Jack Leiter and the tantalizing arm of the 2019 draft

When the Yankees are on the clock at No. 30 tonight, there will likely be a familiar name on the board: Jack Leiter.

Jack is, as you may have guessed, the son of Al Leiter, the former Yankees pitcher and broadcaster. Al literally stepped away from the YES booth this year in order to watch all of Jack’s games.

But Jack is more than just a famous baseball prodigy; He’s a prospect in his own right. Though on the older side (19) for his graduating class, he’s one of the top prep pitchers going, putting up dominant numbers at nearby Delbarton (N.J.).

Leiter, a right-hander unlike his southpaw father, has a mid-90s fastball and potential plus offspeed offerings. MLB.com has him as the No. 33 prospect in this draft while Baseball America ranked him No. 21 (subs req). His 6-foot-0 frame is one of the few drawbacks to drafting Jack.

The main hangup, though, is signability. Leiter is committed to Vanderbilt, the university that has produced such pitching talents like David Price, Walker Buehler, Mike Minor, Sonny Gray and Kyle Wright. His commitment to Vandy seems more set in stone than most prospects’ college choices: Teams seem genuinely unsure if he would sign.

And that’s a dilemma for the Yankees. The Bombers don’t have a huge pool for the draft at $7,455,300, though it’s higher than usual thanks to the No. 38 selection acquired in the deal for Gray. That helps if you want to take a risk on a larger-bonus player, but the Yankees can’t put their comparatively unlimited checkbook to use in leverage against other teams. Derek had a good rundown of New York’s draft setup this morning.

That’s not to say this might not be worth it for New York. Leiter is a local product and could be more amenable to signing with one of his dad’s former employers. In his mock draft, Keith Law wrote that rumors have it that Leiter would only sign with the Yankees or Mets.

Still, there’s a reason that despite his lofty position on draft boards, he’s not slated to go in most 1st-round mock drafts, with some having Delbarton teammate Anthony Volpe going to the Bombers instead. Fangraphs called him unsignable in their 2019 draft board. Only 2080 Baseball has Leiter going to the Yankees while MLB Pipeline has him going to the D-backs at No. 34.

The Yankees have been burned in the past in the first round by trying to woo an unsignable prep pitcher, namely with Mark Prior and Gerrit Cole. Both stood firm in their commitments and ended up going at the top of the draft three years later. That was also a time when the Bombers could flex their checkbook in a more unchecked manner, yet it still didn’t make the difference.

Of course, the Yankees would receive a compensation pick if they failed to sign someone at No. 30 overall. Yet, with a constrained bonus pool, a team needs to have a strategy going into the draft with a good idea of signability. If you shape your draft around using much of your bonus pool for one player and that player doesn’t sign, you’ve missed out on multiple players, not just one.

The younger Leiter will likely go unselected in the first round of the draft with the Yankees choosing a polished and signable bat. In three years, if all goes as planned, he’ll be well outside of the Bombers’ range. That’s just the way it goes.

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4 Comments

  1. TopChuckie

    I am just unable to see the value in any 1st round pick, especially a pitcher, forgoing signing and going to college for 3 years. IF, giant IF, everything goes right in college and he comes back into the draft as an early first round pick, I just don’t see where he’s going to sign for enough additional money to make it worth the risk of injury or poor performance and decreased value, on top of losing the value of 3 years of development within that MLB organization, which would probably increase his chances of reaching the majors at an earlier age, which in turn increases the chances and timeline for signing a big MLB free agent contract or contract extension.

    • Chip

      I know it is just one example – but Gerrit Cole went from the 28th pick of the 2008 draft to the first pick of the 2011 draft and reached the majors at age 22.

      So from that standpoint, he made a ton more money, and still reached the majors at the same age as he likely would have if he had signed out of HS.

      There’s a lot to be said for the life experience of going to college. Obviously, a lot of it also depends on your financial situation. As the son of Al Leiter, I’m assuming Jack is not hurting for cash.

    • Your a Looser Trader FotD

      Yeah I can see it either way, as Chip outlines. Not a simple/easy calculus.

      The other issue is health. If he suffers a non-TJ blow out in college, the value drops to zero.

    • V

      I think the key is the prospects you see who are 100% committed to college don’t need the money. Leiter is going to be ok (Al earned $68M in his career) no matter what.

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