The 2022 MLB amateur draft kicked off Sunday night with the first 80 selections. The Texas Rangers stole headlines and surprisingly grabbed former Vanderbilt ace Kumar Rocker with the No. 3 pick. Rocker was widely expected to go in the back half of the first round after having shoulder surgery last September and pitching in an independent league this spring.
“We’re extremely comfortable with the medical review that our medical team has done,” Rangers GM Chris Young told MLB.com. “Obviously, Kumar has been under the care of one of the leading orthopedic surgeons in the world. He’s been in great supervision throughout his rehab. He’s been pitching healthy. We’re very comfortable with the medical review and that’s why we drafted him.”
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The Rangers and Rocker already have a deal in place, according to the New York Post, and he will receive a $5.2 million signing bonus. That is significantly below the $7,591,600 slot value for the No. 3 pick. Texas can now use the savings on other players, which was undoubtedly the plan: Sign Rocker below slot and use the savings to land other quality players with later picks.
Last year the New York Mets did not sign Rocker as the No. 10 pick. The two sides reportedly agreed to a $6 million bonus, but the team saw something it didn’t like in his physical, and walked away. Rocker went back into the draft this summer and the Mets received the No. 11 pick in this year’s draft as compensation. They used it on Georgia Tech catcher Kevin Parada.
He resurfaced recently in the Frontier League, running his fastball up to 99 mph and overwhelming indy-league hitters with a 70-grade slider. Heraclitus said that no man steps in the same river twice, for neither he nor the river are the same. Even if Rocker was the same — and he’s not, if only in age — the river has changed. The industry was already skeptical about him because of his lagging changeup and the potential command and durability concerns created by his mechanical deficiencies; now, there’s also the matter of last summer’s post-draft physical that caused the Mets to bail. We have to write that it does feel silly to obsess over what could go wrong with Rocker’s arm in a draft where almost every other top pitcher already has an elbow zipper.
Rocker had to settle for a little less than last year’s reportedly agreed upon bonus, though a $5.2 million payday is still pretty dang good, plus he gets to say he was the No. 3 pick one year after being the No. 10 pick. Only a handful of players have ever been a top 10 pick twice.
Last year the Rangers used the No. 2 pick on Vanderbilt righty Jack Leiter, the son of longtime big leaguer Al Leiter. Leiter and Rocker will now be reunited in the Texas farm system. Heading into the 2021 draft, Leiter and Rocker winding up in the same organization within a year would have been a shock, but the Rangers managed to make it happen.