Texas Rangers shake up first round, take Kumar Rocker third, after Baltimore Orioles open MLB draft by picking Jackson Holliday

LOS ANGELES — The Baltimore Orioles made high school shortstop Jackson Holliday their first pick in Major League Baseball’s draft on Sunday, but the biggest shock came with the No. 3 pick overall when the Texas Rangers selected Kumar Rocker, the highly acclaimed pitcher Prospect , who is known not to have signed with the New York Mets last season.

Rocker now joins his Vanderbilt teammate Jack Leiter, who was picked second overall by the Rangers last year. Druw Jones, the son of five-time All-Star Andruw Jones, finished second overall with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 22-year-old rocker was picked 10th overall last summer, but the Mets ultimately didn’t offer a contract after some concerns about his medicine. Rather than return to Vanderbilt, Rocker made five appearances for the independent Frontier League’s Tri-City Valley Cats and posted a 1.35 ERA with 32 strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings while reportedly hitting 98 mph with his fastball. He was expected to be late in the first round, but Rangers are clearly looking up enough to put him high in a draft that doesn’t offer much pitching.

Rangers are expected to sign Rocker for about $2 million less than the $7.59 million earmarked for the No. 3 overall pick, sources told ESPN’s Jeff Passan. Rangers general manager Chris Young said the organization was “extremely pleased with the medical review”.

“Kumar’s risk is on the medical level – we recognize that, but we’re happy with what we’ve seen,” Young added. “This is an elite competitor, an incredibly strong, tough person who when you talk to someone who’s been around is just a winner. We look forward to a great future with the Texas Rangers.”

Rocker was named Most Outstanding Player in the 2019 College World Series and was a 2021 Golden Spikes Award finalist alongside Leiter. He led Division I with 14 wins and tied leaders with 179 strikeouts at the top while adding a 2.73 ERA in 122 innings. Rocker underwent a shoulder procedure shortly thereafter, in September 2021, but the procedure was considered minor and did not affect his rotator cuff or labrum.

Rocker spent the next 10 months proving himself again, but always believed he would be a first-round pick again.

“I think my talent speaks for itself,” Rocker said in a video conference call.

When asked if he has an extra chip on his shoulder because of what he went through last year, Rocker said, “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a chip on my shoulder, but I have renewed motivation to move forward , just to attack my work at a different rate, in a different way.”

The son of seven-time All-Star Matt Holliday, Holliday is an elite hitter who made significant progress in several aspects of his game during his senior year at Stillwater High School in Oklahoma. The 6-foot-1, 175-pound left-hander finished his senior season with a .685 batting average and was named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year.

Holliday has previously committed to Oklahoma State, where his uncle Josh is the head coach, but is now likely to venture straight into professional baseball, where his increasing speed and arm strength are expected to keep him at the shortstop. However, Holliday’s calling card is his hitting. The 18-year-old already has an advanced approach in the batter’s box, averaging 89 hits in 41 games last season, breaking the high school record previously held by Philadelphia Phillies catcher JT Realmuto.

“I kind of found out when they said it,” Holliday said of finding out he would be the first player to be drafted. “That was really cool. My father didn’t really tell me. He was kind of on the phone and then he said, ‘All right, you’ll just find out.’ It was really, really beautiful and something I’ll probably never forget. I honestly didn’t know it was possible to go into high school. I just wanted to help my team to win and hopefully prevail, well positioned today.”

There was much uncertainty as to who the Orioles would take No. 1 overall, with Jones, Johnson and Cal Poly shortstop Brooks Lee – eighth overall after the Minnesota Twins – among the rumored selections. Orioles general manager Mike Elias likened it to “deciding what to order at a five-star restaurant.”

“It was a very good class,” said Elias. “We brought it down to five players. We had advocates and reasons for taking one of the five players, but ultimately you only get to take one of them and we picked our favourite.”

Jones, a Vanderbilt commit, is a top-flight defensive midfielder with five-tool potential, just like his father. The younger Jones is 6ft 4, 180lbs and wins Gatorade’s Georgia Baseball Player of the Year award while leading the Wesleyan School to the private school’s Georgia Class A State Championship.

