Can Texas Ranger prospect Jack Leiter follow in Spencer Strider's footsteps?
Jack Leiter spoke of adjustments he is making while attending a leadership development symposium and minicamp that the Texas Rangers put together for their top prospects last Thursday. He said that he has been working this off-season on shortening his stride and his arm stroke. The longer stride he deployed in 2022 led to less movement on his fastball and less control as well. He also said to reporters on Thursday this about his experiences in Frisco last season.
"I think it just came down to trying to do too much. There were a lot of times I got too far into the weeds on metrics and information and got away from the primal competitiveness."- Jack Leiter
He finished 2022 with a 3-10 record and a 5.54 ERA. It led Baseball America and MLB Pipeline to drop him significantly down their list of top prospects. Baseball America dropped him completely out of their top 100 and MLB Pipeline dropped him from 45 down to 78 on their list as well. The positive to take from last season is Leiter recognizes what the issue is and is working this off-season to fix it. Shortening his stride and his arm stroke is also something Spencer Strider once did and in 2022 the results showed themselves. He finished second in Rookie of the Year voting behind his teammate Michael Harris. What Strider did and the results he produced are what Leiter should model himself to be.
Strider is an apt comparison for Leiter and not just because both played in power 5 conferences in college. They are almost of the same build though. Strider is 6'0 and 195 lbs and Leiter is 6'1 and 205 lbs. Strider just turned 24 and Leiter will turn 23 in April of this year. The one major difference is Strider was a fourth-round pick in 2020 and Leiter was the number 2 overall pick in 2021. Strider was in the 2020 pandemic draft and only made 4 starts that season before the remainder of the season was canceled.
Strider had Tommy John surgery in 2019. That time off led him to reexamine how he threw the baseball and make changes to his approach so that he could stay healthy. Before the surgery, he was throwing 94-96 and doing what he thought was right. He mechanics were sound, yet he had gotten hurt. After the surgery, he decided to study pitchers who were closer to his height and build rather than studying Jacob Degrom, who is different than Strider in both his height and build. He said this in an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution
"For me to try to be Jacob deGrom at that point didn’t make any sense. I’m not 6-foot-4, I’m not long and lanky, I wasn’t throwing 100. Low 90s and shorter arm action, that made sense to copy (Bauer).”"- Spencer Strider
He began to watch Trevor Bauer. Bauer has a similar height and weight to both Strider and Leiter. Bauer is 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds and is a pitcher who has excelled with a 4-seamer that has a high spin rate. It does not have the velocity that Strider or Leiter has, but it spins and it moves .His spin rate of 94% on the fastball is nearly as much as the spin rate on his curveball. Strider started studying what Bauer was doing and what made him successful. It was a process, but in the time he worked, he was able to increase his velocity from 94-96 mph to an average velocity of 98.2 mph and is able to top 100 with ease. He accomplished this with he said,
"Just more efficient movement and allows the power to be applied a little bit more efficiently and effectively.”"- Spencer Strider
The results of that process led Strider to be drafted in 2020 and make his minor league debut in 2021. He started in Low-A ball and finished in the majors. He made two appearances out of the bullpen for Atlanta in 2021. He started the 2022 season in the bullpen and on Memorial Day of 2022 he made his first major league start and proceeded to make 19 more after that and become one of Atlanta's best-starting pitchers. He struck out 165 batters in 107 innings as a starting pitcher.
That is the change that Jack Leiter is attempting to make. Leiter much like Strider had good not great velocity with the longer stride. Leiter in 2022 was regularly throwing in the mid 90s and could reach back and get higher in certain situations. He struggled with his command at times of his fastball. He walked 56 batters in his 92.2 innings pitched. The hope with Leiter is that the adjustments with his stride and arm motion can unlock a more explosive fastball that will generate more movement.
If the changes Leiter is making lead to better results he could be moved up to Triple-A this summer and then be in a position to make his major-league debut by September. The Rangers will not be afraid to push Leiter if he shows he can handle it. Trevor Bauer made his adjustments and it led to a Cy Young. Spencer Strider studied Bauer and it nearly led to a Rookie of the Year Award and a long-time role in the Atlanta starting rotation.
Leiter is trying to follow Strider's path and hopefully get back on the path to the major leagues. The question becomes can he have the success that Bauer and Strider have had? If he does he will reward the Rangers with the choice that they made in 2021 to draft him number two and he will be on the doorstep pushing to make his debut either this season or early in 2024.