The Rangers and No. 3 overall draft pick Kumar Rocker have agreed to terms on a $5.2MM bonus, reports Jon Heyman of the New York Post. The right-hander’s bonus clocks in well south of the pick’s $7,587,600 slot value, which should afford the Rangers flexibility further down their board. Rocker is represented by the Boras Corporation.
Rocker was the No. 10 overall pick by the Mets a year ago and was reportedly set to ink a $6MM bonus before medical concerns scuttled that deal. He’d eventually go on to have an arthroscopic procedure on his right shoulder last August. Rather than returning to Vanderbilt for his senior season, Rocker instead opted to pitch for the Tri-City Valley Cats of the independent Frontier League (an official partner league of MLB). Health hasn’t looked to be an issue at all for Rocker this time year; he’s pitched 20 innings for the Valley Cats and turned in a 1.35 ERA with a dominant 32-to-4 K/BB ratio while reportedly running his heater back up to 99 mph.
The selection by the Rangers improbably reunites Vanderbilt’s 2021 co-aces, as Texas took right-hander Jack Leiter with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft just last season. Leiter and Rocker were widely viewed as two of the top arms in last year’s draft — evidenced by their top-ten selections — and will now give the Rangers a pair of high-ceiling arms upon which to build. (Leiter certainly seems pleased with the Rangers’ selection, celebrating the pick with a pair of tweets last night.)
Rocker, 22, starred alongside Leiter for the entirety of his three years at Vanderbilt, pitching to a 2.89 ERA with a 33.2% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate in 236 1/3 innings for the Commodores in a tough SEC setting. The 6’5″, 245-pound righty has an upper-90s heater, and scouting reports from Baseball America, The Athletic, ESPN, MLB.com and FanGraphs credit him with a slider that draws 60 to 70 grades on the 20-80 scale. Rocker has also worked with a curveball and changeup, both drawing at least average ratings in most reports.
While Rocker was one of the most recognizable names in this year’s draft, his selection at No. 3 overall nonetheless registered as a draft-night surprise. Most rankings had him as a late first-rounder or even in the second round, considering last summer’s shoulder surgery and some oft-cited inconsistency in his stuff at Vanderbilt. The Rangers were clearly heartened by Rocker’s strong showing in the Frontier League, and they’ll also now have the option to use the savings on their No. 3 selection to scoop up some lingering, hard-to-sign talents who remain on the board.
Despite picking at No. 3, Texas entered the draft with just the 14th-largest bonus pool — a reflection of the fact that they surrendered their second- and third-round picks (and the associated bonus pool allotments) to sign free agents Corey Seager and Marcus Semien this past winter. Because of those forfeitures, Rocker remains the only selection Texas has made thus far. The Rangers’ next pick will come in Round 4, and there are still a few highly regarded high school options on the board, headlined by Clemson-committed righty Brock Porter, who’s regarded as a first-round talent but was not selected on Day 1 of the draft.