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Al Leiter's son Jack expected to go early in first round of MLB Draft

Jack Leiter  of the Vanderbilt Commodores pitches

Jack Leiter  of the Vanderbilt Commodores pitches in the first inning during game one of the College World Series Championship against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha on June 28 in Omaha, Neb. Credit: Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey

When Jack Leiter’s name gets called during the 2021 MLB Amateur Draft Sunday, it will come with great expectation. It’s not just that Jack is Al’s son, and Al Leiter had plenty of success as a two-time All Star and three-time World Series winner. It’s that Jack might just actually have the makeup to exceed his father’s talents.

Though most mock drafts don’t have the Vanderbilt product going first, that’s likely because the top three teams are expected to veer toward position players. Leiter, 21, is an already polished product with ace potential, and could go No. 4, to the Red Sox – a team currently atop the American League East and more likely to be in the market for a talent that could be major-league ready in the next year or so.

That’s little solace to the Yankees and their fans, especially because the franchise drafted Leiter in 2019, before the 6-1, 205-pound righthander opted for college instead.

"When you look at the guys that are the aces, it’s typically big velocity, big breaking balls, swing-and-miss fastball, athlete, has not peaked physically yet and Jack checks all those boxes," said Kiley McDaniel, an ESPN draft expert. "It’s probably a coin flip that he becomes one of the top 10 to 12 pitchers (in baseball) at some point in his career, but he has the best chance of anybody."

And though there doesn’t seem to be any breakout generational talent in this year’s draft class, Leiter is the pitcher with at least a shot of getting close. The scouting reports are clear as to why.

Leiter has a double-plus fastball that averages in the mid-90s but can touch 98 – a pitch with high riding life and an explosive vertical break that causes plenty of swings and misses, according to MLB. Next is his 11-5 curveball which, though on the slower side (76-79), is highly effective. His third pitch is his slider, which he uses as an out pitch. He also has a changeup, however that hasn’t seen much action as of late.

"I think the thing that makes him special is that his fastball has this elite ability to get swings and misses at the top of the zone," a major-league scout said. "Even when he’s not throwing 97, he can get a swing and miss on his fastball, which is key, and he has a nasty good curveball – just a pure 11-to-5 type bite to it that can land for strikes and he can get for chase, which in today’s world, you need both."

If there is room for improvement, it’s an ability to further harness his command, the scout said. Leiter does have high-intensity mechanics, which can lead to at times losing the strike zone. That said, the result now is an athletic pitcher with strong mechanics and feel for spin, and one who’ has progressively improved throughout the years. He pitched a 16-strikeout no-hitter in March in his SEC debut against South Carolina and added seven more no-hit innings against Missouri in his next appearance.

"He’s the kind of guy where I think eyeball scouts and the analytics crew are both going to end up with the same answer," McDaniel said, comparing him to the Dodgers' Walker Buehler. Leiter, though, does have an edge: His maturity, the fact that, unlike Buehler, he hasn’t been sidelined by Tommy John surgery , and – oh yeah – his dad, the former Met and Yankee. Much like dad, Al, Jack is known as a dogged competitor.

"He’s always been a winner," the scout said. "He’s just really relentless on the mound in terms of being aggressive and coming after guys…He’s built right mentally and he’s built right with his stuff."

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