Don’t get too excited: even though the Yankees did indeed draft Jack Leiter in the 20th round this afternoon, it would be a stunner to see him sign with the club. Expect him to head to Vanderbilt.
It’s quite common for teams to use one or two late round selections on friends or family of someone with ties to the organization. Yes, Leiter is a big prospect in this instance, but this selection screams courtesy more than anything. Remember when the Yankees took Mariano Rivera’s son 29th round of 2014? He didn’t sign, and the Nationals wound up taking him in the fourth round in 2015.
Unless Leiter suddenly wants to accept a steep discount (perhaps Anthony Volpe too), there’s no way the team can meet his demands in order to convince him to sign. They could go way over their draft pool and forfeit next year’s first round pick if they wanted, but that really only makes sense if you go way, way over. The Yankees have taken a ton of college kids with little leverage, so yeah, that strategy isn’t happening.
Anyway, the draft is near complete, but I had no plans of listing all picks 11 through 40 because that would just be silly. So, just go check out MLB.com’s draft tracker instead. The rest of our draft coverage can be found here. As a reminder, we’ll profile the picks in the coming weeks.
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.