It wasn’t too long ago that it seemed like the Red Sox landing Kumar Rocker with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s draft was a pipe dream at best.
The Vanderbilt University right-hander came into the 2021 season regarded by many as the consensus top amateur prospect ahead of the July draft and was projected to go to the Pirates at No. 1 overall.
Since Vanderbilt’s season began in late February, Rocker has seen his stock fall to some degree, while his fellow rotation mate, Jack Leiter, has seen his stock rise.
Rocker, a 21-year-old junior, has posted a 1.64 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP to go along with 81 strikeouts and 15 walks through his first nine starts and 55 innings pitched this year.
Leiter, meanwhile, turned 21 on Wednesday and is a draft-eligible sophomore. The son and nephew of former big-leaguers, Leiter has produced a miniscule 0.98 ERA and 0.70 WHIP while striking out 94 and walking 22 over nine starts and 55 1/3 innings of work. He threw a no-hitter against South Carolina on March 20.
The pair of Commodores are undoubtedly the top amateur pitching prospects in the country, but the two hurlers have seen their draft projections shift in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo ran through a 20-pick mock draft on the latest installment of the Pipeline Podcast, and the two will publish a list of their top 150 draft prospects later this week.
Alternating between picks, Callis had the Pirates taking Leiter with the top overall pick, writing, “It feels like a four-man race to go No. 1 right now, but give me the guy who’s dominating the Southeastern Conference and can pitch off his fastball like few can.”
After high school shortstops Jordan Lawlar and Marcelo Mayer were taken off the board by the Rangers and Tigers at picks Nos. 2 and 3, it was Mayo’s turn to pick for the Red Sox at No. 4. He went with Rocker.
“No way I was going to let Rocker go further than this,” Mayo wrote while explaining his pick, “not with that ridiculous fastball-slider combination that comes from his intimidating 6-foot-5 frame.”
Per his MLB Pipeline scouting report, Rocker “is a physical right-hander who can overpower hitters with his fastball and slider. He usually operates at 93-96 mph with his heater, which can reach 99 and features some run and sink but also can get flat at times. He notched all 19 of his whiffs in his no-hitter with his slider, a mid-80s beast with power and depth that grades as plus-plus at its best.
“Rocker hasn’t used his changeup much, and while his third offering has average potential and some sink, it gets too firm at times. He throws strikes but has just average command, and he’ll need more finesse for days when he doesn’t have his top-notch stuff. He has the makings of a frontline starter but isn’t a finished product and scouts would like to see him dominate more consistently this spring.”
Because the Red Sox will be picking so early in this year’s draft, the club has been able to hone in on a select group of prospects they may be interested in drafting “and scout those players really, really hard,” as amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier in March.
Rocker and Leiter are surely two of the players the Sox have been monitoring closely this spring, and area scout Danny Watkins — who covers Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee for the team — recently provided some insight into what makes each of them so intriguing.
“Both of those guys are phenomenal talents,” Watkins explained last month on Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast. “[They] have many differences, but they’re so similar in some ways as well. We’re sitting there at No. 4 in this year’s draft and the thought of having one of them available at 4 is pretty nice.”
At the moment, the Red Sox taking either one of Rocker or Leiter at No. 4 would be pretty nice. But, as MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith notes, the 2021 Draft is not slated to begin until July 11, so there is still plenty of time for rankings and projections to change between now and then.
(Picture of Kumar Rocker: Peter Aiken/Getty Images)