Cowboys prepping to face Vanderbilt’s ace pitchers
Oklahoma State outfielder Cade Cabbiness remembers well the first time he saw Kumar Rocker.
Playing a fall scrimmage at Vanderbilt a few years ago, a 6-foot-5 right-handed freshman strolled to the mound.
There was instant swagger.
“He was just in his first fall but he already had that presence about him,” Cabbinness said.
Then Rocker went to work ahead of his breakout rookie season in which he was named the College World Series MVP.
“He pitches the same way,” Cabbiness said. “He's going to come at you. To no one's surprise, he's got good stuff. He knows it too, so he's going to just come at you.”
This weekend, Cabbiness and the Cowboys get another crack at Kumar and Vanderbilt. This time, it’s on a big stage of a top-10 matchup inside O’Brate Stadium.
Kumar and fellow right-hander Jack Leiter are projected as possibly the top two picks in the upcoming MLB Draft.
They’ll bring swagger and elite pitching against the Cowboys.
“Those are the challenges you want,” OSU coach Josh Holliday said. “You gotta see where you’re at, get that idea of what it takes to be at the peak of your performance. If the pre-conference schedule can show you that before conference play, I think that’s a plus.”
No. 2-ranked Vanderbilt and the No. 9-ranked Cowboys are set for a three-game series that willl be the toughest test to date for a red-hot OSU team that has dominated a strong schedule. The Cowboys are off to their best start in Holliday’s tenure, a 10-0-1 record.
None of those opponents were Vanderbilt, though.
Vanderbilt is 10-1 and still technically the defending national champion after last season’s cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Offensively, it’s slugging percentage is .570 with 16 home runs.
And that pitching staff is elite.
Rocker is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-hander with a fastball that routinely sets in the mid-90s. He has been considered the best pitching prospect in the country for nearly two years.
In the 2019 super regional, he threw a 131-pitch no-hitter.
This season, he’s off to a sparkling start, having allowed just an unearned run, six hits and seven walks in three starts. He’s struck out 25 batters.
And Jack Leiter, the son of longtime MLB pitcher Al Leiter, might have surpassed Rocker as the top prospect. The 6-foot-1 righty has allowed two runs — only one earned — five hits and seven walks in three starts. He’s struck out 26.
Cabbiness said he doesn’t know much about Leiter. He might have faced him in the 2019 fall scrimmage at Kansas City. Though, Cabbiness did listen to Leiter recently speak on the Starting 9 podcast.
“It seems like he's very serious about his preparation, he seems to always be prepared, whether it's mental or physical,” Cabbiness said. “He's got a good routine and he sticks to it and seems like an awesome guy. Very good pitcher.
“It's going to be fun. It's going to be a good weekend. There's going to be a lot of high-level baseball out there this weekend.”
The Cowboys are off to a strong start with their own pitchers.
Justin Campbell struck out 14 in Tuesday’s win at Oral Roberts. The weekend rotation of Parker Scott, Justin Wrobleski and Bryce Osmond have allowed eight combined runs.
This is a huge opportunity for the Cowboys’ pitchers as well. Match Rocker and Leiter, and people will notice.
“If you're going against like Kumar or Leiter, you've got to rise and step up in the big spotlight and kind of compete against them and show them what you can do as well,” OSU pitcher Brett Standlee said.