After months of anticipation, the Texas Rangers finally made their selection with the second overall pick in the MLB Draft: RHP Jack Leiter out of Vanderbilt University.
There were a handful of names that were tied to the Rangers with such a high draft pick. But once Rangers management were made aware of the Pittsburgh Pirates' intention to select Louisville catcher Henry Davis—though names like Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, and Leiter's Vanderbilt teammate Kumar Rocker there for the taking—they knew exactly who they wanted to take with the No. 2 pick.
"Jack has been our guy for a while," said Rangers EVP & general manager Chris Young. "We were going through contingency plans in case Pittsburgh did take him. But when we found out that we were going to have the opportunity to select him, there was no second guessing or second thoughts. We were thrilled. Our group was thrilled. It was a fun night."
According to Rangers senior director of amateur scouting Kip Fagg, Leiter was atop the Rangers' draft board for "months" leading up to the draft. Chris Young doubled down, saying this pick wasn't about addressing need in the system. It was about taking who they truly believed to be the best player available.
“Pitchers like him don't come around in very many drafts in my 29 years of scouting,” Fagg said. “He’s a special kid. He's a special talent. ... He is a unique guy. It's a smaller package, but very powerful and athletic. The fastball probably plays as good as any fastball I've seen in all of my years of scouting."
As highly as Young and Fagg spoke of Leiter's fastball, makeup and character were always going to be a big part of this decision as well, and the Rangers did their homework on Jack. In addition, there is familiarity between Young and Leiter's camp, specifically Al Leiter, who had a successful 19-year big league career on the mound. Not only did Young and Al square off during their playing careers, the two got to know each other primarily during Young's time in the Commissioner's Office and when Young traveled to watch Jack pitch for Vanderbilt.
But there was concern that Leiter's camp had their eyes set on Boston at No. 4 overall. It may have just been a bluff, but the Rangers did not shy away from what they wanted. If he was available at No. 2, the Rangers were going to take Leiter.
“We didn’t really worry about Boston,” Fagg said. “We picked in front of them so, I mean, they couldn’t really do much. So we weren’t really concerned about that.”
Young added, “I think we did a great job of showing the Leiter family what we represent, and who we are, and why it’s a great match and vice versa in getting to know Jack and understanding him and the person he is. Again, we feel like it’s a perfect match.”
Now that the Rangers have their guy, the question becomes if the Rangers can sign him before the August 1 deadline. The Rangers slot value at No. 2 is $7,789,900, and it's more than likely going to take every penny to sign him, maybe even more.
While Chris Young did acknowledge the "business component" to drafting Leiter, but both Young and Fagg spoke very confidently that signing him wouldn't be an issue.
"We fully expect to sign him," Young said. "We wouldn't have taken him if we didn't. We're very thrilled we're going to have this opportunity."
If and when the Rangers sign Leiter, the plan for the 21-year-old right-hander is, as both Young and Fagg said, up to Leiter himself. The Rangers expect him to move through the system "fairly quick", but will allow Leiter's performance to ultimately dictate when he can become a contributor at the big league level.
"I think it's also important to not put expectations on him," Young said. "Every player develops at their own pace. Certainly, we're very confident he's going to be able to handle those expectations. But nonetheless, in fairness to the player, he will tell us based on his performance."
Who knows when Leiter will make his Rangers debut. The anticipation for that day is already building. Leiter has wowed fans throughout the college baseball season. So much so, that the fanbase might have rioted outside Globe Life Field if the Rangers took anyone else. But it's now clear that the Rangers were just as infatuated with making Leiter their selection on Sunday night.
And no matter what the talent or system need dictated, the Rangers were going to get their guy. No matter the circumstances.
“All along, in my heart, I felt like Jack was the right one for the Texas Rangers,” Young said. “What I see is a winning player. I see a winner. I'm confident that he is going to help enhance what we're building. He's going to make the players around him better. He's a leader, he's a great teammate, he's an unbelievably hard worker. He embodies everything that we want in terms of our culture, and what we want in our players.”