Remember all the hype surrounding Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker as the major league draft drew near last year? Remember how high the mocks projected him going? And remember KC Royals fans hoping he’d somehow still be available when Kansas City went on the board for the seventh overall selection?
Well, that’s exactly what happened. Rocker, who it seemed everyone wanted, was surprisingly still undrafted when the Royals’ turn came.
But Kansas City had a surprise of its own. Passing on Rocker, the club chose a pitcher perhaps just as unknown as Rocker was famous, and grabbed prep hurler Frank Mozzicato instead. The Mets took Rocker one slot later.
The story, however, doesn’t end there. Rocker didn’t sign and is eligible for the draft again when its three-day run begins July 17 in Los Angeles. And it’s a good bet most major league clubs, including Kansas City, are thinking about him.
Is Kumar Rocker someone the KC Royals should consider for pitching help?
This is among many questions the Kansas City draft team should be asking itself as it prepares for the draft, especially the first day when the Royals have three picks—the ninth overall, the 35th (a Competitive Balance selection between the first and second rounds), and the 10th in the second round (49th overall). Because Rocker is unlikely to be passed over that day, the Royals need to be ready.
If they want Rocker, that is. They might … and they might not.
Weighing in favor of giving Rocker serious consideration is the sorry state of the Royals’ pitching. They have one of the statistically-worst staffs in the majors and few of even their best minor league mound prospects are excelling this season.
Rocker has the potential to help. He went 28-10 with a 2.89 ERA, 12.2 SO9, and 2.6 BB9 in three high-profile seasons at Vanderbilt. His pitching was a major factor in Vandy winning the 2019 College World Series title in 2019 and its appearance in the championship game last year, although he didn’t pitch well in that contest.
He didn’t pitch after the 2021 CWS ended (more on that momentarily), but is 1-0, 1.35 with a 14.4 SO9 and 1.8 BB9 in five appearances this year with Tri City in the independent Frontier League.
Kowar’s collegiate and independent ball numbers alone merit Kansas City’s attention. His high-velocity fastball is no secret and, at 6-feet-5 and 245-pounds, his mound presence is imposing.
But numbers aren’t necessarily everything, and that could be the case with Rocker, who would be a multi-millionaire today had the Mets signed him. Instead, they reportedly had concerns about the health of his pitching arm—with which agent Scott Boras disagreed—and didn’t sign him. Then, and despite having NCAA eligibility left, Rocker didn’t return to pitch for Vandy this year.
That’s not all—reports surfaced several days ago of shoulder surgery Rocker underwent in September. His medicals were recently made available to teams and mlb.com’s Jim Callis reports some clubs suggesting such comfort with his situation that he should go in the first round.
Whether the Royals are one of those teams is, of course, unknown, as is whether they’ll pick Rocker if he’s available when the time comes to make their picks.
But he’s someone they should definitely consider.
The 20-round major league amateur draft begins July 17 and ends July 19.