Vanderbilt right-handers Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter came into the 2021 season regarded as the two best college prospects in the country.
Both could have been first-round picks out of high school—Rocker in 2018, Leiter in 2019—but opted to instead to play for the Commodores. As they entered their draft year, both had a chance to be chosen with the first overall pick.
As lofty as the expectations were, Rocker and Leiter largely lived up to them. Rocker went 14-4, 2.73 in 122 innings. Leiter went 11-4, 2.13 in 110 innings. The pair tied for the national lead in strikeouts with 179. Both were first-team All-Americans, making them the first rotation-mates to earn that honor in the same year since Rice’s Jeff Niemann and Wade Townsend in 2003.
Rocker and Leiter led Vanderbilt to the College World Series finals, where the Commodores fell one win shy of repeating as national champions after winning it all in 2019. While neither Rocker nor Leiter ended up as the No. 1 overall pick —the Pirates instead selected Louisville catcher Henry Davis—Leiter went second to the Rangers and Rocker went 10th to the Mets. That made them the first rotation-mates to be selected in the top 10 picks since UCLA’s Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer in 2011.
No other player in college baseball this year combined the level of success, premium prospect status and impact as Rocker and Leiter. For those reasons, Rocker is the Baseball America Player of the Year and Leiter is the Freshman of the Year.
Rocker turned in an impressive third season of college baseball. In addition to matching Leiter for the most strikeouts, his 14 wins were the most in the nation. In three seasons on campus, he went 28-10, 2.89 with 321 strikeouts and 68 walks in 236.2 innings.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
Four draft classes that caught our attention for their upside potential
Whether hitting or pitching, Jackson Jobe does things on the field that few have seen
KIRBY'S DREAM WORLD
George Kirby has as much helium as any prospect in baseball. Along with Emerson Hancock, he headlines a wave of power pitchers making their way to Seattle.
UP TO SPEED?
Quality of play in the full-season minor leagues had suffered from the lost 2020 season
THE FUTURE IS NOW
Baseball’s golden age of young talent takes center stage at the All-Star Game
Vanderbilt’s dynamic duo of Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are the first teammates to win our College Player and Freshman of the Year awards in the same season
FINAL PIECE OF THE PUZZLE
Chris Lemonis earned a reputation as a recruiter, but after winning a national title at Mississippi State, he will be remembered as a champion
CREATING HIS OWN STORY
The Brewers’ Hedbert Perez may be the son of a Venezuelan baseball icon, but the 18-year-old outfielder is forging his own identity
COMING TO FRUITION
Brooks Lee blossoms into a top draft prospect under his father’s tutelage at Cal Poly
CATCHING ON QUICK
Emerging young catchers Gabriel Moreno and Francisco Alvarez were gaining helium in prospect circles for their immense offensive upside
As tough as they come
DO COVID TITLES COUNT?
If a team wins Game 7 and no one is around to cheer and high five, is it still the champ?
Stepping Up to the Plate
A longtime baseball card collector seizes the opportunity to do good after a destructive wildfire
MARIAHVS.J.LO: THE NEXT ROUND!
A PAIR OF DIVAS!
Covid Means There's Even Less Joy in Mudville
Capacity constraints and distancing rules bring big headaches for season ticket holders
ARod's - PROMISE TO JLO
After Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez dialed back news of a split, the baseball great, dogged by rumors of a fling with reality star Madison LeCroy, was ready to grovel.
WRITER AND SPORTS CARTOONIST MURRAY OLDERMAN ACCOMPLISHED A LOT IN HIS 98 YEARS, INCLUDING DRAWING SOME OF THE EARLIEST SKETCH CARDS
A NEW KING
1952 TOPPS MICKEY MANTLE SELLS FOR $5.2 MILLION – HIGHEST EVER FOR A BASEBALL CARD
GERBER’S TERRACRAFT FACES BOTH URBAN AND RURAL CHALLENGES LIKE A PRO
Soured on Pickles
IT STUCK TO the bar of soap in the bathtub, so you didn’t want to wash with it.