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May 25, 2011 at 11:24 AM

Q&A with Jack Leathersich

As part of SoxProspects.com's annual draft coverage, we will be featuring interviews with top local draft eligible prospects. Today's interview is the first in the series.

Jack Leathersich is Massachusetts born and raised and has made himself into one of the top prospects in the Northeast. A standout left-handed pitcher at Beverly High School, Leathersich was named a Northeast Conference All-Star, setting the school’s record for strikeouts and wins in a career along the way.

He burst on to the national radar in 2009 with a masterful freshman year as a member of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Riverhawks, going 7-4 with a 2.18 ERA and 63 strikeouts in 70.1 innings pitched. His stellar season earned him Northeast-10 Freshman of the Year honors for 2009. In 2010, Leathersich had a bit of a sophomore slump, compiling a 4.26 ERA to go along with a 3-2 record, but still struck out 62 batters in 57.0 innings pitched. He finished up 2010 by pitching in the Cape Cod League for the Orleans Firebirds. As a member of the bullpen, he put together a 1.71 ERA, striking out 31 in just 21.0 innings. Prior to the 2011 season, Leathersich was named the third-best Division II draft prospect, as well as a pre-season All American. I sat down with Leathersich recently and got the chance to ask him how he has made himself into the pitcher he is today and what the future may hold for him.

John Gray: You were named Northeast-10 Freshman of the year in 2009, what made your freshman year so successful and what was the leap like from the High School game to the College level?
Jack Leathersich: I came to UMass Lowell to play; I didn’t want to sit around at a D1 school. Coach Harring and I had a good connection and we got along ever since day one. I wasn’t one of those kids that came into college scared at all. I never let the jump affect me. I came in and had a good fall and in the spring I was a starter. I took advantage of my first start, I pitched really well and from then on I just pitched great the entire season.

JG: You mentioned not wanting to sit at a D1 school, what other schools did you consider before deciding on UMass Lowell?
JL: [University of Rhode Island] and Bryant were the two biggest schools I thought about before deciding on UMass. I also talked to a couple of southern schools like Coastal Carolina. I never really considered those schools though since I wanted to stick around here. I ended up in Lowell and feel like I made the right choice for me.

JG: In your sophomore season last year your numbers weren't as impressive as your freshman year, was there adjustments you were making? Was there any cause for the drop off in performance?
JL: The summer after my freshman year I pitched in the Valley League and actually closed, and ended up having a great summer. I was a top prospect in that league and coming into sophomore year, I took things for granted. I didn’t work as hard and I wasn’t really where I needed to be mentally. I figured things out toward the end of the season, but to start off the year all my pitches were pretty bad. My mechanics were messed up, I wasn’t locating, really wasn’t doing anything right. It was good for me as a person and for my development to struggle. It made me realize I couldn’t take things for granted and I needed to work hard every day to get better.

JG: You came out of the bullpen as a member of the Orleans Firebirds and had great success. What is different about coming out of the bullpen versus starting? Do you prefer one to the other?
JL: To tell you the truth, I really enjoy both of them. Starting and relieving are two totally different animals. I’m one of those guys that you could come up to and let me know I was coming out of the bullpen today and I can just flip that switch. Coming out of the bullpen, I am able to throw harder and have my stuff play up. In relief is where I usually hit the mid-90’s with my fastball. I don’t throw any changeups out of the pen, just fastball and curveball.

The beginning of the year this year, Coach Harring and I sat down and discussed what my role would be. We decided on me being a starter because it helped the team more and that’s where I was needed most. Starting you have to pace yourself, not really throw your hardest the whole game. You have to look for the quick at-bats and try and get some one- or two-pitch outs. Whichever team ends up taking me in the draft, I will do whatever they want me to do, start or relieve.

JG: Can you tell us a bit about your pitching arsenal and how it has developed over time?
JL: My fastball is a four-seamer. I’ve never really thrown a two-seamer, which is odd for a lefty. Everybody always gets on my case about not having one, but I feel my ball runs enough and is a lot firmer. My attempts at a two-seamer have ended up being flat and leave it sitting at 88. I have worked at it, but it just has never really come along. In High School, I sat 85-88 on my fastball and was about 180 pounds. Right when I got to college I started lifting and really putting in some hard work. I gained 25 pounds and am 205 now, that’s allowed me to add an extra 6-7 mph on the fastball and get me up to 95mph. One of the biggest differences is just doing things the right way, from the lifting programs to long toss to our throwing programs. I have really gotten to be a much better pitcher.

I also throw a circle change, and it was really my focal point this year. I know I am going to need a change at the next level and I worked hard to get that pitch to be one of my best toward the end of the year. It allowed me to get more separation between pitches and get a lot of swings and misses. I will also throw a slurve, which is part slider, part curveball, that sits around 80mph. It’s a great pitch to throw to righties, I get it down at their feet and catch them swinging over it. Obviously to lefties, it can be a pretty lethal pitch when it’s working right; it slides right out from under their bats. My fastball and my curveball are my go-to pitches when I need to get an out or make a big pitch.

