Jack Leiter always has embraced the pressure associated with following in the footsteps of his famous father, Al Leiter. Jack was determined to be a pitcher, like his dad. But nobody — not even Al or Jack — could have anticipated this.
Sunday night, the Vanderbilt star from Summit, N.J., will hear his name called early in the MLB draft, likely surpassing his father — who was a second-round pick of the Yankees in 1984.
There is a slim chance the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Leiter can make history and become the first local product to go No. 1 overall since B.J. Surhoff (a Bronx native who attended Rye High School in Westchester County) in 1985, though most mock drafts project California high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer will be selected by the Pirates with the first pick.
The overriding expectation is Leiter will be the second choice, which belongs to the Rangers. In the worst case, most experts believe, he would go fourth to the Red Sox. The last top-five pick from the area was Pedro Alvarez (a native of the Dominican Republic who grew up in Washington Heights), who went second overall in the 2008 draft to the Pirates.
There is a lot to like about Leiter, from his fastball (mid-to-high-90s mph), to his hammer curve, to his baseball-rich bloodlines, to his competitive fire on the mound. This past year at Vanderbilt, he threw the school’s first complete-game, regular-season no-hitter in 50 years in his first SEC start. He finished with the most strikeouts in the country (179 in 110 innings), notched a 2.13 ERA, was a consensus All-American and helped the Commodores finish runner-up the College World Series.
“He’s just a really, really exciting package,” MLB Network draft analyst Jim Callis said in a phone interview. “He’s the best pitcher in this draft.”
Two years ago, Leiter was talented enough to go somewhere in the middle of the first round coming out of high school, but teams shied away from drafting him because of his firm commitment to attend college. The Yankees ended up taking Leiter in the 20th round. Instead of signing, Leiter bet on himself and won.
“A lot of people thought, ‘Oh boy, he’s a pitcher, it’s crazy to turn down that money,’ ” Callis said. “It couldn’t have turned out any better for him.”