Heralded Texas Rangers pitching prospect Jack Leiter, a gifted athlete who always “seemed to have the game in his blood,” is expected to take the mound in San Antonio for the first time today.
Leiter (0-0, 3.00 ERA) is the scheduled starter for the Frisco RoughRiders in the first game of a Texas League doubleheader at Wolff Stadium against the San Antonio Missions.
He’ll opoose Thomas Eshelman (1-0, 1.80) of the Missions, with the first pitch set for 5:05 p.m.
In Leiter’s ballyhooed professional debut last Saturday at Frisco, the No. 1-ranked prospect in the Rangers organization threw 60 pitches in three innings in an 8-7 victory over the Arkansas Travelers.
Leiter, the No. 17 overall prospect in baseball, allowed one run on one hit and walked two. Showing off tremendous stuff, the 21-year-old righthander struck out seven of the 12 batters he faced.
One day in the not-too-distant future, Leiter figures to be a top-of-the-rotation starter in the big leagues.
But at this stage of his career, RoughRiders manager Jared Goedert says he doesn’t even want to verbalize the organization’s expectations for him.
“I think expectations can be dangerous,” he said.
In essence, Goedert just wants Leiter to do what he has always done as a player. Prepare. Work hard. Execute.
“We need him to just to go be himself,” Goedert said.
Goedert said he has confidence that Leiter will fare well for however long he pitches at the Double-A level with the RoughRiders.
“He has such a great repertoire of pitches that, if he can go out and execute those and be consistent with that, to me, that’s going to be a successful year for him,” the manager said. “I think he’ll do that, especially once he gets settled in … We want him to feel like he’s like one of 28 guys on our active roster.
“It doesn’t have to be him and 27 other guys. He’s a Frisco RoughRider, just like everybody else.”
When Leiter showed up for his debut last weekend at Frisco, he learned that the ball club had promoted his arrival with ‘Jack Pack’ ticket deals, T-shirts and a ‘K-card’ distribution for the first 1,500 fans.
Goedert said he thinks Leiter handled it as well as could be expected.
“I would say with the amount of buildup and hype and expectation, I was pretty impressed,” Goedert said. “They really promoted it (and we) had a really, really good crowd, especially for the first Saturday night of the year.
“I think he’d be the first to admit he probably needed to get in the strike zone more early with hitters. Because he didn’t, his pitch count got up there.
“But, overall … being able to shoulder all of that pressure, all of that expectation, to go about it like it was just another day at the office, it was pretty impressive.”
After the Pittsburgh Pirates selected University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis with the No. 1 pick last summer, the Rangers picked Leiter. Eventually, he signed for a reported $7.9 million.
In one season-plus at Vanderbilt University, Leiter produced a record of 13-4 with a 2.08 earned run average. He struck out 201 batters in 125 and 2/3 innings.
His record includes four games in the truncated 2020 season and then another 18 in 2021, when he went 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA.
For his efforts, he erned unanimous first-team All-American honors as well as being a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy.
Leiter is the son of former major leaguer Al Leiter. His father won 162 games in 19 seasons in the big leagues.
One of the most consistently good pitchers of his day, Al Leiter had double-figure victory totals for 10 straight seasons through 2004.
Al Leiter told a reporter last year at the College World Series that his son has “always loved the game” and also always seemed to have a good arm.
“When I was playing for the (New York) Mets, and going out to Shea Stadium, we lived on the upper East side (of Manhattan), and he always had a ball in his hand, he always had a glove,” Leiter said. “We’d go to the park (and) he’s throwing wall ball.
“So, it’s been kind of in his blood.”
Series at a glance
Tuesday — Frisco 6, San Antonio 4
Wednesday — Frisco 9, San Antonio 6
Thursday — Frisco 6, San Antonio 3
Friday — Frisco 7, San Antonio 3
Saturday — Doubleheader, 5:05 p.m.
April 19-24 — San Antonio at Amarillo
April 26-May 1 — Springfield at San Antonio