Big prospect soaks up wisdom at Dream Series
Talented Rocker absorbs lessons on mental side of game
TEMPE, Ariz. -- One of the biggest names at the Dream Series belonged to literally the biggest pitching prospect on the field.
Kumar Rocker, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander from Georgia, completed the five-day event at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Monday feeling like a much better player, which is saying something.
Rocker, who participated at the Under Armour All-America Game and the Perfect Game All-American Classic last year, also won a gold medal with Team USA. He is committed to Vanderbilt, and he could be selected in the first round of the 2018 Draft.
"This is one of the most helpful experiences I have ever had," Rocker, 18, said. "We had daily chalk talks, and the coaches had so much information that they could not even get it all in. And just talking to them on the side or at breakfast or at dinner, I learned so much by just talking to them about the game."
The son of former NFL defensive lineman Tracy Rocker, the pitcher is ranked No. 17 on MLB Pipeline's Draft Prospects list. He usually pitches at 92-96 mph with his fastball and can reach 98. He also throws a slider and a changeup.
"One of the big lessons we talked about here was blocking out all of the noise and the importance of the mental game," Rocker said. "I wake every morning and pray. My parents have also kept me in check. I'm just focused on staying hungry and humble. I know I am blessed to be in this position."
The Dream Series, an initiative of Major League Baseball and USA Baseball, featured a diverse group of some of the nation's top high school pitching and catching prospects. The event -- which is connected to Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- included on-hand coaching from former players, presentations on baseball-career opportunities on the professional and collegiate levels and athletic assessments through the Prospect Development Pipeline Premier Events.
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The coaching staff featured former MLB All-Stars Tom "Flash" Gordon, Charles Johnson, Ken Hill, Junior Spivey and Marquis Grissom. Former pitchers LaTroy Hawkins, Darren Oliver, Marvin Freeman and Pat Mahomes, former big league manager Jerry Manuel and former MLB front-office executive Reggie Waller and several others worked with the teens daily.
"We hope they leave a little bit more prepared to start their high school seasons, and that they go out and compete and play to the best of their ability," said Del Matthews, MLB's senior director of baseball development. "For a lot of these kids, they're trying to obtain college scholarships and get better. They're trying to work on things and improve in areas in which they're deficient, and they're trying to hone their skills and fine-tune their abilities. That doesn't happen overnight. There's a whole arc of the development process, and this is just one part of it."
The Dream Series also included special presentations by umpire Kerwin Danley and umpire supervisor Cris Jones, a discussion on Dr. King's impact led by Manuel and chat with Manuel's son Jerry Lorenzo, a renowned fashion designer. The participants attended a study hall after workouts each day.
"[The Dream Series] has exceeded my expectations and it's a great way to kick off our calendar year in terms of youth programming," said Tony Reagins, MLB senior vice president of youth programs. "What we were trying to share with these players here is a well-rounded experience in terms of what our game looks like. These players want to be Major Leaguers and that's a long road with lots of hard work, but it all starts with character and it starts with a love and passion for the game."
In addition to Rocker, this year's group of players included many who are already committed to elite college programs like Simeon Woods Richardson (Texas), Sanson Faltine (Texas), Christian Little (Vanderbilt), D.J. Jefferson (USC), Irving Carter (Miami), left-hander Armari Paula (Virginia) and catchers CJ Rodriguez (Vanderbilt) and Ian Moller (LSU) among others.
"These kids are all not going to get drafted, and hopefully, the guys get a chance to play in college," Hawkins said. "This is about impacting their lives and giving them something they can take throughout the rest of their lives and make them a better person, a better father, a better husband and a better co-worker."