Before this weekend, Kumar Rocker hadn't started a baseball game since the 2021 College World Series. One year off for any pitcher is a significant layoff, though in the 12 months since he last took the mound for Vanderbilt, Rocker has gone on one hell of a professional odyssey. Rocker was selected 10th overall by the Mets in the 2021 amateur draft, only for the Mets to decide not to offer him a contract with an expected signing bonus of $6 million out of a combination of skepticism over his ability to hold up long-term and good old fashioned anti-labor draft-pick arbitrage.
Billionaire Mets owner Steve Cohen made that last bit explicit when he explained that he passed on having the coolest college player in a decade into his organization because he can only conceive of him as an inhuman asset. And so Rocker, an undeniably talented pitcher, was forced into a long layoff ahead of the 2022 draft. Last month, he signed with the independent Frontier League's Tri-City ValleyCats to prepare for said draft, and on Saturday he made his first start, against the Trois-Rivières Aigles. Through his four innings of work, Rocker showed he's absolutely still a top prospect.
Rocker struck out six batters, the first of whom sat looking at a 97 mph. He got through his first three innings relatively efficiently, using 38 pitches before needing 22 more to get out of the fourth. He tossed 43 of his 60 pitches for strikes, while allowing one home run and hitting one batter. He did not walk anyone, though scouts who attended the game say his control loosened in the final frame. That's not entirely surprising, since, again, he has not started a game since June 2021. The thing you want to see is velocity, which he brought.
Rocker hit 99 with his fastball, and showed off a nice slider and change. After allowing a single to the game's second batter, he retired eight straight. "It was a long year, a lot of work put in," Rocker told the Associated Press. "I’m glad to see good results. I had a process. When I got the start date, it was attack, attack, attack—go out there and do my thing."
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Rocker will not have to be a ValleyCat for long—barely enough time to remember what the Tri Cities are, let alone the Trois Rivières—as he'll almost certainly start his MLB journey in earnest next month. Plenty of scouts were on hand for the game, and even though we still don't know whether or not there was anything legitimately alarming on Rocker's medical evaluation, he looked good yesterday in front of big-league evaluators. Hopefully he winds up in an organization who wants a cool pitcher and not an opportunity to do weird leveraged arbitrage, or worse yet, the Oakland Athletics.