NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Vanderbilt Baseball program is expecting an exciting few days starting Sunday when the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft begins.
Eleven Commodores are eligible to be selected in the three-day, 20-round event and two of those 11 are likely to go within the first 10 picks.
Right-handed pitcher and junior Kumar Rocker put together one of the best careers in Vandy history in 2+ seasons – his 2020 campaign was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rocker totaled 28 wins – the third-most in a Vandy career – and 321 strikeouts – the fourth-most ever by a Vanderbilt pitcher.
A graduate of North Oconee High School in Athens, Georgia, Rocker actually gave up five earned runs in just an 1 1/3 inning in his college debut in February of 2019. He rarely struggled after that.
Rocker, projected by MLB.com to be selected sixth overall, would go on to win a national championship by the end of the 2019 Eason, a season highlighted by his no-hitter against Duke at Hawkins Field in an NCAA Super Regional elimination game.
“It’s emotional. Came a long way. I’d like to thank everyone around him for how far he’s came,” Rocker said last week at the College World Series in response to what he would say to his freshman self. “Biggest growth period of my life so far. And I dedicate all that to coach (Tim) Corbin and the Vanderbilt family.”
Rocker’s 2021 season was matched in excellence by Jack Leiter, a sophomore eligible to be drafted and projected by MLB.com to be picked second overall. The New Jersey native went 11-4 with a 2.13 ERA and fanned 179 hitters – the second-most in a single Vandy season (tied with Rocker).
Leiter also added a no-hitter of his own to his resume by shutting down South Carolina at Hawkins Field in March.
Along with Leiter and Rocker, fellow pitchers Nick Maldonado, Luke Murphy, Hugh Fisher, Thomas Schultz, Ethan Smith and Brett Hansen are all eligible. Maldonado and Murphy, both projected by MLB.com to be selected before the eighth round, became two of Vanderbilt’s top relievers this season while combining for 18 saves (nine each) with sub-3.00 ERAs.
Off the pitching mound several other Commodores could see hear their name called.
Junior outfielder Isaiah Thomas is projected by MLB.com to be a top-100 pick after hitting .305 this season with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and 13 doubles. Dominic Keegan, a junior projected by MLB.com to be a sixth-round pick, hit .324 this season while driving in 57 runs and hitting 15 homers.
Sophomore catcher CJ Rodriguez, noted for his defensive abilities and knack for framing pitches, is projected by MLB.com to go in the first 10 rounds. Rodriguez has hit .257 in 70 career games for Vanderbilt and totaled 48 assists this season from behind the plate.
Vanderbilt, coming off a 49-18 season and runner-up finish at the College World Series, has had a first-round draft picked in five of the past six years.
The MLB Draft is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Sunday live on ESPN.
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.