NEW YORK -- One of the most anticipated Mets Draft picks in years will not join the organization. Following a review of Kumar Rocker’s medical information, the club let Sunday’s deadline pass without signing its first-round Draft selection to a professional contract.
Multiple sources said that the Mets were unaware of Rocker’s arm issues until he traveled to New York in mid-July for his post-Draft physical. Although the two sides could have negotiated a lesser deal than the $6 million pact they agreed to around Draft time, Mets officials were concerned enough by Rocker’s medicals that they did not even make him an offer, according to a source, as they preferred having the No. 11 pick in next year’s Draft instead.
That selection will become their compensation for not signing Rocker, a Vanderbilt star whose stock dropped when his velocity dipped during his junior season. Although Rocker’s radar gun readings ticked back up by the end of the spring, he was unable to recapture the upper-90s heat that had initially made him a potential No. 1 overall pick.
“This is clearly not the outcome we had hoped for and wish Kumar nothing but success moving forward,” Mets general manager Zack Scott said in a statement. “We’re excited about the players we have signed and look forward to watching them develop and contribute to the organization in the years to come.”
Rocker could have avoided the situation by consenting to an MLB-sponsored program that shares the medical information of top Draft pitchers, but he risked falling precipitously on Draft boards if his MRIs revealed significant elbow or shoulder issues. As such, sources said that Rocker did not participate, which allowed the Mets to decline signing him without even making an offer. Per MLB rules, they would have needed to offer him a deal worth at least 40% of his $4.74 million slot value had he participated in the program. But they also might not have drafted him at all if he did, based on his medicals.
It turned out to be a complicated situation, from which the Mets extricated themselves prior to Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Simply put, team officials believed Rocker’s injury issues were serious enough to value a future pick more than him -- this was not simply a matter of a player needing Tommy John surgery, like Mets second-rounder J.T. Ginn did in 2020. (The Mets selected Ginn despite that injury, and he is now their fifth-ranked prospect.)
It’s the same tack the Astros took after declining to sign No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken in 2014. A year later, they selected Alex Bregman with their compensatory pick at No. 2 overall. Similarly, after declining to sign first-rounder Mark Appel in the 2012 Draft, the Pirates took Austin Meadows with their compensatory pick. Toronto’s decision not to sign Tyler Beede in the 2011 Draft led to them taking Marcus Stroman at No. 22 overall one year later.
The prospect of doing something similar next year excites team officials more than the idea of hoping Rocker can overcome his medical issues.
As for Rocker, he is eligible to enter the Draft again next year. A source indicated to MLB.com's Jon Morosi that Rocker doesn't plan on returning to Vanderbilt. Signing with a professional league outside the U.S. is one option under consideration, but by current rules he’d need to go through the 2022 Draft to enter Major League Baseball.
Over his three seasons at Vanderbilt, Rocker went 28-10 with a 2.89 ERA in 39 starts and three relief appearances, including a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the 2019 NCAA Super Regional against Duke. In a statement, Rocker’s advisor, Scott Boras, claimed that Rocker “is healthy according to independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons,” who found no significant difference between MRIs taken in 2018 and ‘21.
“Kumar requires no medical attention,” Boras continued, “and will continue to pitch in the regular course as he prepares to begin his professional career.”