We are now under a week to go until we get to this year’s MLB Draft, and the Red Sox are picking as high as they have in a half-century. With the fourth overall selection, the team has a chance to add real, premium talent to their farm system in a way that is just not common for them in their franchise’s history. With that in mind, in the six days leading up to the draft we are going to take a look at what seems to be a near-consensus on the top six players for the Red Sox to consider with their first pick. We start today with perhaps the biggest name in the class: Jack Leiter.
There is no need to beat around the bush here with these draft profiles and save the big name for last. It’s no secret that Jack Leiter is the player fans want the most from this class, and it’s not a very well-kept secret that the team and player would like that to happen as well. There have been multiple reports stating that both the Red Sox and Leiter would be thrilled if he was able to fall to number four. Not all that long ago that seemed nearly impossible with Leiter as the presumed number one overall pick, but he hit a snag in the middle of the season, opening up a number of different possibilities.
Before we get into where Leiter is right now, it’s worth looking back at how we got to this point in the first place. Leiter was a big-time prep prospect coming out of high school in New Jersey — having a dad, Al, who was a long-time big leaguer helped as well — but made it known that it would be very difficult to sign him away from his commitment to Vanderbilt. He was generally seen as a late first-round talent, but no one was willing to pay what it would take to get him to turn pro right away, and while he was drafted in the 20th round by the Yankees, he did indeed make his way to Nashville for college.
The righty pretty much knew he was only going to spend two years in college as a draft-eligible sophomore, and he got off to an electric start in 2020 as a freshman. Leiter tossed 15 2⁄3 innings for Vandy before the season was shut down by COVID, and he had added a bit of velocity to his fastball en route to a 1.72 ERA with 22 strikeouts and eight walks. It wasn’t a big sample, but it was enough to make him an easy top five draft prospect heading into the 2021 season.
His stock would only continue to rise early on this season, and his early-season run culminated in two outings to start his SEC schedule in which he allowed zero hits over 16 innings with 26 strikeouts and three walks. At this point in the year, no one else was really standing out in a similar way, and it looked like Leiter was a shoo-in to be picked number one overall by the Pirates.
But as the SEC schedule wore on, the Vanderbilt ace started to hit a little bit of a snag in the row, looking much more good than great. Over a three-start stretch, he allowed 12 earned runs (15 total) over 15 1⁄3 innings, and his ride atop this class was over. Now, he was just one of a handful of players that could be in play at number one overall, with some others starting to make headway as well. Leiter, however, would not just lie down and ride this mediocre run to the end of the season. The righty finished out strong, including a 1.67 ERA over his last four starts, which included his run through the College World Series.
That brings us right back up to today, and with his run in Omaha and the postseason before that, Leiter is once again in play at just about every selection in the top four. And it’s not just the numbers, because the scouting reports are exciting as well. The 21-year-old (he doesn’t turn 22 until next April) has four pitches that could potentially be above-average, with his mid-90s fastball leading the way and adding in a pair of breaking balls in a slider and a curveball, as well as a changeup that needs a bit more work. As the scouting report from FanGraphs linked at the top indicates, he’s not a once-in-a-generation kind of pitching prospect, but he’s got the stuff, the family ties, the frame, and the performance at a high level that you’re looking for when you can pick this high in the draft.