Rangers' Rocker taking things slow in AFL

October 11th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – The baseball world might be in a hurry to see what Kumar Rocker can do on a larger stage, but the Rangers’ top pick in the 2022 Draft, taken No. 3 overall, knows there’s a natural progression he’s following as someone who has not pitched a lot of baseball over the last year.

Monday night, his second start in the Arizona Fall League in what is his unofficial professional debut representing the Rangers, represented a small step forward in that progression.  Rocker went two scoreless innings in the Surprise Saguaros’ 7-1 win against the Scottsdale Scorpions, allowing just one hit and two walks while striking out two.

“Yeah, that’s just what I’ve been hearing,” said Rocker, the No. 8 Rangers prospect. “Normal pitcher build up, right on track. I tried to be more relaxed that second time out and got good results, take this week, work on other things and get back out there.”

It was a marked improvement from Rocker’s debut here in the Arizona Fall League. While the big right-hander didn’t allow a run or a hit last Tuesday, he did walk three and only threw nine of his 28 total pitches for strikes, going just one inning. On Monday, he was much more efficient, throwing 32 pitches, 18 for strikes, over his two innings of work.

“I was just in the zone more,” Rocker said. “The changeup was good, the slider was good. The fastball, I’m still getting the timing for that, just getting everything synced up.”

Rocker was 94-97 mph with that fastball across the two innings of work and he did effectively mix in both of his secondary offerings. He recorded his two strikeouts with his mid-80s slider, getting Boston's No. 23 prospect Wilyer Abreu to end the first inning and Giants catcher Andy Thomas to end the second, both of whom swung over breaking balls Rocker buried effectively.

He did give up a walk in each inning and a lone single to Red Sox first baseman and No. 21 prospect Niko Kavadas in the first that put runners on the corners, but no one really squared up a ball against Rocker throughout his outing. While he’s thrown just a total of three innings here now, he’s beginning to learn what professional hitters can and can’t do against his stuff. During his time at Vanderbilt, Rocker got a ridiculous amount of swings and misses on his plus slider out of the strike zone. He already has a grasp that hitters at this level won’t always wave at every slider he throws and he’s working to address that.

“I think that’s something that just comes with the game,” Rocker said. “You have to get ahead to begin with, and then after that, then you can start mixing in those ones out of the zone. But you have to establish the zone first.”

And he’s not always going to miss bats or get outs when he throws his best pitches. He learned an early valuable lesson about this in the first inning, when Giants' No. 3 prospect Luis Matos worked a nine-pitch walk, fouling off a lot of soft stuff and not offering at ones out of the zone. While Rocker’s best sliders result-wise may have been those two K’s, he thought some in that at-bat were just as good and he’s stored the experience.

“I had some good ones against Matos,” Rocker said. “That’s just a good AB. He did a great job with that one and it’s something you have to learn and move with the game.”

Being in any kind of routine is something Rocker is enjoying after his rollercoaster ride over the last year and change. By now, most know the story: Drafted 10th overall by the Mets in 2021, he didn’t come to terms with them when the Mets didn’t like what they saw on his medical report. He re-entered the Draft this year, while also having shoulder surgery, pitching a handful of times in independent ball. The Rangers saw enough to take him No. 3 overall and signing him for well below slot. He’s been building himself up on the backfields to get to this point. Now, more than anything, he’s loving the learning laboratory that is the Arizona Fall League, soaking in the knowledge from players who have been on this side of the game for quite a bit longer than he has.

“Going into it, that was the biggest thing I was looking forward to,” Rocker said. “Being on a team with great talent, great skill guys who have been in the game for a little while. Double-A and Triple-A guys, just seeing what they have to say and learning from them.”

The Saguaros’ offense gave Rocker his first unofficial professional win by pounding out 10 hits and scoring two in the third, one in the fifth, two in the sixth and two more in the eighth. Astros infielder Will Wagner had three doubles and two RBIs while his organization mate Scott Schreiber had two hits and drove in three.