“How the heck did 5 teams pass on THAT guy?!?”
10-years from now the player with the best shot to be the answer to this incredulously asked question by fans is undoubtedly Vanderbilt righthander Kumar Rocker.
When Rocker took the bull by the horns in 2019 and was the primary juggernaut driving the Commodores to a College World Series he was easily the most highly anticipated player for his eventual draft year in 2021. The man pitched a legendary 19 strikeout no-hitter in an NCAA Super Regional over the Duke Blue Devils during that historic ride.
If Rocker had been eligible for the 2020 MLB Draft it might have been a far bigger debate for Detroit over drafting Spencer Torkelson first overall.
In this case, however, the time hasn’t exactly been kind to Rocker’s draft fortunes. While it’s much too strong to say “familiarity breeds contempt”, it’s likely safe to say “familiarity gets you picked apart more than you would have been”.
A three-start run of below normal velocity, a higher walk-rate in season, and a general sense of being less dominant all conspired to see Rocker’s draft stock hit a few bad notes.
Rocker is still likely to be a Top 6 or higher pick. He has an excellent track record of good health to show pro organizations and a big athletic frame to project strength and stability. If Rocker is able to find a string of dominance in this college post-season similar to the one he found in 2019 he can possibly surge back to the rarified air of a Top 3 pick.
Rocker started off in fine form in the Regionals with a 7 shutout inning performance against Presbyterian with 9 K’s versus 2 hits and 2 walks.
Kumar Rocker’s Background
Rocker came out of Bogart, Georgia like a heat-seeking missile after a rousing high school career punctuated by appearances in every summer showcase all-star game and eventually Team USA. Rocker was a hot commodity and a surefire first-round draft pick in the 2018 draft.
Rocker, son of college football Hall of Famer and former NFL player Tracy Rocker, did put out word his signing demands to entice him out of honoring his commitment to Vanderbilt were considerable. Evidently, he was convincing enough that only a token 38th round pick by the Colorado Rockies came Rocker’s way. Professional baseball would have to wait. Vanderbilt coaches likely toasted this event.
While the COVID-19 crisis shortened Rocker’s second season at Vandy, his first season will always be the stuff of legend culminating in a CWS title. His current season is actually better in some statistical categories. However the less dominant starts early in the year, the allure of new kids on the block from the high school ranks, and the emergence of his teammate Jack Leiter have served to soften the hype around Rocker heading into the ‘21 draft.
Kumar Rocker Scouting Report
At 6’4” and 255-lbs Rocker comes with the force of a heater usually sitting 92-96 that has reached 99 on occasion. He backs that up with a premier plus-plus slider in the upper-80’s that’s proven to be overwhelming for college hitters. Rocker has a decent curveball and the rudimentary use of a change-up.
Rocker did see his walk rate go up this year at Vandy with 33 walks in 98 innings versus the 21 allowed in 99 innings in ‘19. But he also raised his strikeout rate from ‘19 with 144 and only allowed 56 hits in those 98 frames. His season was no real disappointment no matter what some draftniks might think. Rocker still possesses a dominant arsenal to present to his pro franchise after the draft.
Will the Detroit Tigers draft Kumar Rocker?
As noted, 12 to 18 months ago this would have been a laughable question. Of course, they would have…and Detroit still might. MCB has Rocker going 7th to the Kansas City Royals in the 1.0 mock.
Rocker checks off a lot of Tigers GM Al Avila’s boxes. SEC player. Vanderbilt in particular. Big hard-throwing righty. Dominant college track record.
If the Commodores can go on a run in this post-season and Rocker reprises his College World Series “Most Outstanding Player” role of merciless intimidator on the mound to lead the way, it’s wholly conceivable the Tigers could survey the landscape and decide the high school players aren’t the sure thing they may believe Rocker to be.
Most observers feel the Tigers are looking to cash in on the bumper crop of prep shortstops in this draft. Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Brady House, and Kahlil Watson are looking like top 10 choices in July. Certainly, bonus demands will play a role in who goes where…but Rocker does have the grand stage of the NCAA post-season remaining to re-insert himself into the top of his draft class.