ARLINGTON -- Rangers right-handed pitching prospect Kumar Rocker has a torn ligament in his right elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery, the team announced on Tuesday. The surgery will be performed by team physician Dr. Keith Meister later this week.
The former Vanderbilt ace was selected by the Mets 10th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, but he didn't sign with the club after a review of his medical information raised concerns about the right-hander's shoulder. He opted not to return to Vanderbilt for his senior season, instead signing with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League before entering the 2022 MLB Draft, where he was taken third overall by Texas.
General manager Chris Young emphasized that this injury was completely different from what prevented the Mets from signing him in 2021 and what the Rangers saw last summer after the Draft.
“This was an acute injury and was completely different from what we saw in our post-Draft exams and MRIs,” Young said. “This was an injury he sustained pitching for us. His last start up until that inning, he was really, really good. The amazing part is that he was still throwing 94 to 96 mph that last inning, but this was vastly different from what we saw post-Draft.”
Despite the risks at the time and the hindsight in light of the news, Young is still confident the Rangers made the correct decision when deciding to select Rocker last summer.
“From my standpoint, every pitcher carries risk,” Young said. “I think in getting to know Kumar well last year, seeing the person, the character, the makeup and competitiveness, I'm more confident than ever that he's going to be a successful Major League player. I'm thrilled he's a Texas Ranger. I wouldn't change a thing.”
Pitching for High-A Hickory to open the 2023 season, Rocker posted a 3.86 ERA in six starts, striking out 42 and walking seven in 28 innings. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the Rangers' No. 9 prospect.
Rocker did not allow a run in his first two starts of the season for the Crawdads, combining for eight innings, 12 strikeouts and just one walk. Then he hit a speed bump, allowing three and four runs, respectively, in his next two starts. The next week, Rocker righted the ship, tossing six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts to secure a victory for Hickory.
The injury was sustained in his most recent start against Bowling Green, when he threw four shutout innings before allowing five runs in the fifth. He was removed from the game with two outs in the fifth with elbow discomfort, leading to the MRI.
Young said the 23-year-old is a “man on a mission” following the diagnosis. While he was initially disappointed, Rocker is in good spirits as he prepares to tackle this next phase of his career.
The target date for Rocker’s return to the mound will be the second half of the 2024 season.
“My disappointment with the situation was solely for Kumar, because he is such a good person and really embodies everything we want in a Texas Ranger,” Young said. “He was doing so well. He was close to a promotion [to Double-A Frisco], and to have it all sort of yanked out from underneath him at this point. As he said to me, he loves a challenge. I have no doubt he's going to respond to this favorably. He'll come back better and stronger and even more resilient than before. We're going to get a great pitcher.”