Inbox: Will Texas draft Vandy pitcher No. 2?

Beat reporter Kennedi Landry answers questions from fans

March 31st, 2021

There are less than 24 hours to go before Opening Day, which means it’s a perfect time for an Inbox. You guys didn’t have many questions about the current Rangers, but I tried to answer everything as best as I could:

Any chance the Rangers might balk at drafting one of the big two Vandy pitchers due to some signability issue or to use the money later in the Draft?
-- @ WoolCorp on Twitter

If I’m general manager Chris Young or president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, there is no way I would take anybody with the No. 2 pick who is not a Vanderbilt pitcher. Whichever one the Pirates don’t take No. 1 overall should be on a flight to Texas ASAP.

I don’t see either Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter having any signability issues. Rocker shouldn’t be a problem at all as a junior in college. Leiter, as a Draft-eligible sophomore, may shake things up, but I don’t see that being a big issue with him since he will be a top-five pick no matter what. I would expect that without injury or a severe decline in performance, neither will be pitching for Vanderbilt next season. They’d both look good in powder blue.

Still trying to wrap my brain around what tandem starters will look like: will guys like Kyle Cody and Taylor Hearn go five or six innings when they're on a roll and get a quicker hook when they're not? Or will these always look like bullpen games with two primary pitchers?
-- @ LamarKukuk on Twitter

The thing about the tandem starters is that they're mostly taking the load off of younger pitchers' arms, especially those coming off of Tommy John surgery like Cody and Dane Dunning. It’s similar to what you described here. Manager Chris Woodward is trying to get the younger pitchers used to these roles. He wants them to prove they can be traditional starters.

More importantly, Woodward has said that those guys like Dunning and Cody will have loose innings limits across the season, but he definitely won’t take them out if there’s something like a perfect game in play.

“Listen, if one of these guys takes off and just absolutely dominates, maybe we extend it, but I think early on I’d like to see these guys prove that they can go out and dominate for three or four innings,” Woodward said a few weeks ago. “Then maybe we extend them as opposed to just saying, ‘OK, we’re going to give this guy a start every five days and hope it works out.’”

Woodward also wants to make it consistent for the pitchers, so I wouldn’t expect somebody like Dunning or Hearn to go more than five innings to start the season at all.

Who among the likely Opening Day bullpen guys have looked good? Have you had the shaken beef at Saigon Kitchen yet?
-- Dave S.

Matt Bush and John King have both looked great in my opinion, as has Ian Kennedy. Obviously all three have been informed that they made the Opening Day roster. Bush has notched nine strikeouts over 5 2/3 innings this spring, while Kennedy has eight strikeouts through 6 2/3 innings. King pitched 10 innings in camp, only allowing two earned runs on eight hits.

Cody, the Rangers’ No. 22 prospect, was in competition for one of the tandem starter spots but will take up a bullpen role this season instead. I’ve been high on Cody all spring, and while it’s disappointing to see him not end up in one of those tandem roles, I think he’ll thrive as a bullpen arm until he works up his innings coming off of Tommy John surgery.

Yes, I have been to Saigon Kitchen in Surprise. I did not have the shaken beef -- I’m more of a traditional shrimp fried rice kind of girl -- but it’ll definitely be on the list for next Spring Training.

If Jack Leiter falls to the Rangers, do you think they should draft him or someone else?
-- Lukas B.

Similar to the top question, I think there’s no question the Rangers should take Leiter if he falls to No. 2 in the Draft. Leiter was just named SEC Pitcher of the Week for the second week in a row following another no-hit outing, though this one was only seven innings as he reached 100-plus pitches. He now owns a 6-0 record and a 0.25 ERA across 36 innings.

I think the Rangers can’t make a bad pick with the top three shaking out as it is between Leiter, Rocker and DFW high schooler Jordan Lawlar. Nobody would fault them for any of those picks. But I’m partial to taking a polished college pitcher like Leiter or Rocker instead of Lawlar. I think Lawlar is a sensational talent, but if there’s any position the Rangers are deep at in the farm system, it’s shortstop. Three of the Rangers’ top 30 prospects per MLB Pipeline are listed as shortstops -- No. 6 Maximo Acosta, No. 12 Anderson Tejeda and No. 24 Chris Seise -- and multiple others are versatile and have played the position this spring, most notably No. 10 Davis Wendzel.

When asked earlier this spring about how Vanderbilt prepares its pitchers for the big leagues, Vandy alum and Dodgers righty Walker Buehler said it's about developing the players into a complete package, both mentally and physically.

“They get good players and the staff does a good job of developing them not only as players but as men, I think,” Buehler said. “Most of us come out there with a pretty good idea of who we are, what our routines look like and who we want to be as a player. The Minor Leagues can be a tough place and a place that will test you, and I think they do a great job of preparing both mentally and physically for that.”

Drafting a local kid with the No. 2 overall pick is tempting, but I don't think the Rangers can pass Leiter up if the Pirates take Rocker.