MLB Draft: Should the KC Royals pick Kumar Rocker?

Anyone who’s studied the plethora of major league draft projections and mock drafts knows Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker is among the favorites to be the KC Royals’ first round draft choice.

But is Rocker, a righthanded starter with unquestionable talent, really who the Royals want to take this Sunday with the seventh overall pick in the 20-round draft?

Maybe, maybe not.

That Rocker ranks high no matter where draft followers look is true, and with good reason. He was instrumental in Vanderbilt’s two straight College World Series finals appearances (the Commodores won the CWS in 2019 and finished second this year, but more on that in a moment). In three years at Vandy—his freshman year in 2019, the pandemic-abbreviated 2020 campaign, and this season—Kumar was 28-10, including 12 wins in 2019 and 14 in 2021. He led Division I in strikeouts this season with 179 in 122 innings.

Rocker also started well last year, going 2-1, 2.73 with almost two strikeouts per inning (28 in 15 frames) in three starts before COVID-19 forced an end to NCAA competition.

He posted a three-year 2.89 ERA, had good control (2.6 collegiate BB9), and fanned an average of 12.2 batters per nine innings for Vanderbilt.

Rocker’s arsenal includes an excellent fastball, a slider and a curve, and an occasional changeup. And at 6-feet-5 and 245 pounds, he’s an imposing mound presence.

Do the KC Royals need to be concerned about Rocker’s final CWS performance?

Some may suggest the last game Kumar Rocker pitched should give the Royals, and other major league clubs, pause and make them hesitant to use a high draft selection on him. After all, they’ll say, Rocker disappointed in this year’s CWS championship game against Mississippi State when he started and gave up five runs—far more than the Bulldogs would need in their 9-0 championship victory—on six hits in 4.1 innings.

That one game, though, shouldn’t make any more difference than the spectacular no-hitter Rocker threw against Duke in a Super Regional contest his freshman year. He struck out 19 Blue Devils in that one. Major league clubs simply don’t make draft decisions based on one good or bad game.

The Royals, then, should have Rocker high on their list Sunday. He’s currently ranked sixth among MLB Pipeline’s Top 250 draft prospects; Vandy teammate Jack Leiter is the only pitcher ahead of him on the list, and chances are good he’ll be off the board when it comes time for Kansas City to make its first round selection.

And although at least one of the four stellar shortstops who rank in Pipeline’s top 10 may still be available when the Royals pick, the ongoing troubles of some of the team’s young pitchers renders pitching a more pressing need than shortstop. (The outfield is another area for Kansas City to consider).

So, it makes sense for the KC Royals to grab Rocker if he’s still available.

Will Kansas City make Kumar Rocker its first round pick in Sunday’s draft? Time will tell, but he’d be a good choice.