Texas Rangers top prospect faces a crossroads in his career

The Rangers must figure out what to do to help a former first round pick

Texas Rangers Spring Training
Texas Rangers Spring Training / Ben Ludeman/Texas Rangers/GettyImages

The All-Star starters for the Rangers will be taking the field on Tuesday night as the Rangers mark the two-year anniversary of drafting Jack Leiter at number two. It was a much ballyhooed selection that was greeted with cheers from the fan base and pundits alike. Leiter will be marking the occasion at the same place he has been since making his debut in April 2022. He is still in Frisco and is not any closer to the majors than he was on that day. If anything he feels much farther away. Leiter in his start on Friday night lasted just 1/3 of an inning as he gave up six runs on five hits and two walks. That start was the shortest of Leiter's career. The Rangers have to be asking themselves what they need to do to "fix" Leiter and get him back on the right track. I have an out-of-the-box solution that could help or could be disastrous. The Rangers should promote him to Round Rock and I will give three reasons why.

Familiarity with Leiter breeds contempt and base hits

Leiter has now been with Frisco for a season and a half. He has made 38 starts in that time. He has played every team in the Texas League and made multiple starts against every team except for Springfield. He has played five of the nine other teams at least four times and in the case of Amarillo, San Antonio, and Arkansas he has pitched more than five times against those teams. I understand players come in and out, but there is a familiarity that comes with that much exposure to these teams. I just do not know if continuing to pitch against these teams is the best idea for his development.

I know some fans are calling for him to be moved down to High-A Hickory. If the Rangers chose to do that, he would likely have success against younger hitters. He would put up starts of six to seven innings with a high number of strikeouts, but the success would be artificial. It would be hard to tell if he is having success because of his development or if he was having success based solely on the lack of discipline from less experienced ballplayers.

The Rangers should go ahead and move him up to Round Rock. It has a chance to be a disaster, but it cannot be any worse than what he is already experiencing. Leiter would be exposed to hitters that have not seen him and do not have a thorough scouting report on him. He would be able to see what works against hitters that are more major league quality. If it does not work then he is a bust and they can try moving him to the bullpen much like they have done with Cole Winn.

Jack Leiter needs to move on from Frisco

The next reason is that they should have already promoted him to Round Rock . Right now with Leiter it appears that he will end another season in Frisco and in 2024 the Rangers will likely have no choice, but to start his third season at that level, surrounded by pitchers that are significantly younger than he is. I am sure to start next season pitchers such as Jose Corniell, Emiliano Teodo, and Mitch Bratt will all be either starting at Frisco or be quickly promoted to Frisco early in the 2024 season. Each of those players will be 23 or younger. Bratt and Corniell will just be 20 years old, while Leiter will have turned 24 by that time.

Leiter needs to be moved up to a more age-appropriate level. Henry Davis, drafted just ahead of Leiter in 2021, is already in the majors. Colton Cowser who was drafted at five by the Orioles just made his debut last week. Matt McClain has been superb for the Reds in their infield. The Millers, both Bryce and Mason, have pitched well for the Mariners and A's this year. Leiter was looked at as more major-league-ready than any of them. He had a father that had a long career in the majors. He was from Vanderbilt, the school that has churned out several great pitchers over the years. It just is shocking that it has not worked for Leiter.

The stuff is there and when it clicks it is magical. The 10-strikeout performance back on May 17th was one of the best pitching performances from any player in the Rangers organization both minors and majors. He showed that night how great he can be when he puts it all together. He has not got back to that level since that night. He has not struck out more than seven in the seven starts since then. He has allowed at least one run in each start, and has given up multiple runs in the last five starts. That includes the six-run start on Friday and the eight-run start on June 30th.

Now might not be the right time for a promotion and I am willing to admit that. They do need to get him out of Frisco by the end of the season. He is just beating his head against a wall there. The window to promote him was probably May and they missed it. He was pitching great that month and he could have rode that momentum to Round Rock in June, but they chose not to hold off on a promotion. Now, he is pitching really poorly and they have only difficult choices to make.

Triple-A experience this season will better prepare Leiter for the Majors.

The final reason is because Triple-A is closer to a major league experience than Double-A baseball. Leiter might excel in a more professional setting. He might be able to up his game against hitters with a more major-league approach. He might take to the robotic umps at Triple-A. Right now, Round Rock is playing very well. They have several players all over the diamond that have made cases to be in Arlington but are blocked. The challenge for Leiter would be enormous because he has not pitched well in Double-A save for May of this season, and sporadic starts in 2022.

The Rangers will potentially have two open rotation spots in 2024. They have several in-house contenders for those spots and Leiter is among that group. If he is going to be given a shot in camp, he likely will need Triple-A experience this season to better prepare him for that competition. He can end the season with Round Rock and then likely come back next year and be an option much like Cody Bradford has been this season. The Rangers were aggressive sending Leiter immediately to Double-A. Moving him to Round Rock would be very aggressive in similar way and would certainly challenge him.

My plan that will help Jack Leiter succeed or fail miserably

Here is what my plan would be for Leiter. I would ride out July in Frisco. If he is still in the organization post-trade deadline then I would immediately promote him to Triple-A. There will still be two more months left in the season and he would be able to make at least eight starts for Round Rock. It would signify belief in Leiter and his abilities and also challenge him as well. Chris Young would be sending two messages to Leiter. He would be saying we believe in you enough to not be willing to trade you. We also want to see what you can do at this higher level. Leiter can show what he has against more developed hitters and if he has a future as a major league starting pitcher.

Triple-A is when the real prospects separate themselves from the fake prospects. Cody Bradford went to Triple-A this season and quickly showed that he is for real. He has blazed past Triple-A into a regular role with the major league team. Cole Winn has become stuck in Triple-A and after more than a season of poor results starting has now been moved to the bullpen. That could be Jack Leiter's future, but we will not know for sure until we see if his stuff can play at Triple-A or if he is just a future closer or bullpen arm.