What the future looks like for Jack Leiter

January 26th, 2023

We're excited to reveal MLB Pipeline's 2023 Top 100 Prospects list today at 7 p.m. ET in a one-hour special on MLB Network and MLB.com. We'll have all the scouting reports online and a deluge of related content over the next several days.

Now it's on to the organizational Top 30 lists. But first, let's answer some of your questions.

Does Jack Leiter still have the ceiling (let's say a #2) that many thought he would when getting drafted? Is there less of a chance he reaches that now after seeing struggles with his command? -- @KjonesPHX

Leiter was sensational in his one full season at Vanderbilt: no-hitting South Carolina in his first Southeastern Conference start, holding Missouri hitless for seven innings before departing in his second, sharing the NCAA Division I strikeout lead (179 in 110 innings) and pitching the Commodores to within a victory of their second straight College World Series championship. But the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 Draft was far from spectacular in his pro debut, going 3-10 with a 5.54 ERA, .246 opponents' average and 109/56 K/BB ratio in 92 2/3 Double-A innings.

Breaking into pro ball at the Double-A level is a difficult task, so Leiter deserves some slack, and he definitely still can become a No. 2 or 3 starter if he can make some adjustments. His 93-98 mph fastball played as an elite pitch with tremendous riding life and induced vertical break in college, but its metrics dipped and he didn't consistently locate it up in the zone like he needed to last year. His upper-70s curveball lost a bit of power, while his control and command -- never his strong suits -- also regressed.

To reach his ceiling, Leiter will have to get more consistent with his delivery, throw more strikes and live up in the zone more often with his fastball. He does come with more risk now than he did going into the 2022 season, but his intelligence and work ethic should help him as he tries to make the necessary improvements. One positive sign from last year was that he added velocity and depth to his slider, which now parks in the mid-80s and touches 92 mph.

Who is your pick to be the breakout prospect from the 2022 Draft class this season? -- @patrickhd52

I didn't have to think hard about this one. It's right-hander Cade Horton, who went seventh overall to the Cubs after coming back from Tommy John surgery and dominating the NCAA postseason while leading Oklahoma to the College World Series finals.

Horton opened last spring as the Sooners' starting third baseman and didn't pitch until March 29. It took him a couple of months to get into gear on the mound, but once he did, he overmatched hitters with a 94-98 mph fastball with run and carry, and a wipeout mid-80s slider that tops out at 90 mph and features two-plane depth. He needs to refine his changeup and his command, and the athleticism that made him a highly coveted quarterback recruit should help him accomplish those goals.

The Cubs pulled off the best strategic move in the 2022 Draft by taking Horton at No. 7, signing him for a below-slot $4.45 million and using the savings to pay Florida high school left-hander Jackson Ferris ($3,005,000) in the second round. That gave Chicago two potential frontline starters whom we could see on the Top 100 Prospects list at some point this year.

Can you explain your feelings on Brandon Pfaadt? He seems an exceptionally noteworthy missing arm from your list. -- @spencer_ogara

I believe Spencer is referring to the fact that Pfaadt didn't make our Top 10 right-handed pitchers list. That doesn't mean we don't like him, nor does it mean he won't factor prominently on the Top 100; if we had extended our rankings, he would have checked in at No. 12 among righties.

A fifth-round pick out of NCAA Division II Bellarmine (Ky.) in 2020, Pfaadt led the Minors with 218 strikeouts last season, the highest total since Brandon Claussen fanned 220 batters in 2001. He can miss bats with a 92-96 mph fastball with carry, a sweeping low-80s slider and a mid-80s changeup with fade and sink. He also pounds the strike zone and looks like a mid-rotation starter for the D-backs.

How fast can Emmanuel Rodriguez fly up these ranks with a bigger sample size? (Assuming he plays well.) -- @leviher70509380

Rodriguez slashed .272/.492/.551 with nine homers, 11 steals and 57 walks in 47 games while making his full-season debut last year at age 19 in Single-A, but a torn right meniscus ended what would have been a breakout season in June. He has the tools and skills to rank among the very best prospects in baseball if he can stay healthy and keep performing at that level.

Signed for $2.5 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2019, Rodriguez has the chance to be a plus hitter with power to match and eye-popping walk totals. He's a solid runner for now with a chance to stick in center field, and he has the strong arm to fit nicely in right field if he slows down as he matures physically.