Texas Rangers could (eventually) have two top-of-the-line starters in their rotation

Texas Rangers could (eventually) have two top-of-the-line starters in their rotation


Texas is going for it (in a few years).
Image: AP

Finally, the Texas Rangers’ front office is attempting to position the franchise out of American League irrelevance. The team hasn’t won a postseason game since 2015 and, in the seven years since, Texas has tried to revamp its roster multiple times with players like Ian Desmond, Mike Napoli — eligible for the Hall of Fame next year — and Shin-Soo Choo. To no success. Getting near .500 has appeared to be a minor victory. And yet with one move in the MLB Draft, a vision aligned.

The Rangers officially secured what most professional baseball scouts considered crazy a year ago. The prized Vanderbilt duo of Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker both officially signed with the same team. The former Commodores were reunited with Texas after Rocker was selected third overall in the 2022 draft earlier this month and inked with the organization on Tuesday, hauling in a $5.2 signing million bonus.

Texas’ draft strategy was straightforward last year. It was a matter of which Vanderbilt pitcher it took at No. 2 overall. The Rangers chose Leiter and Rocker fell to No. 10 and was selected by the Mets. New York did verbally agree to a deal with a $6 million signing bonus with Rocker, $1.4 million above the No. 10 pick’s value. The Mets pulled their offer after reviewing his medical records, with Rocker not participating in a pre-draft program to make that information available.

Scott Boras, Rocker’s agent, claimed soon after the former Commodore needed “no medical attention.” Rocker did have shoulder surgery last September and returned to baseball with an independent team before this year’s draft. Rocker’s fastball retained its high-end speed, reaching 99 miles per hour.

The unlikely scenario of reuniting Tracy Rocker and Al Leiter’s sons outside of the Southeastern Conference could now be a reality, but a few development years separate both from appearing in the big leagues. Major roadblocks exist to get to that vision, as predicting which minor-league arms turn into major league aces is a glorified crapshoot. At least the Rangers have a tangible path back to the playoffs, evident for any fan of the franchise to see. And some weird analytics-driven answer about exit velocity isn’t needed.

Two guys with top-end rotation potential who can feed off each other are under the same roof again. And it gives the Rangers a chance to not have to beat teams primarily from the batter’s box to win a title. Texas’ pitching staffs over the last decade featured great outings from Yu Darvish, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and more, yet didn’t yield a World Series victory because of a lack of depth. The lack of back-end rotation talent has been a thorn in Texas’ side since the franchise moved away from the nation’s capital in the early 1970s.

Texas was one strike away from winning the World Series in 2011 twice, both in Game 6 against the Cardinals. And it didn’t get the job done. There are plenty of fingers to point for not getting the win, including with the Rangers’ pitching, and a whole franchise deep dive doesn’t need to happen for one pitch changing the trajectory of the team forever.

The odd comparison for what the Rangers can begin to look like is the team that smashed them in the 2010 World Series. The San Francisco Giants beat Texas in five for that championship in a season-ending series that probably lasted one game too many. Here’s the Giants rotation that year: “Big Time Timmy Jim” Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner. There’s no downtime. And San Francisco also won the World Series in 2012 and 2014 by basing its future plans around young, dominant pitching and filling out the rest of its staff with bonafide experience.

I think most baseball fans, myself included, expected the Rangers to select Elijah Green with the No. 3 pick. You get a risky, long-term project, but one that if it pays off is a cornerstone in your lineup for at least a decade. Green was the best pure batter in the draft and went to the Nationals at No. 5. The Rocker selection was a blindside, but a rewarding one for Texas. It pulled off the inconceivable.

Does the Leiter-Rocker team-up come close to correcting the missteps since the 2011 ALCS victory over Detroit? Of course not, but this does beat mediocrity. Swinging and missing is better than not trying at all. Look at what the Royals did (or didn’t do) for three decades prior to its back-to-back World Series appearances in 2014 and 2015. It’s now obvious the Rangers have some sort of larger game plan with Rocker joining the fold. 



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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.