Leiter positioned to lead next wave of Rangers arms

April 14th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Kennedi Landry’s Rangers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

HOUSTON -- The Rangers farm system has produced a number of elite hitters in recent years, most notably Josh Jung, Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford, all of whom are currently on the big league roster.

But something that has felt true since the beginning of time (or at least when the club arrived in Arlington in 1972) is that the Rangers cannot develop elite starting pitching within their system. Homegrown starter Cody Bradford is off to a hot start in his second big league season with a 1.40 ERA over his first three outings.

But are there more coming?

“I'm excited to see what our coaching and development group does this year with some of our pitchers, especially ones on bounce-back seasons,” Rangers assistant general manager for player development Ross Fenstermaker said during Spring Training.

“I know we've talked about it for a few years now, but it takes a while for these arms to come together. It's a nonlinear path to the big leagues for pitchers and I just have a, I don’t know, call it a gut feeling, that this is going to be the year of the pitcher on the farm. And I'm excited to see these guys break through.”

Chief among them may be , the Rangers’ first pick in the 2021 MLB Draft at No. 2 overall.

Leiter has had a rocky start to his professional career, including ERAs north of 5.00 in both 2022 and ‘23. But after a month-long stint on the development list last season, the Rangers’ No. 8 prospect made mechanical tweaks that appeared to have positive returns.

He returned from the development list late last season and posted a 3.31 ERA, allowing just four walks while notching 25 strikeouts in his final four starts for Double-A Frisco. He made one start with Triple-A Round Rock at the end of the year before returning to the level in 2024.

The tweaks have seemingly continued to pay off so far, and he’s looked more and more comfortable in each outing, starting in Spring Training and throughout the first month of the Minor League season.

His first start with Triple-A Round Rock this season was pushed back by rehabbing big leaguer Michael Lorenzen, though Leiter ultimately tossed five innings of relief. He struck out nine, while walking just one.

His third and most recent start was the best of them, despite a few hiccups. Leiter tossed six innings, allowing three runs on Friday night. All three runs came on solo homers. While that should be hard to ignore, what’s more important is how the 23-year-old righted the ship shortly thereafter.

After allowing one homer in the first inning and two in the second, he locked down for three scoreless innings on the back end of his outing. He struck out 10 and walked none for his first double-digit strikeout game of the year.

Most importantly, he’s now got 25 strikeouts to just three walks on the season.

“Jack’s done great,” general manager Chris Young said. “He had a great spring and our expectation is if Jack continues to trend the way he has, he will help us out. The best thing for Jack's development is likely to continue the success in Triple-A for a period of time. He's in consideration based on how he's performed to help us at any point should somebody go down or should somebody underperform or he performed to a level that warrants consideration.”

Leiter impressed the big league staff throughout Spring Training, and showed that he could contribute at the big league level. He isn’t a finished product, but this is the best he’s looked in his professional career by far.

He may be in Arlington sooner rather than later.

“You're always evolving,” Leiter told MLB Pipeline. “Hitters are evolving, the game is evolving, everything changes. So it's just about adapting and overcoming. To do that, it all comes back to the process, the routine and what you're doing to prepare yourself. If you do a good job with that, it makes it a lot easier to trust everything else.”

Other notable pitching lines this week:

Double-A Frisco: RHP (No. 16 prospect)
Facing off against rehabbing Astros starter Justin Verlander, Teodo allowed no hits in his brief four-inning outing. He cruised through his first three frames, allowing just one baserunner, though he finished by giving up one run on four walks and no hits. He logged five strikeouts.

Teodo impressed during big league camp this spring, coming off an electric offseason in which he was named the Arizona Fall League Reliever of the Year. He could be in the big league bullpen as soon as 2025, though the Rangers have definitely given up on him as a potential starter.

High-A Hickory: RHP (No. 19)
Final line: 4 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1BB, 7 K
The Carolina League Pitcher of the Year with Single-A Down East in 2023, Curry is one of the Rangers' more underrated pitching prospects. He’s looking to build off a solid campaign in Single-A in 2023, when he compiled a 2.30 ERA, .163 opponents' average against and 99 strikeouts in 82 innings (19 appearances).

Single-A Down East: LHP Kohl Drake
None of the Rangers’ Top 30 prospects are currently with Single-A Down East, due to the advancement of many of the best pitchers in the system. Drake, an 11th-rounder in the 2022 MLB Draft, made the best start for the Wood Ducks this week, tossing four shutout innings against the Carolina Mudcats. He struck out six while walking just one.