Kumar Rocker: The Silver Lining To Tigers' September Slide


The Tigers' playoff dreams are all but dead. Since a streak of six wins thrust them into the race at the start of September, they've lost 10 of 13 and fallen 5.5 games behind. They have neither the time nor the talent to make up that ground.

Which is fine. It was a fantasy from the start. And it was fun while it lasted, giving us a chance to see the faces of the future play in meaningful games. The Tigers will be better for it next year.

In the meantime, they can take solace in this: they're in line to add another dynamic talent at the top of the draft.

MLB hasn't yet decided how it will determine the draft order in 2021. The solution will likely entail a combination of records from this year and last year. Whatever the formula, the Tigers are sure to pick in the top 10, likely to pick in the top five and perhaps even tracking toward the first overall pick for the third time in four years.

The prize at the top of the board is Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker.

You might remember Rocker from the 2019 College World Series. A freshman at the time, he threw a no-hitter in the Super Regional, then won both his starts in Omaha, including a dominant performance against Michigan in the finals. Rocker was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, like Alex Faedo for Florida in 2017.

Compared to Faedo, drafted 18th overall by the Tigers that year, Rocker's ceiling is even higher. The son of a former NFL defensive lineman, Rocker is 6'5, 255 lbs. and boasts a fastball that can touch triple digits and a devastating slider. In three starts this year before the season was canceled, he had a 1.80 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 15 innings.

Assuming Rocker goes No. 1 next year, it just so happens that his teammate and rotation-mate could go No. 2: Jack Leiter. You might know Leiter by his last name; his father, Al Leiter, was a two-time All-Star who pitched for 19 years in the majors. And while we're here, we'll mention one more name to know: Florida OF Jud Fabian.

Imagine a rotation headlined by Casey Mize, Kumar Rocker, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning. Imagine a lineup featuring Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson, Jud Fabian and say, AL Player of the Week (!!) Jeimer Candelario. Both scenarios are enticing and altogether possible.

If MLB proceeds as normal and orders the draft based on this year’s standings, the Tigers would currently pick eighth. And you would be rooting against them in their series starting Tuesday night with the Royals — who would currently pick seventh.

But nothing is normal this year. The season is barely a third of its usual length. Commissioner Rob Manfred can order the 2021 draft however he sees fit (with obvious input from the MLBPA), and there's a good chance this will benefit Detroit.

Good fortune? In a draft? For Detroit? Well we're certainly due.

If Manfred goes with cumulative win percentage since 2019, the Tigers (.324) would currently pick first. If he goes with average win percentage over the past two seasons, the Tigers (.364), thanks to their recent slide, would currently pick first. If he goes with some weighted version of the two to account for more recent results, it's safe to say the Tigers would pick at least in the top five.

Maybe Manfred opts for a lottery, like the NBA and NHL. This wouldn't ensure the Tigers of anything, but they'd certainly have a good chance of landing at or near the top of the draft -- this city's lottery history aside. And sure, maybe Manfred just sticks with the normal process. That just doesn't seem likely -- or all that fair -- based on a 60-game season in which several teams won't even play 60 games.

Yeah, we know. We're back to daydreaming about the draft. It sort of sucks. But at least we can do so without enduring the nightmare of another 100-plus loss season. The Tigers were never going to make the playoffs this year, as fun as it was to imagine. And it wouldn't have changed the grand scope of things, anyway.

But another No. 1 pick? Another electric arm in the rotation? Another special bat in the outfield? That accelerates this rebuild, and it's already begun picking up speed. Time to kick it into overdrive.