Prospect Dispatch: Two New Jersey High School Prospects

Since the inception of the MLB Draft in 1965, there have never been two players drafted in the first round from the same high school in the Northeast in the same draft class. Jack Leiter and Anthony Volpe, both senior Vanderbilt commits at Delbarton School in Morristown, New Jersey, have the potential to change that this year. I watched Delbarton face off against Red Bank Catholic High School on Saturday afternoon along with several dozen scouts. What follows are my takeaways from their respective performances in the game.

Jack Leiter, RHP
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 28

Leiter is, as you might have extrapolated from his last name, the son of the former major leaguer Al Leiter, who accumulated nearly 2,400 career innings pitched and a total of 36.5 WAR across 19 seasons. Al’s brother, Mark, also pitched in the big leagues for 11 years, and Mark’s son, Mark, Jr., debuted with the Phillies in 2017. Jack’s performance on Saturday showed a glimpse of the potential that suggests he could one day join his dad, uncle, and cousin in a big league uniform.

Leiter stands at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, with a fairly slim frame and well-distributed strength. I wouldn’t describe him as slight, but he’s relatively average-sized and doesn’t have a build you’d typically expect out of a high school right-handed pitching prospect. Leiter’s arm action and delivery are amongst the best I’ve seen from a high school prospect. He has a simple, uptempo delivery, delivering the ball from a high three-quarter slot with above average arm speed, and he stays on line with the plate very well. He has a medium length arm swing with a loose, easy path and is on time throughout his delivery. There is some stiffness on his front leg during his follow-through, but this isn’t a concern for me, as it occurs after release. Everything works in-sync and fluidly together, and he repeats his delivery extremely well for any prospect, especially one in high school.

Throughout the outing, Leiter showed flashes of a legitimate three pitch mix. He came out of the gates hot, touching 96 early and sitting 92-95 for the first three innings. His higher slot generated more plane than angle and he’ll likely look to work with more four-seamers than two-seamers long term because of it. His calling card is his curveball, a big breaking 74-77 mph downer that flashes plus. He spins the ball well, generating good tilt and depth to the pitch and enabling himself to miss bats below the zone.

Also a part of his arsenal was a slider, which worked 84-85, that he broke out a bit more often as the game went on. The slider is fringy, working between a 40- and 45- grade, as it had true shape but sort of rolled out of the hand. I do think it’ll be a nice supplement to the arsenal long-term, but I don’t think it has a chance to be anything better than average at best and will likely stay a supplementary offering. Leiter didn’t throw any changeups in game but threw several in warmups and showed some feel to command the pitch, although he did slow his arm down to throw it. Given the ease with which he throws and his consistent delivery, I would have no issue projecting a changeup of similar quality to his slider in his pitch mix long-term, which would round out a solid four-pitch mix for a starting pitcher.

All of the above information would place Leiter firmly in the first round of the draft as a right-handed pitcher showing two plus pitches and with a chance to stay as a starter long-term. The main issues I have in projecting him highly are his build and his age, which are, in some ways, connected. Leiter’s velocity tapered in the fourth inning of his outing and while he finished with 11 strikeouts in five innings, the opposing Red Bank Catholic lineup strung together some decent contact in the latter two frames of his outing. His fastball velocity was 88-92 for those two innings and his curveball, while still showing quality depth, did not flash plus like it had in the early innings. Leiter’s fastball doesn’t play any higher than its true velocity and as it tapered, it became more difficult for him to miss bats.

A high school pitcher’s velocity falling off is not a concern in and of itself. In fact, it’s fairly common. Leiter’s average size, however, could lead to some concerns long term about his durability or his ability to maintain effectiveness without mid-90s velocity. That, combined with the fact that Leiter will be 19-years-old at the time of the draft and will ostensibly be a year ahead of his 18-year-old peers developmentally, could lead some teams to shy away from him. The demographic of high school right-handed pitchers has not been great historically, and when you combine that with the fact that this particular pitcher is of average size and is older than his peers, it will likely lead to reservations in draft rooms.

With that being said, Leiter’s delivery and his stuff speaks for itself. He’s clearly talented enough to be a first round selection as a potential No. 4 or No. 5 starter long-term – with a mid-90s fastball, a curveball that flashes plus, a usable slider, and a plus delivery – and I think a team will take a chance on him. Leiter’s talent puts him in the back end of the first round typically, and I could see a team selecting him there or at some point in rounds two through four for what is the equivalent of late first round money.

