How Kumar Rocker went from top-10 pick in 2021 to one of the biggest mysteries of the MLB draft in 2022


How Kumar Rocker went from top-10 pick in 2021 to one of the biggest mysteries of the MLB draft in 2022

It’s almost there. Yes, Major League Baseball’s draft (slated to begin Sunday, July 17), but also the conclusion of Kumar Rocker’s year-long odyssey that has made him a relative mystery from the most exposed perspective in the class.

Rocker has been on the national radar since 2019 when he threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the NCAA Super Regionals as a member of Vanderbilt’s staff. Last summer, he was drafted by the New York Mets with the 10th pick overall in the 2021 MLB Draft. However, a post-draft investigation revealed something the Mets didn’t want to see and caused negotiations between the two sides to stall. The Mets were compensated with the 11th pick in this summer’s draft, while Rocker retained his draft eligibility for another season, ensuring his third pick. (He was a late high school Colorado Rockies pick but did not sign.)

Rocker had a few options, including returning to Vanderbilt for another season or pursuing a professional career by joining an independent or international league team. (If you’re wondering how a pro stays draft-eligible…well, welcome to the MLB monopoly.) He opted to stay out of public life for the first half of the year, leading a senior scouting official with one Team to tell CBS Sports that he was the hardest player to get new information on this draft cycle.

Over the weekend, ESPN reported that Rocker underwent shoulder surgery last September, which he described as “minor” on his right arm. He has since resurfaced on a Proof of Life Tour as a member of the Tri-City Valley Cats, an independent team in the Frontier League. He added four starts to his résumé as a valley cat and amassed a 1.35 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 20 innings against underperforming competition. The reality is Rocker’s performance in the Frontier League means less than giving teams some level of reassurance about his current well-being. In that regard, his time with the Valley Cats was a success: A scout present at one of his starts accelerated his fastball to 99 mph and rated his slider a 70 on the 20-80 scale, or a plus. plus an offering that borders on the elite. If Rocker were compromised, it’s obvious that his quality of stuff would show it as well.

Still, there remains a gulf between the public’s perception of Rocker — that he’s essentially a bona fide ace in the making — and the industry’s more measured reading of him. The difference lies in the reservations scouts and analysts have about the depth of his arsenal (he lacks a good switch) and how his mechanics affect his command and long-term durability. (The latter topic of conversation is unlikely to fade anytime soon given last summer’s Mets rating.)

Still, here at CBS Sports, we ranked Rocker as the 25th best prospect in that class, realizing that it feels silly to obsess over it could happen with his arm when almost every other prominent pitcher in this class has had elbow or shoulder problems. Also, every pitcher is at risk of injury; that’s the warp and weft of things. So our expectation for him is that some teams will roll the dice before the end of the first round, albeit in all likelihood outside the top 10.

Thereafter? Who knows what will become of Rocker. We know it will be difficult for any collegiate player to top him when it comes to the amount and duration of attention he’s managed to attract before ever throwing a minor league pitch. It’s been one hell of a grueling ride over the last three years, but if we had to guess, Rocker’s probably excited to get closer to his goal, wherever that ends up.

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