How Jack Leiter was cast in everything the Texas Rangers are crazy about

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About an hour before the start of the MLB Draft, the Rangers had the official word: Pittsburgh would take wide receiver Henry Davis. A year of planning, preparation, scouting, networking and maybe a little prayer had paid off. Jack Leiter would be available and accessible when the Rangers make the second draft selection.

As general manager Chris Young and recruiting director Kip Fagg passed the news of the selection on to Leiter and his father, Al, a group of Ranger Scouts, analysts and other front office executives, all dressed in dark blue blazers, stood up and cheered. They had had their man.

In Leiter, the Rangers got the best pitcher in the country. That title had become evident in the nine months since the Rangers won the second pick in the draft. He had entered the year as the No. 2 pitcher in his own rotation, but finished it as the most dominant pitcher in the College World Series.

Her fastball, thrown from a lower release point than usual, seemed to climb as it hit the batters, starting at their waist and ending at their neck. Vertical approach angle, it’s called. Leiter was off the charts. His secondary throws, learned from his baseball player father, spun like tops and spun like minnows.

In Rangers’ minds, the case separated Leiter from others, including his much-loved teammate Kumar Rocker, who the team had spotted with equal zeal. While the cloth was a separator, it was his past that uplifted him even more.

He wasn’t only the best pitcher in the country, but he came from Vanderbilt, a college powerhouse known for developing elite MLB pitchers. Hers comes not only from a baseball family, but from a family deeply rooted in the game, in which the art of throwing was a domestic language.

“It is everything we try to accomplish as an organization,” Young said. “From all points of view: as a player, as a talent, as a competitor. But most importantly as a person. … He embodies everything we want in terms of culture and what we want in our players.

The program

Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter chats with wide receiver CJ Rodriguez in the dugout during an NCAA baseball game against Mississippi at Swayze Field on Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Oxford, Mississippi.
Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter chats with wide receiver CJ Rodriguez in the dugout during an NCAA baseball game against Mississippi at Swayze Field on Saturday, May 15, 2021, in Oxford, Mississippi. (Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

You could call Vanderbilt a pitch factory. But that would be far too impersonal for coach Tim Corbin and his staff. It is both an artist’s studio and a laboratory.

When Corbin, a pragmatic and philosophical New Englishman, arrived at Vanderbilt in 2003, the Commodores had competed in the NCAA tournament once in the previous 28 years. But he inherited a pitcher’s coach named Derek Johnson, whom he found to have a strong sense of “curiosity.” It resonated with Corbin.

Johnson was already engaged in sports science and biomechanics. Before Driveline became a pitcher factory, Johnson was working with guys trying to change the way pitchers develop by tailoring programs based on their body movements rather than an overall philosophy. Vanderbilt became one of the first programs to invest in a “launch lab”.

Two years later, Corbin and Johnson landed a 6-5 southpaw from nearby Murfreesboro, Tenn. Named David Price.

“In a lot of ways he changed the program,” Johnson said. “But not just because of his abilities. The way he handled things was special; his ability to connect with his teammates was special.

Price was the first pick in the 2007 draft. He won a Cy Young Award. Twice finalist. He often went back to school and preached on the program. People – especially pitchers – paid attention to Vanderbilt. And the detail-oriented Corbin.

“He’s meticulous,” Johnson said of Corbin. “There is nothing that is not discovered or goes unnoticed. He’s a teacher in every sense of the word. It takes every element of the practice and makes it unique. He takes general ideas, and what he does with them in the classroom, in the field and in public is the separator from everything that happens there.

Johnson left after a decade to embark on a career in professional baseball. He is now the pitching coach for the Cincinnati Reds. His ace is a former Vanderbilt: Sonny Gray, 2011 draft class. Gray almost didn’t make it to Vanderbilt. His father died in a car accident during his freshman year of high school. He didn’t think it was right to leave the house.

Then Corbin and his wife, Maggie, told Gray’s mother, “We’ll take care of him.”

“They said that, and they meant it,” Gray said. “It wasn’t just something you said to a recruit to get you to their school. And to this day, it’s like once you’re there, you’re there. The best thing about Vanderbilt is that once you’re part of the family, you’re part of that family forever. There’s just a connection there that we still have. And no one really understands it until you experience it.

Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter warms up as associate head coach Scott Brown watches before an NCAA baseball game against Mississippi at Swayze Field on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Oxford, Mississippi.
Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter warms up as associate head coach Scott Brown watches before an NCAA baseball game against Mississippi at Swayze Field on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Oxford, Mississippi.(Smiley N. Pool / Staff Photographer)

Regardless, it often comes with a Fast Pass for the major leagues. Price was in the majors 15 months after being drafted. Mike Minor, drafted in the first round in 2009 by Atlanta, made his debut the following year. Oakland took Gray in 2011; he’s been in the big leagues since 2013. Likewise, Walker Buehler went to the Dodgers in 2015 and reached the majors before the end of the 2017 season.

During Corbin’s 19 years, Vanderbilt produced 13 first-round pitching caps. Compare it to Texas, which was once Pitcher U. Over the past decade, the Longhorn pitchers have been knocked out by the guys at Vandy 34-28. He gives MLB pitchers, and pitchers go back to Vanderbilt to promote the program.

“It’s hard to express, but it really is a special place,” Leiter said of the draw to Vandy when I asked him earlier this spring. “The moment you get a call, you don’t know what it really is. But the more you are around, the more you begin to understand. Just the fact that all the pro guys really want to come back to the offseason and share their knowledge with the current guys, keep the communication going, that alone makes him special.

Says Corbin of what his program is looking for: “Mental organization and the ability to communicate. I think these two things are very valuable. Someone who can come here and get involved in this program, because a lot is asked of a person. Not everyone wants to sit in a classroom before training. Not everyone wants to experience it.

None of that was lost for the Rangers’ Young, who focused on a new level of standards for the Rangers: championship or bust.

About the value of Corbin, current pitching coach Scott Brown and the entire Vanderbilt program to finish a pitcher, Young said, “It’s an established baseball program with a winning culture and a history. of success. Players from Vanderbilt – and similar programs – have a unique experience that prepares them for professional baseball. “

Family

Al Leiter pitched for 19 seasons in the big leagues, winning two World Series titles.
Al Leiter pitched for 19 seasons in the big leagues, winning two World Series titles.(STEVE MITCHELL / AP)

On the mound, Jack is, if not the spitting image of his father, then the mirror image. Everything his father did on the left side, Jack does on the right side. Their bodies move in the same way, from loose, jerky limbs to a prowling, stalking walk.

Al has spent 19 years in majors, won 162 games, pitched a hit, won two All-Star games, made three World Series and started Game 7. And yet it is a miracle that ‘he passed his first few years with the Yankees in the 1980s.

Billy Martin once told him to give up weight training if he wanted to build strength in his arms; Dallas Green has already let him throw 163 shots in a game. Soon after, Leiter missed almost three years with a litany of shoulder problems.

He started out until the age of almost 40, then almost immediately jumped into sports broadcasting and has been an MLB network analyst since the network’s inception.

In an era of multigenerational baseball families, Al Leiter was born to be a baseball father / coach. His brother Mark launched 11 years into the big leagues, and his nephew Mark. Jr. also had a brief stroke. It almost seemed like an omen that the night before Jack was born, Al stood up against a Milwaukee club that included fathers of future stars Ke’Bryan Hayes (Charlie) and Ryan Weathers (David). When Leiter left after six rounds, he handed it over to Patrick Mahomes II’s father (Pat).

From the moment Jack started throwing the little balls you would find at a fast food kids ‘playground around the Leiters’ New York apartment, Al was involved.

“My dad loves to talk about this stuff; he can talk about it all day, ”Jack said earlier this year. “I think it’s really important to have someone to learn from there. I argued like I didn’t want to hear it anymore, but I was still listening. I’ve never had any other pitching coaches or anything like that. So everything I learned came from him.

Need proof that the multigenerational thing is a thing? Just watch last week’s All-Star Game which starred Vladimir Guerrero’s sons Fernando Tatis and Dante Bichette.

It also can’t be ignored that Young knows the Leiter family. Yes, they faced each other once, in 2005. Leiter took the victory, the penultimate of his career. Leiter reminded Young of this in one of their pre-draft conversations. But with Young in Major League Baseball for three years before joining Rangers and Al at MLB Network, they met often.

“He’s someone I respect,” Young said of Al Leiter. “As a person. As a player. There’s no question the influence he’s had on Jack and his development. And we expect that to continue.”

In fact, they are counting on it.

Vanderbilt pitcher Jack Leiter warms up before an NCAA baseball game against Mississippi at Swayze Field on Saturday, May 15, 2021 in Oxford, Mississippi.


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