It's been since 1974 when the Texas Rangers last picked as high as second overall in the MLB Draft. Seldom have the Rangers had an opportunity to add an impact prospect, only having seven top-five picks since they selected Tommy Boggs at No. 2 in the '74 draft.
A few of the top-five picks have bore wonderful fruit for Texas. While Tommy Boggs didn't live up to the hype of a second overall pick, the Rangers hit on Bobby Witt (1985, third overall), who had a 16-year big league career. In addition, they struck gold on Kevin Brown (1986, fourth overall) and Mark Teixeira (2001, fifth overall).
The Rangers have also missed on a few top-five selections, most recently in 2015 when they selected Dillion Tate fourth overall. The injury-ravaged 2014 season could have helped add an impact prospect with such a high pick, but Tate has struggled to get to the big leagues and it wasn't until last season that he earned a regular spot in the Baltimore Orioles bullpen.
Not exactly what the Rangers envisioned. And that's what makes this year's selection so, so crucial.
The Rangers have to get this right.
"Not just the first pick, but we pick second in every round," said Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels. "The opportunity ahead of us is significant, in the short term and long term. We will add some really impactful talent and quality people to the organization. We're doing a lot of work on that right now."
At the top of this year's draft class stands a trio of prospects that are separating themselves from everyone else: RHPs Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, Vanderbilt's one-two punch on the mound, and shortstop Jordan Lawlar out of Dallas Jesuit (and Vanderbilt-commit).
Kumar Rocker has consistently been atop draft boards throughout the game. He has an established pedigree at the college level, especially pitching in the SEC. He has a deadly fastball-slider combination, coupled with a 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame that scouts love.
Rocker is enjoying a wonderful junior season. He's 6-0 with a 0.73 ERA, a 0.76 WHIP, and 53 strikeouts in 37 innings.
Jack Leiter, son of longtime big league pitcher Al Leiter, has been a first-round talent since high school. He was drafted in the 20th round by the New York Yankees in 2019, but decided to follow through with his commitment to Vanderbilt.
The COVID-19 pandemic derailed the college season in 2020, cutting off any chances for Leiter to improve his draft stock. However, he is making up for lost time with a phenomenal sophomore season. He's also 6-0, with a 0.25 ERA (one earned run in 36 innings), a 0.56 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts.
Most recently, Leiter pitched a no-hitter against South Carolina on March 20, and followed that up with seven no-hit innings in Friday night's win over Missouri. Leiter was only pulled from the game due to his pitch count (101 pitches after his 124 pitches six days prior).
While Leiter has a deeper repertoire than Rocker, he lacks the size and experience of his Vanderbilt teammate.
Of course, if a ballclub has the chance to draft the next great five-tool player, they seldom pass it up. Having an opportunity to potentially draft the next great hitter in the game is could change the fortunes of the franchise, even if the player is on the prep side, not the college side.
Jordan Lawlar has earned Bobby Witt Jr. comparisons thus far, which should catch the attention of baseball fans in Texas. The DFW-native shows a great hit tool with plenty of pop. He also has flashed 70-grade speed, and plays the most difficult position on the field. According to Baseball America, Lawlar's tools "aren't quite as loud" as Witt Jr.'s, but he is a more advanced hitter at this stage, and has the potential to be at least above average in all five tools.
Any time a legitimate five-tool player is within a ballclub's grasp, there better be a good reason they didn't pounce on it.
Here is where Rangers fans will shout, We have plenty of shortstops. We need PITCHING!
Rangers fans are correct regarding the depth at shortstop on the farm. Behind big league shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, there is Davis Wendzel, Anderson Tejeda, Chris Seise, Jonathan Ornelas, Maximo Acosta, and Luisangel Acuña — little brother of Atlanta Braves superstar Ronald Acuña Jr.
It's also no secret that the Rangers have had issues developing pitching for the better part of a decade. However, as one Rangers executive has told me, you can never have too many quality shortstops.
Obviously, the Pittsburgh Pirates will have the toughest choice with the first overall pick, having the opportunity to select any of those three prospects. They'll make the Rangers' choice a bit easier, either having an opportunity to draft one of the Vanderbilt arms or Lawlar, as long as Pittsburgh doesn't surprise everyone by taking him over Rocker and Leiter.
Listen, a lot can happen between now and the MLB Draft in July. It is way too early to be declaring the Rangers have to take a certain player at No. 2 or they screwed it up.
However, the Rangers can't be let off the hook either. There will be enormous pressure to make sure who they take second overall will be a player who can truly impact the direction of the franchise. Whether that's the next great pitcher or the next five-tool superstar, that's for the Rangers to figure out.