Leiter showcases potential in first spring start

March 9th, 2024

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- knows there are some things that are out of his control, the main one being whether or not he can make the Rangers' Opening Day roster.

The Rangers’ No. 8 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, got his first Cactus League start of the spring on Friday in a 4-2 loss against the Royals, once again looking to prove that he can impact the club at some point this season.

But what does Leiter need to do to prove that?

“What we're looking to see from everybody is to throw strikes, quality strikes and we get all his pitches over,” said manager Bruce Bochy. “That's never going to change. It’s a cliché, but it is what we look for. These guys have done a terrific job of doing that, and that's what we're looking for Jack to do.”

Leiter tossed a perfect first inning against the Royals, including getting Bobby Witt Jr. to strike out looking, before getting into some trouble in the second frame, when Hunter Renfroe reached on a softly-hit single before a Michael Massey homer.

Earlier in Massey’s plate appearance, left fielder Wyatt Langford seemingly lost a foul ball in the sun and it dropped in foul territory, setting up the two-run homer. Leiter quickly worked out of the inning without allowing another run.

Leiter worked around a leadoff walk to get fly outs from Witt and Vinnie Pasquantino before a ground out from Salvador Perez concluded Leiter's day on the mound.

It was a solid day of work for the 23-year-old as he continued to fill up the zone with all his pitches, allowing just two walks.

“I felt good mentally and physically,” Leiter said. “Results wise, it was slightly frustrating. I got burned on a 1-2 curveball. I know what I need to do with that. It's just one of those moments to learn from and move on. … It’s got to be more down in a 1-2 count. It's got to be a little bit lower. I would say it was right at the bottom of the zone. It's got to be buried I think for that pitch in that count.

“I got maybe a little too fine on some pitches here and there that led to some deeper counts, but all to say there were positive things to build off of.”

Leiter, selected by the Rangers as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, struggled to a 5.51 ERA in his first 15 starts with Double-A Frisco in 2023, leading to a month-long shut down on the Development List. After he returned, Leiter posted a 3.31 ERA with only four walks to 25 strikeouts in his final four starts for the RoughRiders. He made one start with Triple-A Round Rock at the end of the year.

What’s gotten him in the most trouble throughout his professional career is an inability to throw quality strikes, as his walk rate increased and he got hit hard. The mechanical tweaks he made while on the Development List clearly yielded positive results in a small sample size.

“From the day I got back to Nashville this offseason, I got to work and I knew what I needed to do,” Leiter said. “Now I’m just continuing to work and build off of the good, [but] also build off of the bad. I feel good about where I'm at mentally and physically.

“I feel more in control and under control, and more confident. Even from the not so good outings like today results wise, I still understand that there's positive takeaways and with how I'm feeling and what I'm able to do with the baseball.”