How Rocker shoulder surgery impacts his Draft status

July 3rd, 2022

Teams received medical records relating to Kumar Rocker this weekend, which should enhance the former Vanderbilt right-hander's chances of going in the first round of the 2022 Draft.

It's now known that Rocker had shoulder surgery last September. Multiple clubs contacted by MLB Pipeline said they believed enough teams would be comfortable with his health that he would land somewhere in the first round. Some might consider fast-tracking him to the big leagues as bullpen help this season, while others might shut him down to gear him up for 2023.

After Rocker starred for three years in college, the Mets selected him 10th overall in last year's Draft and the two sides quickly came to a $6 million bonus agreement. But the club didn't like the results of his post-Draft physical, for reasons that never have been made public, and reduced its bonus offer to $0. New York chose to receive the No. 11 pick this year as compensation rather than try to come to a revised arrangement.

Had Rocker participated in MLB's pre-Draft MRI program a year ago, the rules at the time would have mandated that the Mets offer him at least 60 percent of the $4,739,900 assigned pick value ($2,843,940) in order to qualify for a compensation choice if he didn't sign because of concerns about his elbow or shoulder. But he opted not to and also elected not to attend the MLB Draft Combine this June, where he could have taken a pre-Draft physical that would have guaranteed him 75 percent of the assigned value based on where he gets selected later this month.

Rather than return to Vanderbilt with two years of college eligibility remaining, Rocker elected to showcase himself with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League. Pitching once a week beginning on June 3, he made five appearances between three and five innings with Tri-City. He pushed his fastball to 99 mph and snapped off some wipeout sliders at times, posting a 1.35 ERA with a 32/4 K/BB ratio in 20 innings, and is done pitching before the Draft.

With less uncertainty surrounding Rocker's health, he becomes a more attractive option in a 2022 Draft decimated by injuries to potential first-round college pitchers. Alabama left-hander Connor Prielipp didn't pitch in a game this season after having Tommy John surgery last May, though he did bullpen workouts for teams in May and June. Reggie Crawford (Connecticut), Peyton Pallette (Arkansas) and Henry Williams (Duke) had their elbows reconstructed during the offseason, while Hunter Barco (Florida) and Landon Sims (Mississippi State) met the same fate after getting hurt during the season.

Rocker entered 2021 as that Draft's top-rated prospect but his stock dipped after his velocity fluctuated during the season. He's one of the best postseason performers and most famous pitchers in college baseball history. He threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the NCAA super regionals and earned two victories and Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series as a freshman in 2019, then led NCAA Division I in wins (14) and strikeouts (179 in 122 innings, tying teammate Jack Leiter) last year.