Right-hander Kumar Rocker, whom the Mets selected with the No. 10 overall pick last summer but ultimately did not sign, is now mulling the idea of pitching with an independent team before re-entering the 2022 draft, Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin tells Aria Gerson of The Tennessean.
Prior to the 2021 college season, Rocker and teammate Jack Leiter were both among the many names rumored to be in consideration for the No. 1 overall selection in the draft. He instead “fell” to the tenth overall selection — Louisville catcher Henry Davis went first overall to the Pirates; Leiter went second to the Rangers — and within hours of the draft was expected finalize an over-slot agreement with the Mets. Rocker’s No. 10 slot came with a value of more than $4.7MM, but the Mets were said to be preparing to sign the righty for a $6MM bonus that was more commensurate with his potential top-of-the-draft status.
However, as the signing deadline approached weeks later, the reports emerged that the Mets had elbow concerns following Rocker’s physical. A contract was never finalized, and Rocker went unsigned. Then-general manager Zack Scott stated after the fact that failing to reach a deal was “clearly not the outcome we had hoped for,” adding that the team “wish[ed] Kumar nothing but success moving forward.” Rocker’s advisor, Scott Boras, issued his own statement at the time, wherein he declared that “independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons” had proven Rocker to be healthy. The Mets received the No. 11 pick in the 2022 draft as compensation for not signing Rocker.
Whatever triggered the Mets’ concern, it hasn’t resulted in any major physical setbacks for Rocker since the draft. There’s no indication that surgery was ever required, and Corbin tells Gerson that Rocker, who did not return to pitch for the Commodores in his senior season, “looks as good as he’s ever looked” and appears to be in good health.
Rocker’s path to reentering the draft would be uncommon but not unheard of. Back in 2005, after right-hander Luke Hochevar controversially chose not sign with the Dodgers following his No. 40 selection, he went on to pitch for the Fort Worth Cats of the independent American Association in the spring of 2006. The Royals selected Hochevar with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006.
A similar scenario unfolded with right-hander Aaron Crow, who did not sign with the Nationals after being selected ninth overall in 2008. Crow signed with the Fort Worth Cats and was selected 12th overall by Kansas City in 2009. Back in 1997, outfielder J.D. Drew followed the indie ball path after choosing not to sign with the Phillies. More recently, righty Carter Stewart signed a six-year contract worth more than $7MM with the SoftBank Hawks in Japan after failing to come to an agreement with the Braves, who’d selected him at No. 8 overall in 2018. As with Rocker, medical concerns following the player’s physical derailed talks between Atlanta and Stewart.
It’s anyone’s guess how the entire gambit will work out for Rocker — if he even pitches on the independent circuit at all this season. That will largely depend on his performance and even more so on his health. So long as Rocker’s stuff looks similar to his Vandy days, he should still be viewed as a first-round talent. The 6’5″, 245-pound righty was dominant with the Commodores in 2021, after all, pitching to a 2.73 ERA with 179 strikeouts and 39 walks through 122 innings (36.5% strikeout rate, 7.9% walk rate). Scouting reports on Rocker credit him with a plus fastball that can reach the upper-90s, a plus-plus slider (70 on the 20-80 scale) and an average or better changeup.