The 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft may still be under three weeks away, but it certainly looks like the Red Sox have their sights set on a specific prospect.
After finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball last year, Boston owns the No. 4 pick in next month’s draft, putting them in a rare spot to add a top-five talent for the first time since 1967 when they had the third overall selection.
In the time since the 2021 high school and college baseball seasons began in the spring, the Sox have been linked to a number of elite amateur prospects, including a pair of right-handers from the esteemed Vanderbilt University in Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter.
There have been moments these past few months where it seemed as though Rocker and Leiter could be the first two players taken off the board, but recently, Leiter in particular has been heavily linked to the No. 4 pick in this summer’s draft.
Last Monday, in their most recent mock draft, FanGraphs had Leiter falling to the Red Sox at No. 4, with former Astros executive Kevin Goldstein writing: “Word is Leiter is trying to price himself down to Boston and wants to land there. Word is that Boston would love that as well. Thus, a match made in heaven.”
On Monday night, Vanderbilt took on North Carolina State in the second round of the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., with Leiter toeing the rubber for the Commodores.
Since the Red Sox had Monday off before opening up a three-game series against the Rays in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, manager Alex Cora had time to tune into ESPN2 to catch some of the highly-anticipated matchup in between catching up on the latest MLB action.
While Cora said he was mainly watching the game since his brother, Joey, attended Vanderbilt, he also caught a glimpse of Leiter’s outing and was asked Tuesday to compare the young righty to a former big-leaguer.
His choice? Former Astros ace right-hander Roy Oswalt, a veteran of 13 major-league seasons.
“Good fastball. I don’t know. I hate to compare guys,” Cora said of Leiter when speaking with reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo). “Maybe a stronger version of Roy Oswalt. Short — but he’s a little bit stronger — with a good fastball and a good breaking ball.”
Leiter, who turned 21 in April, allowed just one run while scattering four hits and one walk to go along with 15 strikeouts over eight dominant innings (123 pitches) on Monday night, though the ‘Dores ultimately fell to the Wolfpack by a final score of 1-0.
Monday’s start could be Leiter’s last for Vanderbilt, as the Commodores will face off against Stanford in an elimination game on Wednesday.
The son of two-time All-Star Al Leiter, the 6-foot-1, 205 pound hurler is currently regarded by Baseball America as the third-ranked prospect in this year’s draft class, ranking first among amateur pitchers and college players in general.
In 17 regular and postseason starts for Vandy this year, the sophomore has posted a 2.08 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP, and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 171:42 over 104 total innings pitched.
Per his Baseball America scouting report, Leiter operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a four-seam fastball, a two-seam fastball, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup.
“This spring, Leiter has primarily worked with a fastball, curveball, slider combination,” the righty’s scouting report reads. “His fastball has been up to 98 mph, but averages 93-95 mph, with excellent carry that generates plenty of whiffs in the zone and above it. Teams love the metrics on Leiter’s fastball, and the combination of his size, extension and carry on the pitch allow it to play up, even when he’s sitting in the 90-93 mph range. His curveball is his best secondary offering now, an upper-70s, 12-to-6 downer that he lands consistently in the zone when he wants but can also bury for a put-away pitch.
“Leiter throws a slider in the low 80s that has less depth but might wind up being a better out-of-the-zone chase offering and he also infrequently throws a mid-80s changeup that scouts loved out of high school and could become an above-average secondary with more reps. Durability was the one concern scouts had with Leiter, and while he did post most weeks throughout the season, he skipped one start to manage fatigue and at times was a bit homer-prone. While Leiter might not project as an ace, scouts see a pitcher who should fit in a No. 2 or No. 3 role and pitch in the big leagues for a long time.”
(Picture of Jack Leiter: George Walker IV/Tennessean.com