One of the best pitchers I have seen in the Phillies system during the first four weeks of the minor league season has been Clearwater Threshers Mark Leiter Jr. He was a Phillies 22nd round draft pick back in 2013 out of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the son of former Phillies pitcher Mark Leiter and the nephew of Al Leiter.
Last season he started 27 games between Lakewood and Clearwater which is a lot of starts for a minor league season. What caught my eye was he average almost a strike out an innings, 141 in 149 innings, last season.
With the Phillies Front Office acquiring four high profile starters from other organizations, they had no room left for Leiter Jr. He was almost an after thought during the minor league spring training and found a spot as a middle reliever on the Threshers staff when the season started.
During the “Meet the Threshers” event with the season ticket holders I met Mark for the first time and congratulated on his 10 strikeout performance last year against the Dunedin Blue Jays. All Mark wanted to talk about was the home runs he gave up in that game. He told me he never worked in relief but was ready to give it a go. I liked his steely determination which came across in the conversation.
As you know I am big on pitchers who have “swing and miss” stuff and not so much on the “pitch to contact” guys. My ideal pitcher can average a strikeout an inning while maintaining at least a three to one strikeout to walk ratio. It’s even better if they get more ground ball outs than fly outs. Last night in Daytona, the Threshers ace Brandon Leibrandt meet all my metrics in getting his third win of the season giving up two runs on five hits. He struck out seven in eight innings while walking two. He had nine ground outs to one fly out on balls in play which resulted in three double plays. You just can’t pitch much better than that!
Leiter pitched six games out of the pen to start the season. He struck out 20 in 15 innings while walking four in relief. In his last relief appearance he even picked up a save. Finally on Monday night against the Brewers’ Brevard County Manatees, he started his first game of the season. He went five innings striking out seven and walked two. He gave up two runs and three hits in a no decision. Again he met my pitching metrics using a 90-91 fastball to set up his mid 80’s off speed pitches. It looks like he relies on a splitter with two strikes on the batters to get his swinging strikeouts. Watch four of his strikeouts HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
Mark Leiter Jr. gets another start in Daytona against the Reds farm team, the Tortugas, on Saturday. He is a welcomed addition to the Threshers starting rotation because he has “swing and miss” stuff. So far this season he has shown he can do it all: a middle reliever, setting up, closing and now back to starting. If the Phillies are having trouble finding a spot for him I am sure another organization could use a pitcher like him.