Draft prospect Kumar Rocker has signed with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League, according to a club announcement. He’ll use the league as a showcase to demonstrate his health and current form in advance of July’s draft.
Rocker has been one of the more talented and well-known draft prospects in recent years. Regarded as a possible first-round talent out of high school, Rocker matriculated to Vanderbilt after not agreeing to terms with a major league team on draft day. The 6’5″ right-hander stepped right into the Commodores’ rotation and would spend three seasons there. He posted a 3.25 ERA over 99 2/3 innings as a freshman, capping off the season with an utterly dominant 19-strikeout no-hitter in an elimination game against Duke.
Vanderbilt would go on to defeat Michigan in that year’s College World Series. From 2020-21, Rocker teamed with Jack Leiter — who would eventually be selected second overall by the Rangers — at the top of the rotation. The 2020 college baseball season was shortened because of the pandemic, but Rocker returned with a 2.73 ERA and 179 strikeouts over 122 frames last year. Vanderbilt finished national runner-up, and Rocker headed into last summer’s draft as a possible top five selection.
The Mets wound up selecting him with the 10th overall pick, with reports suggesting they were prepared to offer an overslot $6MM signing bonus. New York took issue with something in his throwing elbow during a post-draft medical evaluation, however, and wound up pulling their offer entirely. The Mets received the 11th selection in the upcoming draft as compensation. Unsurprisingly, Rocker’s camp pushed back against the idea that he was a particular health risk, with advisor Scott Boras saying last summer the hurler “is healthy according to independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons.”
Rocker elected not to return to Vanderbilt, preferring to prepare for the 2022 draft on his own. Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin suggested in February he may eventually pursue an opportunity in independent ball, and that’s the course of action he’s chosen. Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports (on Twitter) that Rocker will begin pitching in games for the ValleyCats around a month from now, giving him about four weeks of game action before draft day.
Baseball America placed Rocker 35th on its latest ranking of this summer’s top draft prospects. Obviously, much of his stock will depend on how concerned various team medical personnel are during their evaluations of his elbow. This is generally regarded as a weak year for college pitching, so the 22-year-old Rocker would be one of the top nearer-term arms in the class if his arsenal is intact and the medical evaluations check out.