If you take one look at right-handed prep pitcher Kumar Rocker, you won’t have any trouble believing he’s the son of a professional football player. Rocker, son of former NFL lineman Tracy Rocker, is a big kid. Standing 6’5 and weighing in at 250 pounds, Kumar is an intimidating figure to have staring down at you from a pitcher’s mound.
He has the goods to go with the first impression, too. He sports a 70-grade fastball that has touched 98 miles per hour, and a developing arsenal of secondary pitches that lead many scouts to believe he has what it takes to be a starting pitcher rather than just a fireball-throwing reliever.
Having a professional athlete for a father has also given Rocker some insight into the whole pros vs. school perspective, something we might see come into play depending on where he is selected in the draft. Rocker has a commitment to Vanderbilt, and recently told USA Today, “I actually like the thought of the college life. I like going to classes and hanging out with friends and, basically, not being an adult right away. On the other hand, going pro has been a dream of mine for a long time. There’s a lot to weigh out; it’s not just about the money.”
Rocker likely has a strong career ahead of him, either as a reliever or mid-range starter, but whether or not he commits to a pro life this year remains to be seen. He has a good head on his shoulders for a young prospect, though, probably thanks to his dad’s insight. He told MLB’s Jesse Sanchez, “I’m just focused on staying hungry and humble. I know I am blessed to be in this position.”
School: North Oconee High School (GA)
Draft day age: 18
MLB Pipeline prospect rank: 14
Previously drafted: Never
MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: RHP Kumar Rocker
MLB Pipeline notes that Rocker is a three-pitch guy: fastball, slider, and changeup. His fastball is far and away his best pitch, though, grading out at 70 according to Pipeline. They add that Rocker, “usually pitches at 92-96 mph with his fastball and can reach 98.” They also mention his fastball showing signs of sink, meaning there’s a chance with some additional work on his command he might be able to add a sinker into the mix.
Minor League Ball’s John Sickels had the following to say of Rocker’s pitching.
Rocker’s fastball is quite good, clocked as high as 98 and consistently working at 92-95. In 2017 the heater would occasionally flatten out if his mechanics were off but that has reportedly been less of an issue this spring. Steve Fiorindo at Perfect Game noticed this back in March, writing “how consistent Rocker’s release point was as he got on top easily and creates tons of sinking life on the fastball that made it impossible to lift when located in the lower third.” The velocity comes easy.
Keith Law refers to Rocker as a two-way player, suggesting some bold team might want to give him the Shohei Ohtani development track. MLB’s prospect report briefly mentioned it as well, saying, “He also hits for power from the right side.” Almost every other scouting report ignores his bat entirely and pins the whole focus on his pitching. And with a 70-grade fastball, why wouldn’t they?
Kumar’s red hot fastball has a pretty big problem area. According to MLB Pipeline, “His shoulder opens early at times, giving batters a good look at his fastball.” They believe Rocker has the skills needed to correct this, though, and stop giving his pitch away. They also note his slider and changeup both need work on becoming more consistent. If he’s able to master them, he will have one strong and one average pitch to join his fastball in the repertoire.
Rocker also suffered from a hamstring injury that seems to have taken a little velocity off his fastball. It doesn’t seem like a major issue, but might be something that might see teams hold off on taking him higher in the draft, especially since the fastball is his bread and butter.
The biggest ding, repeatedly mentioned by scouts and the only real downside in his grades is Rocker’s control, with many scouts singling out his lack of command as a major drawback to his ability to master the three pitches he has. They do all mention that Rocker has a good presence on the mound and seems capable of correcting his mistakes. The iffy control may not be too big of a deal for teams planning on long-term development in the minors.
Draft position: first round, though where is anybody’s guess
Draft predictions have Rocker all over the map, so it’s hard to pinpoint where he is actually going to be drafted this year, and that draft placement will have a lot of impact on his decision to play or not. He is committed to Vanderbilt at the moment, but a first round draft pick for the right team might tempt him away from collegiate life.
MLB Pipeline ranks him 14th in their top 100 prospect list and says, “he should fit somewhere in the middle of the first round.” The most recent FanGraphs mock draft isn’t as high on him, placing him at 38th in the competitive balance round. Keith Law has him going 22nd. As of May 1, Baseball America had him going as high as eighth. So there’s not a hard and fast consensus on Rocker’s place in the coming draft.
h/t Taiwan Baseball Notes, Perfect Game, and 2080 Baseball for videos.