Will 2024 be the year of Leiter's big breakthrough?

March 20th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Is this the year for Jack Leiter to finally reach his full potential? The Rangers believe it can be.

Leiter, selected by the Rangers as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, has struggled through his first two professional seasons.

In 2023, he posted a 5.51 ERA in his first 15 starts with Double-A Frisco, leading to a month-long shut down on the development list to fix some mechanical issues that had been plaguing him for some time. After he returned, Leiter looked closer to the former version of himself, the one that was the ace of a Vanderbilt staff that went to the College World Series final in ‘21.

After his return from the development list, Leiter posted a 3.31 ERA with only four walks to 25 strikeouts in his final four starts for the RoughRiders. He made one start with Triple-A Round Rock at the end of the year.

Now the Rangers’ No. 8 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Leiter has shown tremendous progress throughout Spring Training, as he’s remained in big league camp through multiple rounds of cuts.

“He’s looked way more comfortable to me,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I love his pace, the tempo that he has out there. And he’s throwing strikes. You can see he's different. He's a different pitcher this spring.

“I just really like how he's throwing the ball. I think he's in a good place right now mentally, talking to him. He's got a lot of confidence going in. The command, I think, is much improved. He worked hard this winter, and he’s coming in here, I think, trying to show that he belongs here.”

In his most recent Cactus League appearance on Saturday, Leiter threw three solid innings against the Diamondbacks, allowing one hit (a solo homer) and one walk. He faced just one batter over the minimum. He also had a 1-2-3 inning in the seventh inning facing big leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Ketel Marte and Corbin Carroll.

The 23-year-old continues to fill up the zone with all his pitches, which was the biggest struggle for him over his first two professional seasons. Though he was a hyped prospect with a famous last name, this spring has been the most comfortable Leiter has looked since joining the organization.

“I think Jack can handle anything,” Bochy said. “With the bloodlines, he’s around the game and he pitched at a really good baseball school obviously at Vanderbilt, in big games there. So I think he's shown he's up for the challenge. He’s pitching very well, so like I said, it's been good to watch how well he's been throwing the ball.”

With just over a week until Opening Day, the Rangers still have some decisions to make. Could Leiter potentially break camp with the big league club? If he does, will that be as a starter or reliever?

“As I said, we're not ruling out anything. He's here [in big league camp], so it's possible,” Bochy said. “I don't want to ever rule anybody out.”

“What we're seeing is what we were hoping for when Jack came into camp. That's a guy out there that looks like he's doing all he can to make a statement. And he's done it. He's got the stuff to pitch up here, with the command and the confidence he’s got right now. That's what I've liked about him. He’s making noise. He's going to help us at some point. I don't know when, if it’s now or later, but with the progress he's made, he's right there.”