College | Story | 5/1/2021

College Reports: April 30

Vincent Cervino         Travis Ice         Colton Olinger        
Photo: Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt Athletics)
College Player Report Database

Players Covered: Kumar Rocker (Vanderbilt), Franco Aleman (Florida), Tyler Hardman (Oklahoma), Peyton Graham (Oklahoma), JoJo Booker (South Alabama), Ethan Wilson (South Alabama), Michael Sandle (South Alabama), Reed Trimble (Southern Miss)

Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt

One of the more popular draft names across the country, Kumar Rocker toed the rubber on Friday night against the Gators to mixed results as the stuff looked plenty crisp at times though he had to battle through a season-high four walks in five innings. At this point the pedigree on Rocker is well-established: he has immense physicality at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, one of the longest track records out of anyone in this year’s draft, and the competitive drive to come right at you and attack hitters.

Rocker has an up-tempo delivery with a leg lift above the belt, a compact arm stroke, and an over-the-top arm slot. The arm action is definitely on the shorter side as a whole but he does a good job at getting the arm up at foot strike to deliver the pitch. Operationally there’s some effort overall but what plagued him most on Friday night was fastball command. He looked locked in early with two strikeouts in a quick, relatively unscathed first inning but then he started to miss his spots and fall behind in counts. This would lead to not only walks but to giving up plus-count, middle-middle fastballs like on the home run to Kris Armstrong in the fourth inning.

As for the stuff, one of the big storylines of the draft has been about Rocker’s fastball, its velocity, and its overall play given some of the underlying data and metrics. In terms of velocity Rocker was 92-95 mph in the first inning and then averaged right around 91-92 mph for the rest of the outing. There’s obviously some concern there given Rocker was an arm who routinely worked 94-98 mph early as an underclassman but working through some of the aforementioned command inconsistencies would make his fastball very hittable in plus counts.

Though the fastball remains a point of concern, the feel to spin and his two breaking balls do not warrant much concern. Rocker has two breaking balls he goes to in a sharp downer curveball and a late, biting slider as both of the offerings were often plus in this look. Given the preternatural feel to spin and just how well he sequences in his offerings the curveball looks like a 70-grade pitch down the line in the 78-81 mph range with late bite and certainly drew its fair share of ugly swings as he racked up 10 swings and misses on that pitch alone. The slider/cutter was also plus on the evening, working in the 85-87 mph range with late, two-plane bite when he got on top of it. Rocker also showed a couple of changeups that flashed solid average to left-handed hitters as a quality fourth option.

Given some of the fastball concerns in the way of velocity, command, and hitability, Rocker does pose relief risk, especially when we’re talking about prospects in play with the first overall pick. That being said he’s accomplished more at the college level than almost any other prospect in the draft given his resume and the innings he logged as a true freshman with everyone only getting four weeks of action in 2020. There’s no questioning Rocker’s fire and competitiveness on the mound and there might not be a better pitch in the entire draft than his curveball. There’s absolute starter upside here and the worst-case scenario from a professional projection would be a dynamite reliever. Rocker is going to get nitpicked because scouts have known about him since he was basically 15 years old, while his resume, upside, and breaking ball feel make him worthy of a top-half of the first round selection.

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