Woodward: Rocker 'closest to the big leagues' in Draft

July 21st, 2022

MIAMI -- Rangers manager Chris Woodward was driving to the airport on Sunday night when he got the news that his club had selected former Vanderbilt star with the third overall pick in this year's Draft.

"It was pretty cool," Woodward said on Thursday ahead of the Rangers' game against the Marlins at loanDepot park. "We couldn't really go wrong, in my opinion, with any of those three [Rocker, Jackson Holliday and Druw Jones]. But Kumar, [if] medical and everything passes -- this guy was the No. 1 pick in the Draft."

Woodward had plenty of praise for Rocker, who was drafted No. 10 last year by the Mets but did not sign and opted to re-enter the Draft this year. Since then, Rocker has been working out and playing independent ball, including three starts for the Frontier League's Tri-City Valley Cats this season.

Why is Woodward so excited? Because Rocker is the "guy that's closest to the big leagues," per the skipper.

"I think maybe a little scouting fatigue happened over the last couple years, because he was so good that sophomore year ... you dig in on somebody for two years, you're going to find something that you don't like," Woodward said. "You only see the kid for four months, and you're enthralled with him and you just can't get enough of him.

"You want him anyway, but he's not far off [from the Majors]. And him and [Jack] Leiter are reunited [in the Rangers' system], to have the best two -- obviously with [fourth-round pick] Brock Porter, I'm not saying it's going to work out, but we got two of the best arms in the Draft."

Leiter, who was Rocker's teammate at Vanderbilt, was the No. 2 pick in the 2021 Draft and is now the Rangers' No. 1 prospect. Leiter's most recent accomplishment was throwing a perfect inning on nine pitches in the 2022 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Saturday.

Rocker is likely to take a similar path as Leiter -- who skipped the lowest levels of the Minors to make his professional debut at Double-A Frisco this year. Though Leiter has been roughed up this season (a 2-7 record and 6.30 ERA in 14 appearances, 13 starts), he has a dominant fastball that is already an elite pitch, plus a solid curveball and a slider that has decent potential.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker, meanwhile, boasts an impressive fastball that, in his debut with Tri-City this summer, topped out at 99 mph.

With the 1-2 punch that is Rocker and Leiter, both former Vandy aces, the future of the Rangers' rotation is bright. Woodward is impressed not only with Rocker's stuff, but with his personality and professionalism.

"I loved him when I got a chance to sit with him [two years ago]," Woodward said. "Very well-spoken, very mature. [He] wasn't about a lot of stuff that the other draftees were, just kind of like no-nonsense.

"[He's a] phenomenal, phenomenal kid. I was ecstatic."