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The Redemption of Kumar Rocker

The Kumar Rocker-Mets story has been beaten to death with all the concerns about his arm and the Mets failure to sign him. There has been plenty of talk about the Mets lack of later round planning last year which could have financially placed them in a better spot after Rocker’s signing fell through as well as the additional arms they could have placed into their farm system. That isn’t the discussion anymore. Redemption is the story.

Kumar Rocker was drafted third overall to the Texas Rangers in the 2022 MLB Draft after going tenth overall in the previous year’s draft to the New York Mets. The most surface level observation that can be made here is that Rocker was drafted seven spots higher than the year prior. What makes this as shocking as it is was the buzz or lack thereof around him prior to the draft. A brief perusal of the various mock drafts from most coverage of the MLB draft this year would allow you to see an assortment of projected draft positions for Rocker, ranging from the mid-first round to slipping into the early second round with a handful of other pitching prospects generally being ranked higher. Rocker’s selection at third, no pun intended, rocked the draft boards of most experts but is not as surprising as you would think if put into the proper context.

Kumar Rocker pitched for Vanderbilt University from 2019 to 2021 in a rotation including another heavily touted pitching prospect, Jack Leiter. Leiter was selected second overall in the 2021 MLB Draft to, you guessed it, the Texas Rangers. It certainly wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility as the Rangers were scouting Leiter at Vanderbilt, that the Lone Stars were able to get a strong look at Rocker as well. That begs the question of how much, if any, influence Leiter had in Rocker being drafted this high in the first round? If left solely to an unfettered imagination, there is a whole flurry of possibilities however a young and unproven prospect in Double-A ball would have little to no sway in any type of personnel decisions made by the big club. There must be excitement on the Rangers part though, envisioning a future rotation with these former teammates and promising arms. 

What makes Rocker’s journey over the past year redemptive in nature is the bet he took on himself. Rocker could have guaranteed 60% of the financial compensation slotted for his assigned pick value last year had he participated in the MLB pre-draft MRI program and would have garnered an even higher percentage of guaranteed compensation if he participated in the MLB Draft Combine physical in June of this year if, in a worst case scenario, he did not come to terms on a deal with the Rangers. Rocker participated in neither, a move one could call gutsy now but questionable at the time with the lack of solid consensus amongst scouts and front offices regarding his projected draft position. 

Kumar, after not agreeing to a deal with the New York Mets post-draft, elected to have surgery on his right shoulder in what has been described as a minor procedure by his agent Scott Boras. Teams were justifiably concerned with Rocker prior to the Mets drafting him with declining velocity on his pitches in his last year collegiately. Rocker decided to sign with the Tri-City Valley Cats of the independent Frontier League in mid May of this year to demonstrate to Major League clubs that the medical concerns were unfounded. 

Rocker pitched in 20 innings over a span of five games for Tri-City looking to quell the questions about his arm. The Vanderbilt product finished his stint for the Valley Cats boasting an impressive 1.35 ERA, racking up 32 strikeouts and a WHIP of 0.750. This of course is admittedly a small sample size but this could give Texas fans potentially either a September call up with the postseason out of their grasp or a middle relief option in the event that the Rangers are able to climb back into the Wild Card race. 

Kumar Rocker and the Texas Rangers came to terms on a deal July 26th which includes a $5.2 million dollar signing bonus and he will be formally introduced on August 4th. The expectation is that he will either join Single A Hickory or Double A Frisco once he clears the post draft media rounds. You could say Rocker’s redemption as complete or has not yet begun depending on your outlook. 

The Mets chose not to roll the dice on Kumar Rocker’s arm and could prove to be a mistake in the years to come. In a move not out of character for a state known for holding their hand close to the chest, the Rangers made the biggest gamble of the draft putting all their chips in hoping for a royal flush. Let’s hope Rocker’s number isn’t a 2 or a 7.

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