BOGART, Ga. – Kumar Rocker isn’t usually this tense.
He sits back on the padded leather chair inside of a conference room at North Oconee High School on an overcast afternoon on April 26, smiles and apologizes profusely for being stumped on where he’s at with his decision of either going to Vanderbilt to play baseball or signing a professional contract.
The MLB Draft runs from June 4-6.
Such is the life of the No. 15 overall prospect in Baseball America’s Top 300, who throws 98 MPH fastballs as a right-hand pitcher.
“I probably get asked that question two or three times a day,” Rocker said. “It’s a big decision and, to be honest, I really have no clue what I want to do. Like none.”
Typically, that’s a go-to response elite players use to keep the public at bay about their true intentions, but from the countless deep sighs to the head scratches to the somber tone, it’s clear that the decision is genuinely weighing on Rocker.
“People have no idea what it’s like,” Rocker said. “It’s a lot to handle.”
To the casual observer it would almost seem like a no-brainer: Sign a multi-million dollar contract as opposed to heading off to college where you won’t even be eligible for the draft until you finish your junior year or turn 21.
But Rocker isn’t the average 18-year-old.
His father Tracy is a college football Hall of Famer and former NFL player who now serves as the defensive line coach at Tennessee. Tracy and Kumar’s mother Lu have instilled the value of education in him from a very early age.
“Because of that I don’t think like most people do,” Rocker said. “I actually like the thought of the college life. I like going to classes and hanging out with friends and, basically, not being an adult right away. On the other hand, going pro has been a dream of mine for a long time. There’s a lot to weigh out; it’s not just about the money.”
That said, the money’s there for the taking.
Last year high school players were chosen 1-2-3 in the MLB Draft for the first time since 1990.
Hunter Greene, a pitcher and shortstop from Notre Dame High School (Sherman Oaks, Calif.,), was picked No. 2 overall by the Cincinnati Reds and signed a minor league contract that included a $7.23 million signing bonus, the highest amount since draft spending constraints began in 2012.
BaseballAmerica.com has Rocker being selected No. 8 overall by the Atlanta Braves in its latest mock draft.
“He just has some of the loudest, raw stuff of any player in this class,” said BaseballAmerica.com national writer Carlos Collazo. “Ask any scout who has some of the best stuff and most will say Kumar. Combine his pitching ability with his size and stature and it’s really easy to like.”
While Kumar doesn’t lean either way with the decision, that’s not the case with Lu. She wants him to go to Vanderbilt.
“What we’ve always taught Kumar is to look at the big picture,” Lu said. “You might have the million dollar lottery ticket, but how long does that last? We’re just big on education. He doesn’t know what he wants to do and that’s OK because he doesn’t have to know right now. I just tell him to pray about it because God will make it so plain for him. The reality is that it’s a win-win either way.”
That’s the part that Kumar said he tries to keep at the forefront of his mind. The decision-making process has put him in a reflective state.
He often reminisces about playing for Ole Miss head baseball coach Mike Bianco’s father Ron as a pudgy 9-year-old kid with the Oxford Rebels and learning to be a ferocious competitor. He can still hear Lu reminding him that “A-Rod hits 300 balls a day” while hitting off a tee into a net in his backyard when he was just 10.
“And now I’m in position to accomplish my dream,” Kumar said. “It’s just surreal. I’ve just been praying about what to do and I feel like I’ll just know when I’m supposed to know. Something will just have to click for me.”
In the meantime, he’s doing his due diligence and gathering as much information as possible from friends who have gone to college and friends who have gone pro.
Kumar has even communicated with Greene and gotten advice.
“Hunter has been good at giving me things to think about,” Kumar said. “He just tells me to take my time and make good relationships. It’s been helpful to get his perspective. It’s just a lot to think about.”
North Oconee coach Jay Lasley knew coming into the season about the inevitable stress Kumar would be under and for that reason decided to focus on fun.
“Wherever he goes from here the game changes so we want him happy right now,” Lasley said. “I always ask him if he’s having fun because he’s the type of kid that you never have to worry about working hard. He’s one of the best leaders I’ve ever coached and he’s the biggest cheerleader we have. He’s gonna make the best decision for him, but for now we just want him to be a carefree high school senior.”
For the most part, Kumar has taken heed to that advice and channeled any lingering stress into vying for his first state title.
From waking up before the sun rises for runs and pushing through grueling weight room sessions before the first bell rings for school, Kumar has been on a mission all season.
Last week he led the Titans to a sweep of West Hall (Oakwood, Ga.) in the first round of the playoffs. Kumar threw a no-hitter with one walk and 11 strikeouts in a 12-0 win in game one.
He had never been past the first round in his high school career.
The Titans will travel to Heritage (Conyers, Ga.) for the second round on Thursday.
Call it jumping the gun or counting the eggs before they’ve hatched, but he’s already thought about how he’d react after getting the last out in the state championship game.
“I wouldn’t even celebrate, I’m gonna drop down and cry,” Kumar said with a laugh. “I honestly would though; I mean that would be so big for me. I’ve got a big decision to make, but either way I know it’ll be the right decision for me. I’ve just got to remember that.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY