In any sport, it’s very rare to see two of the best players at the same position play for the same team, whether that’s in the pros or in college. However, the MLB machine that is Vanderbilt University can undoubtedly say that the two best pitchers in the college baseball world suit up in the black and gold. These two monsters on the mound are of course junior Kumar Rocker and sophomore Jack Leiter. As ESPN’s Kyle Peterson said, “It’s like picking between a Ferrari and Lamborghini as to whose the better pitcher.” Both have come out of the gates absolutely untouchable in 2021 and currently have the reigning champion Commodores sitting comfortably at the top of D1Baseball’s Top 25 teams in the country. While the two right handed arms are focused on Omaha for now, they will both certainly be off the board very early in June’s MLB Draft as they could possibly be the first pair of teammates ever to be selected with the first two picks. The question is though, who will go first? The debate between the skills of the two has been running rampant throughout college baseball this spring and will certainly give the Pittsburgh Pirates quite the headache when they make the first pick in a few months. While the two are both elite at their craft, one has to have the better career when all is said and done. Through a vast arsenal of effective pitches, a big league pedigree and total command of the game, Jack Leiter is a more complete pitcher than Rocker even at a year younger and he will end up as the better of the two in the bigs. Here’s why.
The son of the 2 time World Series champion Al Leiter, Jack has seemed destined for greatness ever since he picked up a baseball. The help of a father who pitched 19 years in the big leagues with a 3.80 ERA certainly has rubbed off on the Vanderbilt ace as he has showcased his dominance ever since taking a mound. As of this season, Leiter sports a diverse five pitch arsenal, headlined by a 4 seam fastball that sits at 94-97 MPH and has topped out at 99 MPH with an active spin rate of 95% at the age of 21. For reference, reigning NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer had a 94% spin rate on his fastball this year as a 10 year MLB veteran, showing just how advanced this kid is. Besides that, Leiter also brings an effective two seamer with late life that has been making hitters uncomfortable all spring as its movement to the inside of a batter so late makes it near impossible to barrel up. The sophomore also buckles knees with his breaking stuff, as a devastating curveball can drop from shoulders to shins at just 77 MPH, a near 20 MPH drop from his heater. That is unheard of for a 21 year old no matter what genes you inherited. The slider is an absolute masterpiece as well, as his 2200 revolutions per minute mark on that pitch this season matches that of Rays standout closer Diego Castillo, not to mention its outstanding movement from one side of the plate to the other. Leiter has even been working a changeup into games at points this year with has shown very impressive vertical and speed drop offs for his level. And like father like son, Jack has incorporated Al’s trademark cutter into his repertoire this season and has been devastating lefties with ease this year. While Kumar Rocker brings the heat as well as outstanding breaking stuff of his own, Jack Leiter’s edge on the mound comes not only with his wider selection of pitches but also in his mentality and attitude on the rubber.
With all of these lethal weapons at his disposal, Leiter dominates a strike zone at the level of all stars. His major league like poise and confidence on the mound (take a guess as to where that came from) has allowed him to thrive under pressure and make those big pitches for his team. Much like his father, Jack does not get rattled whatsoever even in the rare instances that he finds himself in a jam. Very rarely do runners even dare take an extra step on their leads let alone try to swipe a base with Leiter on the mound as his quick delivery combined with elite velocity makes it a death wish to try to steal a bag against him. His command of a game is also remarkable for his age as Leiter can easily spot his fastball in all quadrants of the strike zone and he mixes up his locations with it very well. Adapting to the best arms of today, he also is proficient at spin rates with all of his pitches making it even harder to get a decent piece of at the plate.
With all of his talent and big league DNA, Leiter has put these two intangibles together to dominate on the mound everywhere he’s been. Playing high school ball at Delbarton in New Jersey, his outright dominance rose to the status of near urban legend in the garden state. Ever since turning to full time pitching as a junior in 2018, Leiter compiled a 14-3 record over two seasons racking up 177 strikeouts in a total of 115 innings and 14 strikeouts per nine innings, which would’ve placed second in the majors in 2020. In his senior campaign alone, Leiter punched out 95 batters, allowed just 5 earned runs in over 57 innings (that’s a 0.08 ERA) and ended up with a perfect 8-0 record all while leading Delbarton to the state championship in 2019. He was one of the more sought after prospects among the 2019 MLB draft class and was selected by the New York Yankees in the 20th round straight out of high school despite his first round talent. But unlike many prep players nowadays, Leiter made the mature decision to nurture and develop his raw talent at the college level. Receiving interest from pretty much every single college baseball power, Jack took his talents to the best of them all at Vanderbilt University, the same school that churned out big league pitchers in Cy Young winner David Price, all star Sonny Gray and World Series champion Walker Buehler. Since arriving on campus, Leiter has already put his name in the same conversation as those elite talents.
You would think that joining the heavily competitive SEC would at least give any freshman pitcher some struggles early on. However, Leiter has not only continued his excellence at Vanderbilt, but he has become arguably the best pitcher in the country in barely a year. In the abbreviated 2020 season, Jack went straight to work for the Commodores tossing 15.2 innings while allowing just 3 earned runs with 22 punch outs. Winning both of his starts, Leiter was also exceptional at limiting offense as his opponent batting average was a phenomenal .098 and no one took him out of the park in his freshman year. Jack was clearly off to an impressive start at Vanderbilt as he was named the 62nd best player in the country by Baseball America despite pitching just two games. In 2021 though, he has been so good that he has joined the conversation of the best pitchers to ever toe the rubber on the college circuit.
While Kumar Rocker has been overwhelming hitters all spring with his sizzling fastball and a 0.84 ERA, this season has been nothing short of unbelievable for Leiter. “No one at his age has ever dominated a game better with a fastball and such a deep selection of secondary stuff as Leiter has on the college circuit.” says D1Baseball owner Kyle Peterson, one of the largest networks for college baseball in the country. Leiter’s stat line backs up these words just by itself. He starts the year with a stellar 7-0 record which is enough for the most wins in the country this year and in those starts, Leiter has allowed a ridiculously low 17 hits, compared to Rocker’s 29. An absurd 0.98 ERA in 55 innings pitched, leading the nation by far among pitchers with 4 or more starts. His stuff has been nearly untouchable as his 94 strikeouts say, which also sets the bar for the NCAA ahead of his teammate’s 73. Leiter even matched Rocker’s famous no hit effort from 2019 as he achieved his greatest accomplishment in a two game stretch in late March in which Leiter hurled a 16 strikeout no hitter against #16 South Carolina in one of the most impressive pitching performances in the recent history of baseball. His next outing a week later against Missouri was more of the same story as he threw seven more innings without allowing a hit and racked up 10 more strikeouts with just two walks. In total, in these two starts against high quality conference opponents, Jack Leiter threw 16 consecutive no hit innings with 26 strikeouts and 3 walks. Ladies and gentleman, this kid is special.
While Rocker no doubt has Major League talent, with all of these accolades at such a young age, the big league genes already embedded in him and utter dominance on the mound, Jack Leiter will end up as the better pitcher when all is said and done. If his game translates to the pros after he’s drafted, he will shoot through the minors and soon be among the Jacob deGrom’s and Gerrit Cole’s of baseball as the sport’s most feared man to face. Jack Leiter is up next. Grab your popcorn, baseball fans.