Jack Leiter, potential Red Sox draft target, strikes out 16, tosses no-hitter for Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt University right-hander and 2021 draft prospect Jack Leiter made history on Saturday, as he became the first pitcher in school history to throw a regular season no-hitter since 1971.

Making his fifth start of the season against South Carolina in Nashville on Saturday afternoon, the 20-year-old hurler walked the very first batter of the game before retiring the next 27 Gamecocks he faced in order.

In addition to yielding no hits and just one walk over nine nearly-perfect innings of work, Leiter struck out a career-high 16 batters while also inducing eight flyouts and three groundouts.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 124 (81 strikes), the New Jersey native improved to 5-0 on the season while the Commodores improved to 15-2 and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play.

Through five starts now, Leiter owns a miniscule ERA of 0.31 over 29 total innings pitched since the college baseball season began last month.

The draft-eligible sophomore, formerly drafted by the Yankees out of high school in 2019, was already one of the hottest prospects at the top of this year’s amateur draft class, and his performance on Saturday highlighted just how high his ceiling is.

Baseball America has Leiter — the son and nephew of former major-league pitchers Al and Mark Leiter — as their No. 5 prospect headed into this July’s first-year player draft.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, “the 6-foot, 195 pound righty has an above-average fastball that gets into the mid 90s at its best, and he throws both four- and two-seam variations. On top of that, Leiter has a big, downer curveball with a high spin rate that projects as a plus offering, in addition to a slider and changeup that round out his repertoire.”

The Red Sox, coming off a 2020 season in which they finished with the fourth-worst record in baseball (24-36), own the fourth overall selection in this year’s July draft.

Because they will be picking so high this year (2021 will be the first time they’ve had a top-five draft pick since 1967), Boston is in more control of who exactly they want to select and who they will eventually be selecting at No. 4 — a potential franchise-altering pick — in just under four months.

“You don’t have control over who’s picked ahead of you at 17,” Red Sox amateur scouting director Paul Toboni recently told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. “You’ve got to cover a wider pool of players. This year, we get to make the decision: Let’s figure out who is in our top five, six, seven, eight — whatever number you want to throw out — and scout those players really, really hard.”

Along with Leiter, other college pitchers the Sox could target at No. 4 include fellow Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker and Louisiana State University righty Jaden Hill, though restrictions put in place as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic limit how thoroughly the club can evaluate these prospects.

“Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, I won’t be at every game but I will watch every one of their starts [on video],” Toboni said. “We’ll probably have a scout at close to every one of their starts. That’s partly because they’re really good players and it’s also partly because Vanderbilt is only allowing one scout from each club at every game. In order to have seven or eight evaluations, we sort of have to.”

One scout in particular who will be monitoring Rocker and Leiter closely between now and July will be area scout Danny Watkins, who covers Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee for the Sox. He is probably most known for signing Mookie Betts out of high school in 2011.

“I’m a duck in water again,” Watkins told Speier. “I get to do all these things that kind of get me going… It’s exciting. You really get to kind of shoot for the moon a little bit.”

The college baseball season runs through late June, and the potential remains for the Red Sox to take a prep prospect — like high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer — at No. 4 as well, so this is not to say we know who exactly Boston will be taking with their top pick come July 11.

It’s just that, with the MLB Draft only being a few months away, “the process of identifying targets for the draft” — as Speier put it — “is well underway.”

(Picture of Jack Leiter: Vanderbilt Athletics)

Author: Brendan Campbell

Blogging about the Boston Red Sox since April '17. Also support Tottenham Hotspur.

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