Anthony Volpe, SS
Current 2019 Draft Ranking: 33

Volpe has long been a mainstay at the highest profile amateur baseball venues, playing for Team USA in Taiwan at 12-years-old and participating in several dozen showcase and tournament events in high school, including last year’s Perfect Game and Under Armour All-American games at Petco Park and Wrigley Field, respectively. His experience is evident on the field – Volpe shows plus feel to play on both sides of the ball, which helps to elevate his game above his collection of relatively average tools.

A right-handed hitting shortstop, Volpe is short and muscular, with especially strong legs and a lively look to his frame. He’s a good athlete who moves around the dirt well, showing average range and an average arm with instincts that might enable him to play slightly above those. He has good hands and takes very good angles to balls, seemingly never fielding an in-between hop and doing a good job getting around and fielding the ball. I think he has a chance to be average at shortstop and could provide good utility value moving around the dirt to both second base and third base long-term.

Offensively, Volpe hits from a spread stance with high hands, even with the pitcher. He’s compact to the ball and is an aggressive hitter who showed a pretty good approach at the plate, looking to drive the ball to the gaps. He is a 55 runner who runs hard and takes good angles around the bases. His swing – compact and consistent — showcases both fringy quickness and bat speed. He really pinches his hands in and artificially gets his bat on plane (think J.D. Martinez from gather to contact, and not Alex Bregman). This isn’t necessarily an issue, but Volpe has 40-grade raw power and is already relatively mature physically.

This type of swing path – one that pulls the hands in and then drives the barrel downward into the hitting plane and pushes it through with the hands – typically leads to an opposite field-heavy approach. Someone like the aforementioned Martinez, who artificially gets on plane, overcomes suboptimal contact points because he’s so strong. In 2017 and 2018, Martinez’s average exit velocity and launch angle to right field were 92.6 mph and 25.3 degrees, respectively, and he hit 54.6% of batted balls to right field at above 95 mph. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Volpe impacting the ball that much and with that much regularity long term.

Volpe showed his feel to hit and his opposite field approach on Saturday by driving a line drive to right center field for a home run, although the right center field fence was just 330 feet away so this ball would have likely been a double or a triple on most fields. My concern is not with his ability to make contact or his ability to hit the ball to right field; it’s with his ability to drive the ball with power and pull the ball consistently. I can see an average hit tool long-term due to the feel to hit and pitch recognition skills, but the lack of power and the artificial nature with which his barrel gets to the zone concern me with respect to his ability to drive the ball consistently.

Of course, none of the above concerns mean that a swing like Volpe’s isn’t fixable. He’s been lauded in the industry for his baseball IQ and showed nothing on Saturday to make me reach a different conclusion, so there is the possibility that he can make adjustments to his swing and drive the ball more consistently. And regardless, this is a well-rounded high school infielder with a high baseball IQ, a chance to stay at shortstop, and average hit tool potential. That’s an intriguing profile, and one that doesn’t last beyond the first few rounds of the draft, as there is bat-to-ball and utility value in the profile. His lack of a plus tool and the uncertainty about his ability to hit for better than 40-grade power push him into more second or third round contention for me, but I could see a team who values versatility and strong contact skills taking him a little higher than that and letting their minor league hitting coaches get to work.

Josh Herzenberg has served as an area scout and a minor league coach for the Dodgers. He can be found on Twitter @JoshHerzenberg.

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5 years ago

“His higher slot generated more plane than angle and he’ll likely look to work with more four-seamers than two-seamers long term because of it. ”

Can you explain what exactly this means? I’ve never heard this phrase before in a scouting report.

“This type of swing path – one that pulls the hands in and then drives the barrel downward into the hitting plane and pushes it through with the hands – typically leads to an opposite field-heavy approach. Someone like the aforementioned Martinez, who artificially gets on plane, overcomes suboptimal contact points because he’s so strong.”

So what you’re saying is Martinez’s idea is to “get on plane” and catch the ball deep to give himself plenty of time to react (re: SNB interview with A-Rod), and Volpe does something very similar with his swing/bat path. But because Volpe isn’t nearly as strong, those balls that JD can catch deep but still drive for power, Volpe can’t do the same. Is that correct?

Do we have metrics yet that can determine contact point– it seems like some guys like to catch the ball out front (Justin Turner) and some like to let it in deep (JD). Is it really just matter of preference? Or should we be training athletes to hit in a manner more conducive to their overall skill set?

Really like your reports and insight, glad you’re a part of the Fangraphs team!

5 years ago

That helps a lot–thank you! I will make sure to watch that video. Hoping to make scouting a career, so the more information I can learn from, the better. Look forward to reading more of your reports down the road!