Rocker shows scouts 'big-time' velo in indy ball debut

June 5th, 2022

TROY, N.Y. -- When Kumar Rocker stepped onto the rubber for the first time in a year, the radar guns popped out, at least a dozen of them. And then the readings started coming in: 95 mph. 97 mph. 99 mph.

Scouts from a host of Major League teams turned up Saturday to watch Rocker's debut for the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League. Rocker is there, in upstate New York, to showcase his stuff as he prepares to re-enter the MLB Draft in July.

"It's always good to have those eyes on you, to have an opportunity to play at the next level," Rocker said after his start. "So that was amazing."

It was Rocker's first game since the 2021 College World Series. The former Vanderbilt ace was drafted No. 10 overall by the Mets after that, but the two sides couldn't come to a deal, after New York's review of his medical information raised concerns about the right-hander's shoulder and elbow.

Now the 22-year-old is back pitching in live games, with a little over a month to go until the 2022 Draft, which begins on July 17 in Los Angeles. Rocker is ranked the No. 39 Draft prospect by MLB Pipeline.

"We're trying to get him ready. Get him ready to get to the big leagues," ValleyCats manager Pete Incaviglia said. "We're here to try to get him ready, not just to get drafted, but to pitch in the big leagues when he does get drafted."

With the radar guns trained on Rocker during his every pitch at Joseph L. Bruno stadium, handheld video cameras clipped onto the seats in the section behind home plate, even Edgertronic high-speed cameras set up, Rocker flashed the power fastball and slider that made him an ace at Vanderbilt.

The first batter of the game, Rocker pumped in a 97 mph fastball for a called third strike. For the outing, Rocker's fastball sat in the 95-97 mph range, going by the radar guns, and he touched 99 mph. His slider sat in the 85-87 mph range, and he got one of his strikeouts at 89 mph.

"That was big-time," Rocker said. "It was great to see velo out there for the first time. I hope to hold it throughout this time here … It was pretty easy. I didn't know what it was until after the game, but it felt smooth."

Rocker pitched four innings against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles. He had six strikeouts and threw 43 of his 60 pitches for strikes. He allowed two runs on three hits, including a home run on a full-count slider he left over the middle of the plate. Rocker didn't walk a batter, but he did hit one, and his command wasn't as crisp in his last inning.

But for his first game back on the mound, after two simulated games with Tri-City, the encouraging velocity readings meant a lot more than the stat line against Frontier League hitters -- especially in front of MLB scouts. Rocker doesn't have a lot of time before the Draft, but those scouts have to like what they saw on Friday. 

"It was a long year. A lot of work being put in. And I'm glad to see the results," Rocker said. "I had a process I was given, we followed the process, and when we got the start date, it was attack, attack, attack. Let me go out there and do my thing."

With his parents Tracy and Lalitha sitting in the front row behind the plate, Rocker pitched with the fire that made him so fun to watch at Vanderbilt. Incaviglia could have kept Rocker on a pitch count and taken him out after three innings. He did not.

"He'd have killed me if I tried to pull him out of the game," Incaviglia said. "He's that type of competitor, man. He's the real deal. It's not just his stuff that makes him. It's his will to compete. He loves to compete, he loves to take the ball every day. Those guys are special."