'Long time coming': Leiter strikes out 7 in pro debut

April 10th, 2022

In one of the more anticipated professional debuts of the last few years, Jack Leiter lived up to the hype while missing plenty of bats.

MLB's No. 17 prospect showed off his full arsenal in Double-A Frisco’s 8-7 win over Arkansas, touching 97 mph on his 70-grade fastball and generating several swings-and-misses from his 60-grade curveball and other breaking pitches. He worked around a few bouts of shaky command to strike out seven of the 12 batters he faced across three innings, allowing two walks, one hit and one run on 60 pitches (33 strikes).

"It felt really good. It was a long time coming," Leiter said. "Sort of anxiety built up to first time competing for real, it's been a long time. It felt good to get that one out of the way. We got the win, which is most important of all."

Though the nerves were there, the 21-year-old settled in quickly. After a relatively tame first inning that saw Leiter record his first professional strikeout on a breaking ball to 17th-ranked Mariners prospect Cade Marlowe, the Rangers' top prospect turned up the heat in the second inning. A leadoff walk did not faze him, and Leiter struck out the next three batters swinging, all on fastballs, with 13 pitches.

"The command is something I'm always refining," Leiter said. "Today it wasn't particularly great with the fastball command, but in some bad counts I threw some good pitches and kind of worked my way through it. I kind of put a lot on the bullpen tonight because the pitch count was particularly high for those three innings, but otherwise I felt good. Again, it's just something to build off of."

Heading into the third inning with a 1-0 lead, Leiter surrendered another leadoff walk and was on pace to strike out the side once again after he fanned the next two batters, but Marlowe blooped a hit into shallow right and the runner was able to score from first to knot up the game. Marlowe then stole second but Leiter quickly bounced back, fanning Mariners No. 12 prospect Zach DeLoach on an offspeed pitch to limit the damage and cap off an impressive debut. Six of his seven strikeouts came on whiffs and he racked up 13 total swings-and-misses.

"The breaking pitches were a major focus of mine this spring. I feel like I kind of came out of there with a better feel for those," Leiter said. "Today with the slider, I was able to throw it in any count, and the curveball came along after that first inning. The curveball and the slider both felt really good. The fastball showed signs of feeling good, but it was just a little inconsistent today."

Leiter headlines a group of exciting Rangers pitching prospects that includes righty Cole Winn, MLB’s No. 48 prospect who pitched to a 2.41 ERA in 86 innings last season, and righty Owen White, who won the Arizona Fall League Pitcher of the Year award after tossing a league-high 28 1/3 innings and posting a 1.91 ERA with 29 strikeouts. All three figure to make their Major League debuts within the next two years, and after the Rangers went all in on top free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this offseason, the future is bright in Arlington.

"Both Cole and Owen texted me before the outing, just a good luck type of thing, so we're always keeping tabs on each other, and it's a really cool thing because there's so much talent," Leiter said.

Son of former All-Star and World Series champion Al Leiter, the 21-year-old Jack was selected No. 2 overall in the 2021 Draft after being downright dominant at Vanderbilt. He saw almost no action in 2020 due to the truncated season, but he came back with a vengeance in 2021. Leiter no-hit South Carolina in his first Southeastern Conference start and finished the year with a 2.15 ERA while racking up 179 strikeouts across 110 innings, tying teammate Kumar Rocker for the Division I lead.

He's still a ways away from Globe Life Field, but for now, Leiter is excited to be off and running with an exciting Frisco team.

"It's been great. The guys have been awesome, the coaching staff's awesome, there's so much talent on [Frisco]," Leiter said. "From the pitchers, defense, offense, all the way around. It's really special, and it's cool to be a part of it."