working around a one-out double. Mariners No. 12 prospect Zach DeLoach singled to lead off the second, and that’s when Leiter doubled down to retire the last 15 batters he faced in order.

He worked with more efficiency than ever before, needing just 54 pitches to get through his final five innings of work. In total, he fired 45 of his 67 pitches for strikes, or a 67.1% strike rate. The last time he threw fewer than 70 pitches in a game was his season debut in which he tossed 34 of 61 pitches for strikes (55.7% strike rate) across three innings.

"I felt like it happened the same way at Vanderbilt. The first couple starts, the feel wasn't really there, and it ended up coming along as the season went," Leiter said. "I just stayed confident that it would click -- the fastball command, how my body's feeling -- and just trusting the defense. ... They made some really nice plays for me."

Through his first four outings, Leiter averaged 70.5 pitches per start and about three innings per start, and he walked nine batters in 12 2/3 frames coming into Saturday’s game. Since throwing 70 pitches (38 strikes, or 54.2%) in 2 2/3 innings on April 23, Leiter has stayed locked in to cut back on the walks (only one issued across his last two outings) and improve his command. That start was by far his worst – he allowed four unearned runs on four hits and three walks.

"You just have to keep it as similar as you can to when you have a good outing," Leiter said. "Obviously there's some more things to work on after some outings, but there's never a time to panic, no matter how good or bad. You shouldn't overreact, as a starting pitcher especially. If you do, it's a long week in between starts just overthinking everything. Good or bad, you just get back to where to were right in the center the next day and through that next week, you just work on what you need to work on and prepare for that next start."

Despite the high pitch counts and shaky command, the 22-year-old has kept runs off the board. He’s allowed four earned runs through his first five starts, good for a 1.93 ERA, and he’s only surrendered one home run through his first 18 2/3 innings.

While the Vanderbilt product enjoyed a strong performance on the mound, Frisco’s offense powered up to give Leiter his first professional win, led by fourth-ranked Rangers prospect Ezequiel Duran. The 22-year-old finished the game 2-for-4 with three RBIs, lacing a solo homer and his MiLB-leading 13th double of the season.

"This is a really special team. It seems like we're pretty close," Leiter said. "It does feel like everyone's rooting for each other, and Ezequiel is a prime example of that. Good or bad game, the next day he comes in and you have no idea if he's 10 for his last 10 or zero for his last 20.

"However many guys are in this locker room, everybody's backing each other. The vibes and the energy is always positive, regardless of how we're doing."