The 2021 MLB Draft begins on July 11, 2021, and unlike in 2020, this will be a twenty round draft — shorter than the forty rounds the draft has been in the most recent years prior to 2020, but longer than last year’s five round version. The Rangers’ top three picks are at #2, #38, and #73.
In the coming days, we will be doing write-ups of potential Texas Ranger draft picks, looking both at players who are in the mix at #2 and players who would be candidates to be picked in the second or third rounds. Today we are looking at Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker.
Kumar Rocker is a 6’5”, 245 lb. righthanded pitcher with Vanderbilt. Rocker, the son of former NFL lineman Tracy Rocker, was very well-regarded coming out of high school — he was the #13 ranked prospect on Baseball America’s 2018 draft rankings, and was generally a consensus top 15 prospect in that draft on most boards. I did a write-up on Rocker back in 2018 as a potential option for the Rangers at #15, noting that he was a big, projectable guy with high upside, but also noted signability concerns.
Rocker plummeted in the draft over signability issues, was selected in the 38th round by the Rockies, didn’t sign, and headed off to Vanderbilt. He was an immediate sensation there, striking out 114 against just 21 walks and two home runs in 99.2 IP over 19 games, and by the end of his freshman season he was being talked about by some fans and general baseball media types as the obvious number one pick once 2021 rolled around.
Rocker was joined by Jack Leiter in 2019, giving Vandy a terrific starting duo, and he struck out 28 of the 63 batters he faced in three starts in 2020 before the season was canceled due to COVID-19. A year ago, there was talk in some quarters that the only question with Rocker and Leiter in 2021 would be which would go number one and which would go number two, though that talk was always premature and not treated as a given by those who follow and cover the draft closely.
Rocker had a statistically very good season in 2021, putting up a 2.73 ERA in 122 IP over 20 starts, striking out 179 batters, walking 39, and allowing eight home runs. However, there were concerns expressed about Rocker’s velocity being down this spring, and while there are other reports saying that this was due to experimenting with different arm angles in order to get better spin and life on the ball, the periodic velocity drops were a red flag, contributing to some questions about how high he would go.
Rocker is in the consensus top tier of eight players in this draft, though he is generally been slotted in the back half rather than the front half of that tier of late. Rocker has a fastball he throws in the mid-90s, but he doesn’t miss as many bats with it as one would expect. Rocker’s slider is seen as being an elite pitch, and has also used a curveball and a cutter at times which are seen as being potential quality pitches. Rocker also throws a changeup he has, per reports, shown good feel for, but needs to throw more often and get more consistency with.
Rocker has top of the rotation potential, particularly if he improves his command (which is seen as average as of now) and is able to start generating more whiffs with his fastball. He’s someone who has the build and delivery to be a rotation guy, and should move pretty quickly.
Baseball America has Rocker at #5 on their current top 500 draft list. MLB Pipeline has Rocker at #6 on their board. Over at ESPN Kiley McDaniel has Rocker at #6 on his current board. Keith Law has Rocker at #4 on his list. Baseball Prospectus’s rankings of the top 50 draft prospects has Rocker at #8. Fangraphs has Rocker at #8 as well.
Mock drafts have generally had Rocker landing in the 6-10 range, though Keith Law’s mock draft today has Rocker going to Texas at #2.
Rocker is one of those guys that’s been talked about so much on here that I’m not sure there’s a ton more for me to say. He’s not one of the four guys who have been primarily linked to the Rangers, but he is one of the top tier guys, and he probably signs for less than Leiter, so if the Rangers want a starting pitcher who can move quickly and see Rocker and Leiter similarly, they could certainly pick Rocker over Leiter.