Rangers Farm Report: Games of Tuesday 16 April

Jack Leiter will make his MLB debut Thursday in Detroit. Much of what I wrote about Cole Winn two days ago could apply to Leiter. In the previous two pro seasons he only fleetingly resembled his former self or indicated he was heading toward his original projection.  

Leiter has looked much, much better in 2024. And, like Winn, he’ll be taking the mound in a Texas uniform much more quickly than I think anyone expected heading into the season. Given the history, a not-unreasonable goal for 2024 was simply pitching well enough to ensure a 40 spot.

So, who is Jack Leiter now? His mix is a bit old-fashioned in an era when pitchers are throwing fewer four-seamers than ever. The 2023 starter with the most similar proportions of pitch types was Gerrit Cole.

Fastball – 56% of pitches, usually 94-97 MPH, topping at 98.2. The fastball is why he’s in Detroit. It’s a terrific blend of velocity, movement, and (critically in 2024) location, enabling him to miss a startling number of bats in the zone and get chases outside. He lives high and mostly glove-side, outside to righties and inside to lefties. Opponents are missing on 19% of all fastballs and 43% of swings. With that kind of success, Leiter isn’t automatically shifting to a slider with two strikes. Ten of his 14 swinging strikeouts and eight of 11 called Ks have come with the fastball. I wouldn’t say he’s pitching backwards, but whatever is going on early in the at-bat tends to set up a put-away heater.

Cutter – 8% of pitches, mostly 90-92, up to 94.3. This designation isn’t a  arbitrary Statcast output. It’s definitely distinct from his slider and in fact mostly closely resembles the fastball. He doesn’t throw it frequently, but it’s been quietly effective. Hitters like to offer at it, and while they don’t miss much (only 10% of swings), they mostly just foul it off.

Slider – 23% of pitches, mostly 85-88, up to 88.9. It typically runs down-away to righties as you’d expect, and nearly every swinging strike has come in the low/glove-side quadrant or outside it. He’ll occasionally aim them high. It’s much improved and more consistent. I don’t have the data, but opponents’ 59% swing rate against them this season has to be higher than 2022-2023. Previously, his sliders more frequently announced their out-and-away destination straight out of his hand, and batters could safely take.

Curve – 10% of pitches, mostly 79-83, topping at 84.1. Not a critical of his repertoire so far in 2024, more a way to keep the enemy from locking in on something else. Batters typically lay off, and 75% of those taken have been balls. One-third of them have been used as a first-pitch strike-stealer. Of eight thrown, he’s received four calls, two balls, one swinging strike, and Ryan Ward’s homer off the roof of the Round Rock warehouse behind the 400 sign.

Change – 3% of pitches, 87-90. Entering his third pro year, the changeup remains something of an afterthought. He’s thrown seven in three games. They tend to run low and outside, so even if they’re not accomplishing much, he’s at least not putting them in wheelhouses as Cole Winn sometimes would when his command was at its ebb.

Leiter’s first-pitch choices have resembled his overall mix, with a few more curves at the expense of cutters. 53% of first pitches are strikes, about 5% fewer than the average in all Round Rock games this season. He tends to throw more balls but generates more misses when opponents swing.

An important caveat: Good as he’s been in 2024, opponents are hitting .392 and slugging .892 when they make contact. For his career, he’s allowed an extra 15 points of batting average and 74 points of slugging on contact versus the league. The difference in 2024 has been dramatically better location. Fewer walks and more strikeouts have yielded fewer runners on base when the occasionally very-hard contact occurs. Leiter will give up a high proportion of fly balls, and some of those will leave the yard. Like I said after his last AAA start, we can’t wish away his three homers. None of them were cheap. The average MLB homer in 2024 has scored 1.6 runs. Leiter’s average needs to be lower. He needs to minimize runners on base in front of that hard contact. Here’s my video from his first start in Round Rock.

Box Scores

AAA: Round Rock 2, @ Sugar Land (HOU) 3
Round Rock: 3 hits, 7 walks, 5 strikeouts
Opponent: 6 hits, 7 walks, 7 strikeouts
Record: 7-9, 5 GB

SP Florencio Serrano: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 2 SO, 51 P / 25 S, 6.75 ERA
RP Damian Mendoza: 2.1 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 SO, 0.00 ERA
RP Jonathan Hernandez: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 SO, 1.29 ERA

Florencio Serrano and Damian Mendoza pitching back-to-back for Round Rock in April 2024 wasn’t on my prediction list. Serrano has thrown mostly for high-A Hickory with short trips to Frisco, while Mendoza has spent only about 15 minutes of his career above low-A. They acquitted themselves well, combining for three runs in five innings.

AA: Frisco 3, @ Arkansas (SEA) 4
Frisco: 7 hits, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts
Opponent: 6 hits, 8 walks, 6 strikeouts
Record: 7-3, 1 GB

SP Ryan Garcia: 5 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 2 SO, 73 P / 38 S, 6.75 ERA
RF Aaron Zavala: 2-3, 2B, BB, .250/.463/.429

Zavala has a couple of two-hit efforts in the three games since I wondered about his continued low-hit, high-walk propensity. He’s also drawn five walks in that span because of course he has.

Hi-A: Hickory 5, @ Greensboro (PIT) 4 (10)
Hickory: 10 hits, 4 walks, 13 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 6 walks, 10 strikeouts
Record: 4-6, 2 GB

SP Mitch Bratt: 4.1 IP, 4 H (1 HR), 2 R, 2 BB, 5 SO, 76 P / 49 S, 11.05 ERA
RP Jacob Maton: 2 IP, 0 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 2 SO, 2.25 ERA
RP Yohanse Morel: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 2 SO, 7.50 ERA
LF Yeison Morrobel: 2-5, .207/.324/.376
DH Yosy Galan: 2-5, HR (2), .238/.227/.571

At long last, an “ordinary” solid day at the plate that doesn’t require a comparison or backstory. Yosy Galan launched his second homer, and because he has a sac fly but no walks yet, his OBP is lower than his batting average. Mitch Bratt rebounded nicely from a an opening-start mauling.

IF Cam Cauley is on Hickory’s 7-day IL.

Lo-A: Down East 1, Delmarva (BAL) 0
Down East: 2 hits, 3 walks, 12 strikeouts
Opponent: 5 hits, 4 walks, 10 strikeouts
Record: 5-5, 3 GB

SP Ryan Lobus: 2.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO, 50 P / 33 S, 0.00 ERA
RP Justin Sanchez: 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 4 SO, 2.45 ERA
RP Bryan Magdaleno: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 SO, 0.00 ERA

Lobus Sanchez & Magdaleno PLLC shut out the Shorebirds. At 23, the undrafted Lobus is of an age at which one can almost treat him like a late-round hitter drafted out of college. He needs to show something quickly. So far so good: three scoreless appearances, one walk, seven strikeouts in 6.2 IP.

Today’s Starters
AAA: White
AA: B. Anderson
Hi-A: Ramirez
Lo-A: B. Mendoza

Five Years Ago Yesterday
Tyler Phillips threw seven scoreless for high-A Down East, and Emmanuel Clase covered the final two innings while touching 101 with the fastball.