Rangers' Rocker dazzles in Minor League debut

April 12th, 2023

The mid-90s heat, the wipeout slider ... all present and accounted for.

Kumar Rocker had it all working in his first official start as a Minor Leaguer.

The No. 9 Rangers prospect struck out eight and needed just 53 pitches to navigate his way through five scoreless innings to lead High-A Hickory past host Wilmington, 3-2, on Tuesday night. Rocker did not issue a walk, allowed two hits and went to only one three-ball count to earn his first professional win.

Although the 23-year-old made his organizational debut pitching for Surprise in the Arizona Fall League, Tuesday's outing was Rocker's first time taking a Minor League mound. The right-hander fanned two batters in each of his first three innings, including four straight to bridge the second and third, before a two-out single ended the run.

All told, Rocker faced 17 batters and put on a clinic in strike-throwing. Of the Georgia native's 53 pitches, 41 went for strikes and he tossed no more than 15 pitches in any one frame, including five to close out his debut.

A power pitcher and strikeout artist in every sense of the word, Rocker worked ahead in the count all evening, a welcome sight to the hurler and Rangers brass after he struggled with his command during the AFL. Although the Vanderbilt product fanned 18 in 14 innings during the fall, he walked 12, an uncharacteriscly high number for a hurler who averaged 2.6 BB/9 in college.

It's been a long and oftentimes interesting road since Rocker hurled his last collegiate pitch in 2021. Selected by the Mets 10th overall in '21, the club never made him an offer after expressing concerns about his right arm. Although it was not known at the time, Rocker underwent right shoulder surgery in Sept. 2021 and instead of returning to college, joined the Tri-City Valley Cats of the independent Frontier League and excelled. Over 11 appearances, including six starts, Rocker averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings, whiffing 50 in 34 frames while sporting a 2.65 ERA.

Texas came calling last summer and selected the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder with the third overall pick.

“We’re extremely comfortable with the medical review that our medical team has done,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said after the Draft. “Obviously, Kumar has been under the care of one of the leading orthopedic surgeons in the world. He’s been in great supervision throughout his rehab, he's been pitching healthy. We're very comfortable with the medical review and that's why we drafted him.”

He did not pitch during the summer but made six starts in the AFL.