Rangers take Vandy RHP Leiter No. 2 overall

July 12th, 2021

Jack Leiter grew up around the game of baseball, whether it was on fields around the country or in the MLB Network studios alongside his dad, two-time All-Star Al Leiter.

Now, the younger Leiter looks to follow in his father’s footsteps as the Rangers selected the pitching sensation with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday. Leiter said on MLB Network that he attributes a lot of his success to growing up in and around the game.

Rangers general manager Chris Young said that Leiter was at the top of their board for months, and the organization zeroed in on him early in the college baseball season. Young was thrilled that Texas even had the opportunity to draft Leiter once the Pirates took Louisville catcher Henry Davis at No. 1 overall.

Leiter was ranked the top pitcher -- and No. 2 overall prospect -- in this year’s Draft, according to MLB Pipeline. The 21-year-old righty starred for Vanderbilt as a sophomore this season, racking up 179 strikeouts over 110 innings (tied with teammate Kumar Rocker, who was drafted at No. 10 overall by the Mets, for the most in Division I).

The two right-handers led the Commodores to an appearance in the College World Series championship in 2021. Two of the last five pairs of college teammates selected in the first round have come out of Vanderbilt -- David Price and Casey Weathers in 2007 and Dansby Swanson and Carson Fulmer in '15.

Leiter wasted no time establishing himself as the top pitching prospect in this class, tossing a 16-strikeout no-hitter on March 20 against South Carolina -- his first career SEC start. Leiter followed up that historic performance by holding Missouri hitless over seven innings before departing with his pitch count at 101.

“He became an immediate winner,” said Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin on MLB Network. “We tried to downplay [the hype] a bit, because he had never pitched in the SEC. He came in very comfortable; obviously a refined pitcher in his command and what he does. He attacks. He’s coming after you. He’s a puncher, and I think that’s the best thing you can say about him. He’s more than just a fastball pitcher.”

He ultimately tossed 20 2/3 consecutive hitless innings spanning three starts on his way to going 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA over 18 starts. Leiter relies on an electric fastball that sits at 90-95 mph (and tops out at 97), but also has impressive movement that induces an inordinate number of swings-and-misses in the zone. The 6-foot-1 righty also mixes in a 12-to-6 curveball and he has a slider that some scouts believe could develop into an even better offering than his curve.

Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg said Leiter has one of the best fastballs he’s ever scouted, while Young called the righty the best pitcher in college baseball.

Young said that while Leiter has a unique and elite fastball, both his curveball and slider improved as the season went on, along with a serviceable changeup that he didn’t use much in 2021.

“Pitchers like him don't come around in very many Drafts in my 29 years of scouting,” Fagg said. “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 gonna keep developing him as a pitcher and do everything to make Jack the best pitcher he can be.”

Young and Fagg both emphasized that Leiter is the “total package” from his talent to his drive to his ability to lead. Young said that after spending time with a lot of the top choices on Texas' board, there was only one real choice.

“All along, in my heart, I felt like Jack was the right player for the Texas Rangers,” Young said. “What I see is a winner. I'm confident that he is going to help enhance what we're building. He's going to make the players around him better. He's a leader, he's a great teammate, he's an unbelievably hard worker. He embodies everything that we want in terms of our culture, and what we want in our players.”

Though Leiter received first-round interest coming out of high school in 2019, he was intent on honoring his commitment to Vanderbilt. That led to him staying on the board until the 20th round, when he was drafted by the Yankees -- the same club that drafted his father in the second round of the 1984 Draft. Al Leiter went on to play for four teams over a 19-year big league career that featured a pair of World Series titles (1993 Blue Jays and '97 Marlins) and 1,974 strikeouts.

Young said he and the elder Leiter mainly got to know each other after their playing careers, though they did face off once in a 6-5 Yankees win over the Rangers in 2004. Most of their time spent together was when Young was working in the Commissioner’s Office and Leiter was at MLB Network, seeing one another at All-Star Games and other league events.

Young believes the apple won’t fall far from the tree with Leiter. Competing in the big leagues will be second nature to him.

“I went to see Jack pitch this year at Vanderbilt; it was great to see [Al] and to reconnect with someone I admire,” Young said. “He’s somebody that I respect, first as a person, and secondly, as a player.

“There's no doubt the influence he's had on Jack and his development, and we expect that to continue. Certainly, it's a special family. And we're very, very excited to have Jack and the entire Leiter family as part of our Texas Ranger club.”