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Vanderbilt SP Kumar Rocker Tops Kiley McDaniel's ESPN 2021 MLB Draft Big Board

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJune 17, 2020

Vanderbilt's Kumar Rocker throws to a batter during an NCAA college baseball game against Missouri, Saturday, May 11, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wade Payne/Associated Press

The ink is still drying on the 2020 Major League Baseball draft, but there is already a focus on next year's class. 

ESPN's Kiley McDaniel has released his way-too-early look at the top prospects available in the 2021 draft. 

Standing at the head of the class is Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker. The right-hander is best known for throwing the first no-hitter in an NCAA Super Regional when he struck out 19 Duke hitters last June. 

NCAA Baseball @NCAACWS

History. The final out of Kumar Rocker's NO HITTER! #RoadToOmaha | @VandyBoys https://t.co/Lk8krceRSy

McDaniel did note Rocker isn't in the Bryce Harper- or Stephen Strasburg-level of prospects who were essentially pegged to go No. 1 overall for more than one year, but he could become a lock for the top pick next season if he pitches at the peak of his abilities: 

"At his best, Rocker's fastball velocity would sit at 94-98 mph for a couple of innings and he'd flash a 65- to 70-grade slider, though part of the reason his price wasn't met out of high school is that, especially late in the prep season on shorter rest, he would work in the low-90s and flash more 55-grade stuff. This is what he showed in his last prep outing, a playoff loss to eventual Padres draftee RHP Cole Wilcox."

Rocker did show signs of improvement in an abbreviated 2020. The Georgia native had a 1.80 ERA with 28 strikeouts, eight walks and six hits allowed in 15 innings over three starts before the season was canceled. 

Jack Leiter, son of former All-Star Al Leiter, is McDaniel's No. 3 player. The right-hander could have been the Commodores' No. 3 starter behind Mason Hickman and Rocker last season if the full year had been played. He had a 1.72 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 15.2 innings in 2020. 

Sandwiched between Rocker and Leiter in the rankings is Georgia high school third baseman Brady House. McDaniel cites the Tennessee commit's big power potential as his signature tool: "He might already have 70-grade raw power, already shows an ability to get to it in games and he has been performing well in games versus older competition for a while."

LSU pitcher Jaden Hill and Florida outfielder Jud Fabian round out the top five in McDaniel's rankings.

One commonality between the 2020 and 2021 drafts appears to be the strength of the college players. 

Of the 160 picks made in this year's draft, 113 were from NCAA Divisions I, II and III as well as the junior college ranks. Some of that may have been due to teams not having extended looks at high school players before the pandemic shut down the sport. 

Even assuming a full 40-round draft in 2021, the first round could end up very college-heavy. McDaniel's rankings include 15 collegians among his top 25 players. 

All of these rankings are fluid right now, especially if showcase events can take place this summer and early next year. High school prospects, in particular, depend on those events to make a name for themselves against top-tier competition. 

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