When the calendar flipped to September 2020, the Angels were 12-24, tied with Boston, and only a game and a half ahead of Pittsburgh in the Major-League basement. All of a sudden, the team got hot. Jared Walsh added another element to the teams offense, Justin Upton found his power swing, the rotation saw consistency from Griffin Canning and Andrew Heaney, and Mike Mayers became a revelation in the bullpen. The team that was vying for the first overall pick in the 2021 draft ended up three games out of the playoffs with a 26-34 record.
As much of a fan, I was of the expanded playoff format for the sake of seeing more teams and more baseball, a team that is eight games under .500 has no purpose being in the playoffs. Had the Angels made the playoffs, they would have been likely knocked out in the first series by a much better team, and while the run was exciting, they lost valuable draft position. While at the ninth selection, there will likely be a good share of talent, there is a slim chance they will get either of the top two pitching prospects in the draft.
That valuable position could have helped the Angels pick one of the two studs from Vanderbilt, Kumar Rocker or Jack Leiter.
Kumar Rocker-Vanderbilt (No.1 MLB.com, No.1 Prospects Live)
- 2019: (19 appearances) 99.2 IP, 3.25 ERA 1.094 WHIP, 10.3 K/9
- 2020: (4 appearances) 15.0 IP, 1.80 ERA, 0.933 WHIP, 16.8 K/9
- 2021: (4 appearances) 23.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.696 WHIP, 13.3 K/9
Sorry Angels fans, but I believe the team’s odds to win the World Series this year is better than Kumar falling all the way to them at No.9 in the draft. The consensus number one pick in 2021 is the complete package on the mound, mixing in a mid-high 90s fastball with a nasty slider. Both pitches received a 65 grade on MLB.com’s 20-80 grade, while Rocker has focused on improving his changeup as a quality third pitch.
Angles: Vanderbilt continues to produce top pitching prospects
The Angels may have had a chance in acquiring Rocker had they not gone on that great run in September last season. While they probably still would have finished ahead of Pittsburgh in the standings, the Pirates are currently in full-rebuild and could still commit to the No.2 overall prospect Jordan Lawler as a high school Shortstop. Do not expect Rocker to be available at No.9.
Jack Leiter-Vanderbilt (No.7 MLB.com, No.3 Prospects Live)
- 2020: (4 appearances) 15.2 IP, 1.72 ERA, 0.830 WHIP, 12.6 K/9
- 2021: (4 appearances) 20.0 IP, 0.45 ERA, 0.850 WHIP, 14.9 K/9
The son of former Major League All-Star Al Leiter, Jack has been lights out in his very small sample size since joining Vandy. Pairing with teammate Rocker, Leiter creates a great 1-2 punch for the Commodores every weekend/series during the college baseball season. While MLB.com has him ranked at No.7 on their list, the mix of the pedigree and talent makes it hard to believe Leiter will fall, let alone No.9 to the Halos.
Both Vandy starters have continued to dominant since the start of the NCAA season as they put on what will be their encore performances before entering the 2021 draft. Both are, of course uber-talented, and realistically could be ready to help their future squads during the 2022 season. While most of the league’s bottom feeders are in the midst of rebuilds, the immediate turnaround could easily help the Angels compete in the coming years.