Many fans are already excited for Kumar Rocker to pitch for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but there’s a case to be made that Jack Leiter should be selected by the team in next summer’s draft instead.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have, umm, ‘earned’ the number one overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft. It will mark the second straight season they get a top 10 pick in the draft, and it will be the first time they get free reign over who they select since 2011 when they selected Gerrit Cole.
That year, the Pittsburgh Pirates broke multiple signing bonus records, including the highest signing bonus in draft history, the highest second-round signing bonus with Josh Bell, and the highest 9th round signing bonus with Clay Holmes. Previously, I’ve talked about how much potential this draft had, which you can read here.
But in next year’s draft, it’s likely they’ll take a starting pitcher, or at least a pitcher who projects to be an ace, with their number one overall pick, like they did in 2011. The two best prospects in the draft are pitchers, and so far many have already pinned the Pittsburgh Pirates to take Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker, and for a good reason. He has two elite pitches, that being his fastball and slider, with a third, solid offering in a change up. He was named the Freshman of the Year by Baseball America in 2019, and threw a no hitter in the College World Series.
But while many are drawn to Rocker’s absolute dominance, the other ace in Vanderbilt, Jack Leiter could find himself being selected before Rocker. He’s the son of longtime Mets and Blue Jays ace Al Leiter, and nephew to 11-year MLB veteran Mark Leiter, pitching is in his family’s blood.
Leiter was a freshman in 2020, and threw 15.2 innings before the NCAA shut down all activities in March. However in those 15.2 innings, Leiter only allowed five hits, three runs, and struck out 20 of the 60 batters he faced. Leiter was also highly touted through high school, as the Yankees selected him with their 20th round pick in the 2019 draft.
Leiter isn’t a hard thrower like Rocker is, averaging out in the low-90s. However, he has similar movement to his fastball, but has supreme command compared to Rocker. He almost never misses his catcher’s glove with his fastball. Just look at some of these examples from Pitching Ninja:
With its current movement, and just how well he commands it, the pitch already is considered a 55 grade pitch, which is above average. However, many scouts believe if he can just add another tick or two to where he can average 93-95 MPH, it could be a legit 60-grade fastball.
Leiter’s secondary pitch is a curveball, and it’s a great curve. According to Baseball Prospectus, it has a future of a 70-grade pitch. It sits in the 74-78 MPH range, and has topped out at 79 MPH. It’s an extremely effective 12-6 curve, and honestly reminds me of Tyler Glasnow’s curve, but a bit slower. His curveball is considered to be the best in baseball. Another great curveball Leiter’s pitch has been compared to is Rays’ reliever Nick Anderson who got opponents to swing and miss at it 53.5% of the time, and have a .083 batting average off of.
Just take a look at Pitching Ninja:
Leiter has two more pitches to go with two, already very impressive offerings. Leiter’s second breaking pitch is a slider. Sitting in the low-80s, the right hander’s slider draws comparisons to his fastball, simply because he can put it where he wants consistently. He can put some late break on it as well, which helps it be an effective slider.
His fourth offering is his change up. It’s the worst out of all his pitches, but is still considered solid with room to grow. There’s reason to believe he can have two 60+ grade pitches with two more 55+ grade pitches as well, giving him a very deadly arsenal. Leiter has also been commended for an easy and repeatable delivery, which scouts love in him.
Jack Leiter is currently ranked by FanGraphs as the number one draft prospect in 2021’s class, even over Rocker, and is trending upward. There’s a really solid case to be made for the Pittsburgh Pirates to select Leiter over Rocker. However, I think they are going to find an ace-level, or near ace-level starter regardless of who they select. Signing bonus shouldn’t be an issue either as prospect signings isn’t an area the Pirates skimp out on.