Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker Could Make 2021 MLB Draft History
Under coach Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt has made a name for itself as a pitching pipeline. During his 18 years as head coach, the Commodores have produced nine first-round pitchers, more than any other school in the 21st century.
That group is headlined by lefthander David Price, the first overall pick in 2007 and the 2012 American League Cy Young Award winner. Righthanders Walker Buehler and Sonny Gray are both all-stars, as well.
Still, even after all that success, Vanderbilt has a chance in 2021 to reach even higher heights in pitching development. In righthanders Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, the Commodores have the top two college pitching prospects in the 2021 draft.
Needless to say, much can change before the draft, even in a normal year not marred by the coronavirus pandemic. But if those very early projections hold, Vanderbilt would make history. Never have teammates been the top two picks in the draft.
Twice in draft history, college teammates have been selected first and third overall. The first instance was Arizona State in 1978, when the Braves selected third baseman Bob Horner with the top pick and outfielder Hubie Brooks went third to the Mets. It happened again in 2011 when UCLA produced righthanders Gerrit Cole (No. 1, Pirates) and Trevor Bauer (No. 3, D-backs). In both instances, one of the players involved won the Golden Spikes Award (Horner and Bauer).
Rocker’s bona fides as the potential first overall pick are well established. The 6-foot-4, 255-pound righthander is the highest ranked prep player in the nine-year history of the BA 500 to make it to a four-year campus. He then lived up to that hype as a freshman in 2019, helping lead the Commodores to the national championship and winning both Freshman of the Year and College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors in the process.
Rocker has a powerful fastball that sits in the mid 90s, a wipeout slider that is at least a plus pitch and an advanced feel on the mound. In short, he is a prototypical No. 1 pick.
Leiter, a draft-eligible redshirt freshman, has a different profile to Rocker but is also supremely talented. Leiter, the son of all-star lefthander Al Leiter, was also highly regarded in high school and was seen as a first-round talent. He was electric at the outset of his college career and had 22 strikeouts in 15.2 innings. He's somehow exceeded expectations so far in 2021, throwing a no-hitter Saturday in a win over South Carolina.
Leiter is a bit undersized at a listed 6-foot, 195 pounds, but has advanced feel for this three-pitch arsenal. His fastball sits in the low 90s and is well complemented by a changeup and curveball.
In Rocker and Leiter, Vanderbilt has the top pitching duo in the country so far in 2021 season. Rocker owns a 0.58 ERA in five starts, striking out 48 batters in 31 innings. Leiter owns a 0.31 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 29 innings.
That dominance suggests Vanderbilt will be a tough out in any series this year. And it also could mean the pair of Commodores could make history in the MLB Draft in July as well.