Prospect Retro for Al Leiter
Al Leiter was a second round draft pick by the Yankees in 1984, out of high school in Pine Beach, New Jersey. Assigned to the New York-Penn League after the draft (an aggressive posting for an 18-year-old), he held his own against more experienced hitters, posting a 3.63 ERA in 10 starts with a 48/26 K/BB ratio in 57 innings. He impressed scouts with his velocity, but needed to improve his control.
Leiter split 1985 between Oneonta in the NY-P and Fort Lauderdale in the Florida State League. He pitched well again for Oneonta (2.37 ERA in 6 starts), but was awful for Lauderdale, going 1-6, 6.48 in 17 starts with a horrid 44/57 K/BB in 82 innings. The Yankees clearly pushed him too quickly, as he was unable to control his above-average stuff and was hit hard by more experienced players.
The Yankees wisely gave him a consolidation season in 1986, leaving him at Lauderdale all season. He pitched better, with a weak 4-8 record in 21 starts, but an OK 4.05 ERA with a 101/90 K/BB in 118 innings. Once again, he impressed scouts with his arm strength, and his command was improving slowly, but he still had a ways to go.
Giving Leiter a retrospective prospect grade, he'd be a Grade C+ or B- at this point, promising physically, slowly improving, but with no clear evidence that he was going to turn into a good pitcher.
He made progress beyond that stage in '87, posting a 3.35 ERA in 14 starts for Double-A Albany with a 71/37 K/BB in 78 innings. He got into five games for Triple-A Columbus, then four more for the major league Yankees, posting ERAs in excess of 6.00 at both stops and struggling with his control. In overall terms, he was continuing to make progress, but I don't think I would have gone beyond Grade B considering his continued issues with command. A new problem also cropped up: blisters.
Leiter spent most of 1988 with the Yankees, going 4-4, 3.92 in 14 starts, with a 60/33 K/BB in 57 innings. His command was coming around, but the blister problem grew worse, to the point that the Yankees had serious doubts that he would be able to take the mound consistently.
The Yankees traded Leiter to the Blue Jays in 1989. He was limited to just eight games that year due to the blister issue. He missed about half of 1990 and almost all of 1991, to the point that he was a forgotten prospect. The blisters finally cleared up in 1992 and he made 27 starts for Triple-A Syracuse, going 8-9, 3.86, struggling with control at times. He pitched for the Jays in 1993 and 1994, performing adequately, then came into his own in 1995 with an 11-11, 3.64 season, setting himself up for a good run of success in the late 90s and early `00s.
As a prospect, Leiter's track record was marked by control problems, erratic performance, and unattractive walk ratios. It is possible that Leiter's blister problems are part of the reason he has remained active and effective into his late 30s. The blisters were annoying, but they kept his workload down until his arm was fully mature, and until his command had improved to the point where he could survive in the majors.
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