Now former Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker will now go unsigned and go into the 2022 draft. So could the Pittsburgh Pirates select the right-hander in the next draft?
In a stunning series of events, the New York Mets will not sign Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker. The Mets picked Rocker with the 10th overall pick. Going into the draft, he was seen as one of the top pitchers available and many even saw him falling to #10 as a big steal for the Mets at the time. Rocker will re-enter next year’s draft in the hopes he can get drafted again. Though could the Pittsburgh Pirates be the team that selects the talented right-hander?
Rocker was originally one of the draft prospects heavily connected to the Pirates in 2020. He was seen as a potential #1 pick. Though the right-hander’s prospect stock fell throughout the season, he still had a great final year at Vandy. Through 122 innings, Rocker pitched to the tune of a 2.73 ERA, 2.21 FIP, and .934 WHIP. He gave up home runs at a strong .59-per-9 pace while striking out 36.5% of batters faced. Plus he only allowed 7.9% of batters to reach via free pass.
Rocker’s stuff looked outstanding. Rocker has a big fastball that averages out in the mid-90’s and a devastating slider. He also added a cutter to his pitch mix while occasionally throwing a change-up. There were some questions about if he would have enough of a pitch mix to remain as a starter, but his cutter looked strong this year and his change-up has always been seen as a solid final offering that he could use if he needed to.
Though now after the draft, there’s a lot to take into consideration with Rocker. The biggest reason the Mets did not come to terms with Rocker is mainly due to physicals and health. Rocker’s velocity was all over the place throughout the season. Throughout his first 4 games, he sat around 94-96 MPH. Though after that, he only averaged 94-95 MPH in a game just twice in 9 games. He even dipped to 90-92 MPH a handful of times.
Vanderbilt also worked Rocker like a dog. He pitched 236.2 innings throughout college. His 122 innings in 2021 outranked every other pitcher in the SEC conference by a large margin. The only other pitcher to even come within 15 innings of Rocker was his teammate, Jack Leiter with 110 IP. The two Vanderbilt aces were the only pitchers to throw 105+ innings, and Rocker was the only pitcher to throw more than 110 innings. This also isn’t counting postseason starts. Overall, he averaged about 95 pitches a game in the regular season.
Now I doubt the Pirates would pick him with their first-round pick. They’ll have a top 5 selection in the 2022 draft. After all of this, Rocker isn’t going to go top 5. Though the team may be able to pick him with a potential competitive balance pick, or early in the second round. If this sounds familiar, it kind of does. You could draw a handful of comparisons to another highly talented, big right-handed pitcher Jaden Hill. Like Rocker, Hill was once seen as a potential #1 pick. After Tommy John surgery, Hill fell to the 8th spot in the second round.
If Rocker re-enters the draft and falls to the Pirates in the second round, or a compensation pick if they have one, the team has to at least entertain the idea of picking him. He was a top 10 pick in 2021 and was once seen as a potential top 3 pick. There’s a lot of mileage already on his arm, but should be a quick riser throughout the minor leagues. 2022 will be his age 22 season. Given how advanced of an arm he already is, he wouldn’t need more than a year to a year and a half to get to the majors.