Thursday Thought: Should the Mets have second thoughts about Kumar Rocker?

Jun 25, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores starting pitcher Kumar Rocker (80) pitches
Jun 25, 2021; Omaha, Nebraska, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores starting pitcher Kumar Rocker (80) pitches / Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Mets had a very hectic start to their draft last season. Kumar Rocker was a highly-touted pitcher at Vanderbilt, and expected to be one of the first picks of the 2021 draft. However, due to concerns about his health and velocity, he fell to the Mets at #10 overall.

The Mets’ medical staff was alarmed by something in his medicals, which we recently found out was something involving his shoulder. The Mets didn’t offer Rocker a contract, instead opting to receive a compensation pick in this year’s draft over taking the risk on Rocker’s health. The Mets have two first rounders in the 2022 draft because of that, #11 and #14.

Rocker has been pitching for the Tri-City ValleyCats, an independent team in the Frontier League. Over five starts, he’s thrown 20 innings with an ERA of 1.35. He walked just four batters while striking out 32.

So should the Mets have second thoughts about not signing Kumar Rocker? I’ve gone back and forth on this a lot. 

You might be thinking that the Mets made the right choice. Kumar Rocker, under the advice of his agent, Scott Boras, denied to do the pre-draft medical imaging last spring, which is obviously fishy when you consider his velocity fluctuations at Vanderbilt. Boras and his stable of doctors kept saying that Rocker was healthy, but now we know that he did need surgery, so that was a blatant, boldfaced lie. They also weren't willing to negotiate the signing bonus, even with the knowledge that he was damaged goods.

One talent evaluator said that his velocity is good, but he doesn’t have much movement. This could be a result of the “minor” shoulder surgery he had, which is another thing the evaluator questioned in the tweet below. On Jomboy Media’s prospect podcast, Farm to Fame, Peter Moylan talked about how his arm slot is a little lower now. Obviously his control is fine, with a K/BB of 8-1. While Rocker’s numbers look good in independent ball, you have to take it with a grain of salt. The level of competition there isn’t exactly fierce. It’s a downgrade in competition from the SEC.

On the flip side, you might be thinking the Mets made the wrong choice. After seeing the velocity, stuff, and command in college, the Mets clearly liked him enough to pay him an above slot value bonus. The deal they discussed was $6 million, which was $1.26 million above the slot value for the 10th overall pick (ESPN). That money can’t be used for anything outside draft bonuses, so when you have a talented guy like this, it should be worth the risk.

I see both sides to this debate. It is ridiculous that Boras and Rocker lied about his health, so it’s good that the Mets came down hard on that. But the talent is tantalizing. I was excited when the Mets selected Rocker, but the rollercoaster that followed has been confusing.

Only time will tell if the Mets made the right choice. Rocker is expected to be selected in the first round again this year, as it is a very narrow class in terms of pitching. Jon Morosi even reported that some teams like him enough to call him up this year and use him out of the bullpen. That sounds crazy to me. I guess only time will tell what Rocker becomes, or doesn't, and if the Mets made the right decision, or didn’t.

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