Ethan Hankins, Kumar Rocker Bond Over Fastballs, Competitiveness
The friendship between two of the top high school pitchers in the country started, predictably enough, with talk about fastballs.
Ethan Hankins and Kumar Rocker both showed up to a camp with Team Elite Prime in Winder, Ga., the summer after their freshman years. They were both well over six feet tall at that point, but with different body types: Hankins was long and skinny, while Rocker looked every bit like the son of his father, Tracy, a former NFL defensive tackle.
But then they started comparing velos, and their similarities started to outweigh the differences. Hankins had been up to the upper 80s at that point, as had Rocker. Soon after that, they both got called up to a 16U team, with Rocker playing an age group up and Hankins skipping two. As they walked out of the tournament, Hankins sensed what the pair could do.
“We were talking like, ‘Imagine where we could be if we keep working our butts off, putting in work; imagine where we could be in a few years,’” Hankins said. “And here we are.”
The pair’s friendship—part support, part one-upmanship—grew in the years since, and heading into this year’s draft, Hankins and Rocker both have a strong chance to go in the first round.
This spring has seen both Georgia righthanders largely maintain their status as prospects, although Rocker’s stock has behaved differently than Hankins’.
Hankins, after a stellar summer in which he pitched in most big showcase events and did well in all of them—including an outing at East Coast Pro that ranked among the best showcase performances in recent memory—was ranked No. 2 on BA’s Top 200 Draft Prospects list heading in January. He had a legitimate chance to be the first prep righthander drafted with the first overall pick and some evaluators expected his fastball, which touched 98 mph during the summer, to reach triple digits in the spring.
The Forsyth Central (Ga.) senior was hoping for that as well, but a shoulder issue cropped up in his second start of the year. It turned out to be a muscle strain that got better after roughly one month of rest and rehab, but that didn’t make the issue any less scary in the moment, as the pain was coming from an area around Hankins’ rotator cuff.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be happening,’” Hankins said. “‘This is not the right time for it to be happening.’”
Hankins has since reached full strength, throwing over 100 pitches in his last high school outing of the year and seeing his velocity approach his summer range. But the gaps and inconsistency in his season have affected his prospect standing, putting him No. 18 in the final BA 500 rankings.
For Rocker, the only hindrance this spring has been a minor hamstring injury. While the righthander didn’t have quite as dominant a summer as Hankins, his spring been smoother, with Rocker showing three power pitches, including a changeup that bumps the low 90s. He threw a six-inning no-hitter in his second-to-last outing of the spring and currently sits at No. 13 on the BA 500.
Rocker also wanted to reach 100 mph. It was one of the pair’s common goals, with both players writing the number on a mirror at home as a reminder. And while there certainly would have been some gloating if one player hit triple digits while the other didn’t, it would all be in good fun.
“We have to one-up each other,” Rocker said. “And from then, it just makes us work harder together.”
Vanderbilt Baseball: Five Questions to Answer Entering 2021
In the big picture, Vanderbilt is operating at an extremely high level right now, but it will go into 2021 as an inexperienced team.
Hankins’ and Rocker’s relationship started with pitching, and it’s since seen them both go through the college recruiting process—both are committed to Vanderbilt—navigate the lead up to the draft and also take part in typical teenager activities, like their regular games of Fortnite.
And while they’re both seen mainly as pitching prospects, Hankins and Rocker also compete at the plate. Rocker has had the edge there for most of high school, as he’s been a two-way player for his entire career at North Oconee (Ga.) and has also hit for Team Elite Prime, where Hankins has only pitched.
This spring, however, Hankins has shown that his bat can’t be ignored, either. He served as Forsyth Central’s designated hitter during his time away from pitching this spring and showed intriguing power, with the video of a no-doubt home run against Collins Hill (Ga.) reaching viral status on Twitter.
Rocker has faced Hankins in a game once, back when North Oconee faced Forsyth Central early in the 2017 season. Hankins threw a low changeup, which Rocker hit up the middle for a single.
That doesn’t mean Hankins is conceding that area of the game.
“He’s lucky I didn’t get an AB,” Hankins said.