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Leiter shines in front of father at Tourney of Stars

MLB.com

CARY, N.C. -- Anyone who watched Al Leiter pitch during his 19-year big league career, or has seen him as an analyst on MLB Network, knows the left-hander is a nervous energy kind of guy. Watching his son Jack go through the summer showcase circuit, it's easy to imagine, is not a soothing experience.

"It is nerve wracking, I have to admit," Leiter said. "Watching my son do something he loves is way harder and much worse than whatever I did. You feel for your kid, and you're pulling for him. You can't do anything about it but cheer."

CARY, N.C. -- Anyone who watched Al Leiter pitch during his 19-year big league career, or has seen him as an analyst on MLB Network, knows the left-hander is a nervous energy kind of guy. Watching his son Jack go through the summer showcase circuit, it's easy to imagine, is not a soothing experience.

"It is nerve wracking, I have to admit," Leiter said. "Watching my son do something he loves is way harder and much worse than whatever I did. You feel for your kid, and you're pulling for him. You can't do anything about it but cheer."

:: 2018 USA Baseball Tournament of Stars ::

He had plenty to cheer about on Thursday, when Jack took the mound for the first time in USA Baseball's Tournament of Stars. The Delbarton Prep (N.J.) standout allowed three hits and no walks while striking out four in four shutout innings, though his Free squad did eventually fall to 0-3 with a 6-0 loss against the Brave.

"Today was enjoyable," Leiter said. "The fact that he's coming into his own, he's committed to Vanderbilt, I'm a big believer in education. That was the nervous part, more last year. Now, you kind of get the sense of what your kid is doing. I see what Jack is doing, especially this year in high school, and now at these couple of events. He's coming into his own."

Leiter's son has enjoyed it nearly as much, and scouts have given him high marks for his performance here, as well as at last week's Perfect Game National Showcase. He touched 93-94 mph on Thursday, settled in at 90-92 and mixed in two distinct breaking balls as well as an occasional changeup. One scout hung a Sonny Gray comp on him.

"It's been awesome," Jack said. "It's only been the two tournaments, but both have been amazing competition, great fields, obviously at Tropicana Field and the facility here in Cary. It's hot, but it was pretty awesome to pitch out there. I felt good."

Tweet from @Al_Leiter22: What a thrill for me to watch my son do something he loves. Great experience for him and all the players here in Cary NC. @USABaseball Jonathan Thanks for tweeting this out. Proud papa appreciates it. https://t.co/QEs6buZSp1

Leiter's ability to command the baseball and mix his pitches well stands out as much, if not more, than his pure velocity. He worked mostly with his fastball and low-80s slider for the first two innings in this outing, then started folding in his 75- to 77-mph bigger-breaking curveball very effectively over his final two frames, representing the Garden State extremely well against the best prep players in the country.

"I use the slider as a strike pitch because it's not as big and that was kind of working the first couple of innings," Leiter said. "Then I figured they might be on that pitch on the second time through, so I started mixing in the big curveball, especially 0-2, 1-2.

"New Jersey baseball, I guess it doesn't get enough credit. There's a lot of good players. I kind of came down here knowing if I was throwing strikes and my breaking balls were working, that I'd be OK. Today, it was there, I was hitting spots. Obviously, I had the best players on my team, too. They made great plays and everything kind of worked. They were making all of the plays and I was making some pitches."

Radar gun readings can be all the rage, and there's no doubt the younger Leiter has shown enough fastball to get interest from scouts, touching as high as 94 mph this summer. But the lesson has been handed down that while it's good to have some velocity, it's far from the be-all, end-all.

"That's nice, but as I tell him, all you have to do is watch a big league game now and guys throwing 95-100 are getting whacked," Al said. "Strike one, get ahead, I'm a big believer in trying to get him out in three pitches. He's got a good curveball, he's got a good feel. Command, to me, is very important. If you can get ahead and have command of your fastball, to me, is a huge step for a young pitcher."

Tweet from @JonathanMayo: Check this CB out from @JL31T, freezing Sammy Sinai to end the inning and likely his 4 innings of shutout ball #TOS18 pic.twitter.com/Kvs27ju4nw

It seems that the younger Leiter did not get the nervous energy genes. Al's stomach might have been in knots watching his son in front of dozens of scouts while trying out for Team USA, but Jack is much more even-keeled, taking it all in stride.

"I got the chance at the end of my career to be on the first WBC team in 2006, when I retired. USA Baseball is an honor and it's a big deal," Al said. "That would be really cool for him.

"All these experiences, and I can only relate to when I was a kid, and it's a long time now, every time these kids, my son included, to face the talent that's out here today, and all of the scouts watching, I don't know how I would handle it. You have to be focused and try to block out everything that's going on. To stand on the mound here, to do your thing. I don't know if I could've done it when I was in high school."

"I kind of always have been able to shut out distractions like that," Jack said. "Once I get focused and kind of in the zone, I don't really pay attention to that, notice who's in the stands. It's the same game, same as the bullpen I threw three days ago with no one watching, just trying to do the same thing."

The other gene he didn't get was left-handedness. And he didn't heed his father's desires to avoid pitching at the next level, with dad pointing to one piece of family traits he wished his son hadn't gotten.

"No, I kick myself because he has the Leiter genes and he can't hit," Al said. "I actually fantasized for my son to play third base. I wanted him to be an everyday player and I did not want him on the bump. Somewhere in the last couple of years he, like my brothers, he can throw and he can't hit, at least for the next level. My wife's lefty, I'm lefty and he's righty. Go figure."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.