While Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker is likely to be school baseball’s odd couple, the star pitchers have been winners at Vanderbilt from the get-go. In Leiter’s SEC debut earlier this 12 months, he threw a no-hitter. During Rocker’s freshman season in 2019, he earned College World Series Most Outstanding Player honors whereas main the Commodores to the nationwide title. Oh yeah, he additionally threw a no-hitter alongside the best way.
“Rock and Leiter don’t look alike. They don’t pitch alike. They come from two different parts of the country,” Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin says. “But they’ve a lot extra in widespread previous all of that. They each share a willingness to work, to be good and to pursue perfection as a part of the staff.”
Now, Leiter and Rocker look to punctuate the doubtless finish to their collegiate careers with a College World Series title, beginning Friday on the Nashville Super Regional towards East Carolina (Noon ET, ESPN2 and ESPN App). A collection win would have them again in Omaha to defend the Commodores’ 2019 crown earlier than heading to the professionals subsequent month once they might grow to be the primary pitcher teammates to go within the prime 5 of the MLB draft since UCLA’s Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer in 2011.
ESPN spoke to the aces themselves, their coaches and teammates to search out out what makes them such a uncommon pair.
Despite being solely 6-foot-1, Leiter has thrived largely as a result of an influence fastball described as a “plus-plus pitch,” by ESPN draft professional Kiley McDaniel.
Just ask South Carolina. In Leiter’s no-hitter towards the Gamecocks, all 16 of his strikeouts got here on the fastball, based on Vanderbilt catcher CJ Rodriguez.
What’s the key to the pitch’s success?
“People always ask about the rising action my fastball has, and I think that has a lot to do with my lower release point,” Leiter says. “The pulldown from that lower point gives it that rising affect.”
Thanks largely to that fastball, Leiter enters the Super Regionals because the No. 3 prospect in McDaniel’s draft rankings.
When Rocker’s fastball is on, it explodes out of his body and turns into almost inconceivable for many school hitters to sq. up.
This spring, his velocity has been inconsistent, averaging 95.4 mph in some early March outings and 91.4 in a late March begin, per McDaniel.
“It’s obviously a power fastball that he can use in any count, especially with two strikes,” Rodriguez says.
Despite some late-season struggles, Rocker has proven the flexibility to close down top-notch SEC competitors, as he did in wins towards No. 3 Tennessee (seven shutout innings) and No. 7 Mississippi State (full sport, one run) again in April.
Leiter credit his father in serving to him develop his curveball.
“From a young age, Dad taught me to get on top and see how many times I could make it spin before it got to the plate,” Leiter says. “It sounds oversimplified maybe, but it’s true. You just want to spin it. Just spin it hard. Don’t be thinking, ‘OK, I have to try and make this break.'”
For Rocker, it is the slider. “Like a football, get on top of it, and pull it down as hard as I can, create that spin. … Some call it a slider, some call it a power curve.” Call it what you need, simply know it is doubtless going to finish in a strikeout.
After late-season struggles towards Mississippi State and Florida, Leiter went two weeks earlier than his subsequent begin and seemed extra like himself. He allowed one run in six innings in a 13-2 win towards Ole Miss, then threw one other six innings of two-run ball in a regular-season-ending win versus Kentucky.
And after the win towards Georgia Tech in his NCAA tourney debut, Leiter is trying to maintain it going.
If Leiter appears like he has all of it discovered on the mound, his fellow ace thinks there is a good cause for that.
“On the mound, he’s very mature in a way, because, I mean, he knows everything,” Rocker says.
With a father and uncle who each pitched within the majors, Leiter was all the time going to have an edge. But early on, his father did not need him to pitch — he needed him to play third base.
Once Jack confirmed an curiosity and aptitude for pitching, his father helped him with the best way to throw sure pitches and deal with the psychological side of the sport.
“There’s just a piece of him that, there’s structure in his life,” Vandy head coach Tim Corbin says. “… He knows what he’s supposed to do. He’s where he’s supposed to be. And when he gets in this environment, it’s on.”
And now it is on for Leiter and the Commodores as they give the impression of being to advance to a different College World Series and defend their nationwide championship.
Rocker may need gotten knocked round by No. 1 Arkansas within the SEC event (he allowed 4 hits, 4 walks and 5 earned runs in 3 1/3 innings), however that is the time of 12 months he dominates.
His no-hit effort towards Duke in 2019 will go down as among the finest school video games ever pitched.
“In the 17 years I’ve been here, I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that,” Corbin informed The Tennessean afterward.
It was certainly one of a number of dominant performances down the stretch that helped the Commodores hoist the trophy.
That fireplace hasn’t gone away as his collegiate profession winds down.
“The competitiveness is obvious,” Leiter says.
The subsequent step for Leiter and Rocker is July 11’s MLB draft, the place they’re each anticipated to be top-10 picks. Here are the present main league stars they most have a resemblance to, based on ESPN MLB Insider and draft professional Kiley McDaniel.
Reporting by Ryan McGee. Editing by Ryan Canner-O’Mealy.
Visuals by Brett Carlsen.
Produced by ESPN Creative Studio: Rob Booth, Jarret Gabel, Alecia Hamm, Lori Higginbotham, Luke Knox, Miller Safrit.
Additional visuals from SEC Network, Getty Images, AP, Icon Sportswire, Sports Illustrated