ARLINGTON, Texas — Ever since he was selected second overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, Texas Rangers fans have been eagerly waiting for Jack Leiter to make his professional debut. And soon, they'll get their wish.
After spending the fall focusing on getting closer to his degree, it's time to turn the page to professional baseball.
“It's the first season and it's gonna be all about baseball,” Leiter said after a leadership seminar at Globe Life Field on Monday. “That's my job. That's what I'm paid to do. That's what I'm going to be doing and obviously putting 100 percent of my focus and attention on.
"I'm just taking it one day at a time, doing what I can today to be better than yesterday," Leiter added. "Not just in baseball, but I did that in the classroom and off the field as well. It's just doing what I can today and letting the long term take care of itself by just focusing on the day-to-day.”
For the Rangers, they have been very calculated with how they've handled Leiter. The former Vanderbilt ace had already been shut down for three weeks by the time the draft came around, so ramping him back up for a quick professional debut made little sense.
Instead, Leiter went back to Nashville to take a significant leap toward completing his education, which was something both he and the Rangers highly valued when he signed in the summer. Now, he says he's just one semester and an internship away from his degree.
While school was a huge focus of his offseason, Leiter utilized the professional baseball facilities the university has to offer, which are an attraction for big leaguers in the offseason, regardless of their alma mater. That gave Leiter some professional catchers to throw to, as well as sharing facilities with names like Tony Kemp, Mike Yastrzemski, Kyle Wright, Adam Frazier, Bryan Reynolds, Curt Casali and Jacob Stallings.
"I had everything I needed and more," Leiter said. "I feel like it was a very productive fall."
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While Leiter spent the majority of the fall in Nashville, the Rangers still began the process of developing a key cornerstone of their organization. In early October, the Rangers hosted Leiter for three days at their pitching lab in Arizona. There, club officials got a closer look at his pitch repertoire and mechanics.
"The Rangers pitching lab is unbelievable in terms of the level of technology and the sort of information they can gather," Leiter said. "It increases confidence in yourself when you go and throw in something like that. It's obviously something I've never done before. ... They can bring back information on what I do really well, and I can feed off of that. It builds confidence."
The information showed Leiter some needed tinkering to his mechanics, specifically making slight adjustments in order to be more direct to the catcher. It also showed what the Rangers already knew from their homework on Leiter—that his fastball is a lethal pitch, especially up in the zone. He also tinkered with his slider grip, hoping for more downward action, and a new changeup grip he finds more comfortable.
While Leiter will allow the experts to break down most of the technology, he is very interested in how he can use it to shape his pitches and compare what he's doing to some of the game's top arms.
"I see value in the metrics of how pitches work," Leiter explained. "It's a numerical way to compare yourself. Like, what is Jacob deGrom's horizontal break on his slider? What's different about his than mine? You were never able to do that before. I think that's really cool, and I think it's a way to work in the offseason. But once it comes time for the season, I never put too much value into the numbers and I put more into just competing."
The Rangers have yet to reveal any plans for where Leiter will begin his professional career. All signs have indicated thus far that he's on the fast track to the big leagues. At the same time, the Rangers have been diligent in recent years in not rushing prospects to the big leagues before they are ready.
As for Leiter, whenever that big league call-up comes, he'll be ready.
“I mean the confidence in any pitcher would say that I can face a big league lineup,” Leiter said. “I feel like I can. I know I can face big league hitters. It's just about consistency and continuing to refine certain things, but it's the same game. I feel like I would attack a lineup the same or similar way if it was a J.V. or high school lineup, an SEC lineup or a big league lineup.”
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