JG: Many people have said that you are fearless on the mound and exude confidence. Do you believe this has been a key to your success?
JL: Yes. Growing up, my dad always taught me to not show any emotion when I pitch. If you go out there and start showing emotion, the fielders behind you as well as the hitters you are facing are going to start feeding into that. I could let up four home runs in a row or throw a perfect game and you will never see a different look on my face. I’m always the same; I try to keep an even keel. As a pitcher, there are naturally going to be highs and lows. No matter what happens to me on the mound, I am focused on the next pitch. I don’t care who is up at the plate, the guy hitting .120 or the MVP of the league, it doesn’t change my mindset because I know I am going to get him out.

JG: Has having scouting attention paid to you during your outings had any affect on you? Have you had any teams that display more interest than others in you?
JL: The attention doesn’t bother me. Like I said, I am focused on making my pitches and concentrating on the task at hand. I’m not going to lie, I have talked to pretty much every team. I’ve sat down and had meetings with every team and their scouts. My advisor, Joe Rosen, has done a great job in handling me and navigating me through the process. Every team has really pretty much said the same thing, that they are really looking at me and giving me thorough consideration. There really hasn’t been any team that has stood out above any other, and I really don’t care where I end up. I just want to get out there and start the journey to the big leagues. That’s the goal right?

JG: In general, what have teams told you about where you might land in the draft? Any chance you return to school next season?
JL: My father, advisor and I have discussed every possibility. Most teams that I have talked to have told me they think I could go anywhere from the third to sixth round. If I get the chance to play pro ball, I am going to take it. Playing professionally is every kid’s dream, and I really don’t envision being able to pass that up unless something goes seriously wrong in the draft or negotiations. Whatever team selects me is going to get my best, I am going to work hard and try and move up the ladder as quickly as possible.

JG: This season's UMass Lowell team had a great run, going 37-13 before falling to Franklin Pierce in the NCAA East Regionals. What was it about this year’s team that led to its success?
JL: We’re a great big family. I personally thanked everyone after the season ended. It was a fun year and I really have to give it to Coach Harring, he really knows how to recruit. We didn’t have any outcasts on our team; we loved each other and were such a tightly knit group. It was emotional when we got eliminated, for both me and my teammates because we all knew how much we meant to each other. This conference is getting really strong, there’s a lot of talent out there so for us to have the success we did says a lot about our team.

JG: I see that you were also in All-Star in hockey and golf. What type of score could you post on the links?
JL: Ha! I haven’t played in a while, but I used to be a two handicap, which means I could go pretty low. My dad wanted me to play golf because it is the one sport where you are truly independent. You make a bad shot or a good shot; it’s all on you, nobody else. Golf is all mental, and it really helped me with my mentality out on the mound. Golf you have to focus on every single shot and that has carried over to me focusing on every pitch out on the mound. Hockey I played since I was a young kid, I miss the physicality of it as well as the fast pace. I think all three sports I played taught me something and all tied in together to give me the mindset I possess today out on the mound.

JG: There's a lot out there about Jack Leathersich the baseball player, what does Jack like to do outside of the diamond?
JL: I just like to hang out with my friends. I am big in the weight room; I like to get in there, put my iPod on and go to work. I do like to try and play golf every once in a while. I guess you could just say I like to be a normal college kid. When I am away from the field, I try to relax and keep baseball separate. When I get to the field, it’s all business for me. I like to say there’s a time for baseball and there’s a time to just be a normal guy.

JG: You list Tom Glavine as an influence; have you ever met Tom in person? What about Glavine did you admire (other than the fact you are both lefthanders)?
JL: No, I have never met him. I always admired Glavine for the way he carried himself and went about his business. I think he is as professional as professional gets. He might not have been the hardest thrower, but he knew he was going to get you out somehow. When I watched him play, he was always super confident. I try to base my mound confidence off of what I saw in Glavine as a kid.

JG: While I’m sure you have many, can you tell us what your favorite baseball memory would be and why?
JL: I would have to say our win against Franklin Pierce last year toward the end of the season. We weren’t having that big of a year and Franklin Pierce was one of the better teams in the league. We won 5-3 and it was a big moment for me on the mound (ed. note: 8.0 innings pitched, 2 runs, 4 hits, 4 walks, 11 strikeouts) as well as our team. Last year, I really didn’t have a great year but that was one of the few games I really felt like I was on. It was great to see everybody so happy after a long season of ups and downs. We carried the feeling of that win into this season, which allowed us to start hot right off the bat.

JG: You are nicknamed “The Rocket.” How did you garner this nickname?
JL: Oh man, it’s been going on for a while now. I guess it started in the Valley League when I came out of the pen and threw mostly fastballs. It’s always been something that people have called me jokingly. I was called it in Valley as well as at UMass and down the Cape.

JG: What is your mound entrance music and why?
JL: Another One Bites the Dust by Queen. A walk out is all about originality, you don’t want to come out to something that everyone uses. I thought it was a good song to use as a strikeout pitcher. I thought it had a good little ring to it, I’ve used other songs but I felt that one fit me the best.