When Mike Baxter stops to consider what the Mets have received with their top pick in this year’s draft, the former outfielder sees glimpses of the pitcher behind whom his defining big league moment occurred.
It’s not to say Kumar Rocker will have Johan Santana’s career, but Baxter, an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, said the two share similar personality traits.
“The Mets are getting a very good competitor who has shown a fiber for the big game,” said Baxter, a Queens native who played for the Mets from 2011-13 and whose lunging catch in left field (on which he was injured) helped preserve the only no-hitter in franchise history, thrown by Santana on June 1, 2012.
“There was no moment that was too big for [Rocker] from the second he stepped on campus. That is definitely inside of him and I do think there is a great value to that. He likes that, he’s a great personality with the guys in the clubhouse, he was the core of the team, but there is a ton of charisma to him on the field and to see him in a market like ours in New York, I think it’s a perfect fit.”
Rocker was projected, earlier this year, to be a higher pick in the draft, but concerns about his velocity and the odds of signing him may have caused his stock to drop, allowing the Mets the opportunity for a potential steal.
Baxter, the hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Vanderbilt — which won the College World Series in Rocker’s freshman season, 2019 — said the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker has all the physical attributes to succeed.
“You are getting maybe a traditional workhorse from a body standpoint,” Baxter said. “I think you are seeing smaller be OK these days, but this is a big man. It’s a big man and he gets down the hill fast, there is a lot of energy to him. As he settles into pro ball and learns how to get on that schedule, I think you will see an uptick in the kind of consistency in the offering as he settles into that life.”
Baxter said the expectation should be a low-to-mid 90s fastball from Rocker with the potential for growth, and a “very good” breaking ball.
“When he’s taking the mound you are going to get his best,” Baxter said. “He’s just a guy who is really motivated by winning. I think he will connect with the fan base on a deep level, just because of the way that he attacks the game.”
Baxter watched as Vanderbilt’s best two players were selected within the first 10 picks of the draft. The other was Jack Leiter, whose father, Al, pitched for the Mets and Yankees. Jack Leiter went to the Rangers with the second-overall pick.
“Both of those guys, it’s a similar story on how they showed up [at Vanderbilt], deciding to turn down a lot of money in high school,” Baxter said. “I think any time you get kids that do that, they show up, and then they come out better inside of the draft, better prepared to be a big leaguer, I think it’s very powerful.
“It’s powerful for the future. I think it shows a path for a high-end high school kid who wants to get a degree and play baseball and it will work out, so there is a lot to that.”
If Baxter follows Rocker’s professional career more closely it will be because he’s playing for Baxter’s former (and hometown) team.
“It’s cool to see,” Baxter said. “I want him to get his feet under him and learn how to be a pro and hopefully he can contribute fast for the Mets, it would be great.”
The Mets’ picks on Day 3 of the draft included RHP Trey McLoughlin (11th round) and INF Justin Guerrera (20th round). Both played at Fairfield University.
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