Arguably the best defender in every position in this draft, Jones has displayed both elite foot speed and club speed on the showcase circuit. His swing is still not a finished product – he’s 18 after all – but he’s been steadily improving his disc discipline, and more raw power will come as he fills his frame. Jones hit .570 with 13 homers, 32 stolen bases and 1,702 OPS in his senior year.

The Pittsburgh Pirates picked Georgia High School middle infielder Termarr Johnson at No. 5, and the Washington Nationals followed with Florida High School outfielder Elijah Green at No. 5, making this only the second time in draft history that High school position players walked with four of the first five picks.

The remainder of the top 10 included LSU third baseman Jacob Berry (sixth behind the Miami Marlins), Oklahoma pitcher Cade Horton (seventh behind the Chicago Cubs), Virginia Tech outfielder Gavin Cross (ninth behind the Kansas City Royals), and Gonzaga pitcher Gabriel Hughes ( 10. to the Colorado Rockies).

Considered the top hitter in this draft, 18-year-old Johnson is arguably one of the greatest high school hitters in history. His racquet draws comparisons to the likes of Rafael Devers, Jose Ramirez, Wade Boggs and Vladimir Guerrero. A five-foot-three, 175-pound left-hander, Johnson already has the racquet speed, strength and hand-eye coordination that could eventually make him a consistent 30-homer threat in the major leagues. Johnson, an Arizona State Commitment, played shortstop in high school but is considered better suited at second base at the professional level.

“The Pittsburgh Pirates have the best player in the draft,” said Johnson of the draft side at LA Live. “We will make it.”

Green is the son of former Pro Bowl NFL tightener Eric Green. The younger Green, 18, is the prototypical risk-reward guy that many thought might slip in the first round of the draft. He’s 6ft 3, weighs 225lbs and has the elite power, speed and arm strength that has seen him en route to a slam dunk and #1 pick overall through 2021. But Green has produced a worrying swing-and-miss ratings while playing for Miami’s IMG Academy the past two springs, though he ultimately slumped .462/.592/1,000 in 25 high school games this season.

The Orioles had the No. 1 standings for the second time in three years after drafting Oregon State catcher Adleyrutschman in 2019, and are just beginning to emerge from a lengthy remodel as players enroll through their system.

The Orioles, withrutschman now in the majors, recently put on a 10-game winning streak to jump into the American League wildcard race despite playing in the toughest division in the industry. In the previous five seasons, they lost a worst 64% of their major league games. Each of their last four first-round picks were collegiate position players drafted in descending order: outfielder Colton Cowser (fifth overall in 2021), outfielder Heston Kjerstad (runner-up in 2020), shortstop Jordan Westburg (30th in 2020) and slipman.

The draft will last just 20 rounds for the second year in a row, and the Orioles entered the second largest bonus pool in history at $16.9 million. The New York Mets are the only team with two top 30 selections, one of which is an indemnity for not signing Kumar Rocker last year, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the only team with zero, a penalty for the amount, which they exceeded the luxury tax threshold of last year. This year’s No. 1 overall pick has a slot value of $8.84 million, but the Orioles under general manager Mike Elias went under slot with their last two first-round picks to add to the savings elsewhere in the draft use.

Each choice within the first 10 rounds of the draft has an assigned value. Teams are largely free to allocate the entirety of their bonus pool as they see fit, but face excess tax if they exceed their allotted amounts. First round picks are taken away when teams exceed their allotted amounts by more than 5%. According to MLB.com, teams have exceeded their allocations 172 times in the 10 drafts with bonus pools, but never by more than 5%.

The top three pitchers of this year’s draft — Rocker, Horton, and Hughes — all went higher than many of the draft forecasters had ranked them from a talent perspective, a nod to the relative lack of top-notch pitching talent in this year’s draft. The San Diego Padres later took a chance with right-hander number 15 Dylan Lesko. Lesko, who attended Buford High School in Georgia, became the first junior ever to be named Gatorade’s national baseball player of the year in 2021, but suffered an elbow injury in April and was named operated by Tommy John.

The Padres have a history of grabbing high odds like Lesko under baseball operations president AJ Preller.

https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/34260421/jackson-holliday-son-seven-all-star-matt-holliday-selected-baltimore-orioles-no-1-overall-pick-mlb-draft Texas Rangers shake up first round, take Kumar Rocker third, after Baltimore Orioles open MLB draft by picking Jackson Holliday

Emma Bowman

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