'A perfect fit': Jack Leiter signs with Rangers

July 28th, 2021

ARLINGTON -- From a young age, always had enormous expectations placed upon him. His dad, Al, was a two-time All-Star and World Series champion. His uncle, Mark, was an 11-year big leaguer, and his cousin, Mark Jr., played two MLB seasons.

“It kind of just felt like that's what you do if you're a Leiter,” Jack explained. “You're a pitcher and you make it to the big leagues. I did learn to just put your head down and continue to work hard no matter what the expectations are from the outside. It's all about what you can to improve each and every day and working on what you can do better today. That's all you can worry about, and that's what I plan to do in the future.”

And while he’s not yet a big leaguer, Jack Leiter is officially a Texas Ranger. The team announced Wednesday that it signed the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft.

Leiter’s deal includes a signing bonus of $7,922,000, according to MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis, which represents the fourth-largest bonus in Draft history and the largest given to any pitcher since Gerrit Cole received $8 million from the Pirates as the first overall pick in 2011. Major League Baseball instituted guidelines on Draft signing bonuses the following year, meaning Leiter’s deal is the largest for any pitcher under the current system.

Rangers manager Chris Woodward praised Leiter for his humility and quiet confidence on the mound, as well as his intelligence as a pitcher despite his youth. He’s able to effortlessly talk about the analytics of pitching while still acknowledging his natural talent.

“The mental side, the physical side, he’s just always trying to improve,” Woodward said. “That stood out to me when I talked to Jack. He's not trying to impress you. He's just trying to be who he is. There's a genuine tone that’s an authentic nature to him, which I really appreciate. He's going to give himself the best chance to be the best pitcher he can be.”

Leiter sat atop the Rangers’ Draft board for months according to team general manager Chris Young. The 21-year-old righty was the top-ranked pitcher in this year’s Draft, per MLB Pipeline, after a breakout season for Vanderbilt in which he racked up 179 strikeouts (tied with teammate and Mets No. 10 selection Kumar Rocker for the most in Division I) and posted a 2.13 ERA in 18 starts. Leiter and Rocker helped lead Vandy to the College World Series championship, where they lost to Mississippi State.

Leiter said that Young and the entire scouting department made it clear to him and his family that he would be the Rangers’ selection if he was available at No. 2 overall.

“​​I think leading up to the Draft was where it became most obvious,” Leiter said. “He basically said, ‘We're taking you. You can tell me what you want. You're the guy and we want you.’ That, for me and my family, was really special, because some other teams would have liked to negotiate or try to haggle numbers. None of that was involved in the process. It was just like ‘You’re the guy’ and then it was telling me why. It's a special place to be and that was an easy sell. It sort of just became a perfect fit for both sides.”

Leiter added that one thing that stands out about himself, aside from his pitching prowess, is his competitiveness and his desire to win. That’s something that intrigued him about the Rangers in the long term.

Leiter’s 2021 collegiate season began with a bang when he tossed a 16-strikeout no-hitter on March 20 against South Carolina -- his first career SEC start. The righty owns an electric mid-90s fastball that carries late life and generates in-zone swings and misses, complemented by a 12-to-6 curveball and promising slider.

He said that he is also confident in his changeup and also added a cutter this season, though he didn’t utilize it often.

“Pitchers like him don't come around in very many Drafts in my 29 years of scouting,” Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg said of Leiter on Draft day. “He’s a special kid and a special talent. He is just a super-aggressive kid. He’s competitive and goes at hitters with elite stuff. That's what we expect. We're going to keep developing him as a pitcher and do everything to make Jack the best pitcher he can be.”

Young and Leiter both said he’s not expected to pitch at all this summer due to his workload at Vanderbilt (110 innings pitched in 2021), but he and the organization are still working through the details. Instead, Leiter is expected to return to Vanderbilt in the fall to finish his degree in human and organizational development while coordinating with the Commodores and Rangers staffs to lay out a full plan.

“Vanderbilt's culture and what they develop there is extremely special,” Leiter said. “They encourage guys after they leave and move on to come back. There's actually a whole setup and a professional player locker room.

“But academics have always been really important, and that was something that my family stressed from a young age. [My dad] wants me to graduate. Obviously, as time moves on, it'll get harder and harder. I'll be coordinating with the Rangers personnel in terms of what I'm doing workout-wise and from a throwing side of it. It’s a really good fit.”

A source told MLB.com that the Rangers have also agreed to terms with their second-round pick, Oregon outfielder/third baseman Aaron Zavala. The club has not announced that deal, and its terms are not yet known.