Most draft years, prep pitchers start to fall or show up on draft boards further down than the prognosticators envisioned due to their high volatility and lack of success on the way to the major leagues. The more front offices study the statistical success of college players relative to the preps, the more they will learn that the failure rate you see in college is similar to what you see in the minors for high school pitchers. They’ll realize it’s just better to let the colleges wean it out on their dime instead of paying for it in the draft.
One such pitcher who may fall into that realm is Kumar Rocker, a pitcher who had an outstanding summer season and is suddenly on the fringe of consideration for a Top 10-15 pick. The size of Rocker at 6’5″, 250 lbs is what stands out immediately when you see him on the mound, an imposing figure already at 18 years old. While teams will see plenty of 6’3″ to 6’5″ and taller pitchers this year, they won’t see one filled out like Rocker at his age. This is one reason that he could see his stock drop some as one of the last prep pitchers to be drafted at that size was Tyler Kolek, the second overall selection of the 2014 draft. Since joining the Marlins, Kolek struggled at Low-A before encountering Tommy John surgery in 2016 and has yet to get past Low-A after nearly missing all the ’17 season. Those types of results and the similarity in size might play a factor in Rocker’s placement in the draft.
In terms of stuff, Rocker comes at hitters with a below 3/4 arm angle. Despite his size, Rocker does a great job of keeping his balance over his legs, preventing much leaking while keeping his motion methodical. From there, he explodes forward with a big leg push while opening up his front side. That explosion shows off in his chest flexing forward while his throwing arm lags behind before quickly catching up. Altogether, the legs are used well and the flexibility of Rocker is impressive considering his size. With him opening up early and leaving behind the arm, his control wavers showing off as below average with the fastball. His power from the legs and speed of his arm allow him to already to get to 98 mph, and I expect it to get up to 100 in the very near future. The pitch has plenty of life and late armside run making it a monster of a pitch against amateur competition. He shows moments where he can cut down and work the edges, but oftentimes he will overthrow and with the mistimed mechanics misses his spots.
In addition to the fastball, Rucker has already shown a decent changeup with armside fade. Showing the use of similar body control and pacing that he exhibited with the fastball, the changeup currently comes into the plate in the upper-80s to 90 mph. It has the chance to become his best secondary offering if he can increase the difference in velocity. That fade is there already and he has confidence in the pitch earlier in his career than most pitchers his age, as shown in some of the sequences that he has used on the summer showcase circuit. That commitment should only grow if he gains that separation in velocity while maintaining his pacing and fade. In addition to the fastball and changeup, he throws a mid-80s slider that shows off a quality horizontal break, but not much vertical break. He isn’t afraid to work the pitch in on the hands to tie up right-handed hitters or throw out of the zonme but like the fastball, it lingers in the top of the zone which would become a pro hitters dream.
Currently, the Royals don’t have a pitching prospect in the system with Rocker’s type of upside, and despite the slight mechanical changes needed, he has the stuff to become a front of the rotation starter should the control and command improve. Even if it doesn’t, his combination of athleticism and fastball leaves a decent upside to become a closer. A decent comparison in my mind is Michael Pineda in terms of athleticism, size, and upside. Should he get past the 10th pick, the Royals should have the strength in their bonus allotment to get his agent to push Rocker their way.
Flexing draft muscle is a strategy the Royals have a chance to employ should Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain sign elsewhere. The Royals could have north of $12 million in bonus dollars at that point, likely putting them in the top five of all draft pools allotted to teams. The Royals, with this type of collateral, could push a top 10 talent to them in the first round with the 18th overall pick, push another player that they like to one of their competitive balance picks, or spread the wealth to their slots throughout the draft. The type of strength that this allotment would allow could make huge changes to the farm system, the type of changes that could push them in the upper half of all farm systems.
Featured photo Kumar Rocker via Perfect Game.