TROY, N.Y. — Kumar Rocker is ready for a second go-round in the MLB draft.
A year after he was the lone first-round pick to not sign with a team, the hard-throwing right-hander and former Vanderbilt star is fresh from a brief professional tune-up that has him on track to be selected again as early as the first round when the draft begins on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Rocker was drafted No. 10 overall last year by the New York Mets. But the sides failed to reach an agreement by the August deadline because the Mets had concerns over the health of his right arm.
Rocker’s agent, Scott Boras, confirmed that 10 months ago Rocker had “non-pitching-related minor surgery” on his right arm.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker emerged from months of training privately when he signed a minor league contract with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League in mid-May. He notched his first professional victory two weeks ago, allowing two hits and one unearned run in five innings against the Empire State Greys, a travel team that had only two wins in 41 games after the loss.
It was the 22-year-old Rocker’s fifth and final start for the ValleyCats before being deactivated to prepare for this year’s draft. He posted a 1.35 ERA with 32 strikeouts and four walks and gave up 11 hits in 20 innings. His fastball clocked as high as 99 mph and was consistently in that range during his stint with Tri-City to go along with a nasty curveball and slider.
“I think I have a better understanding of pro hitters, just growing up a little bit on the mound,” Rocker said after his final appearance for Tri-City.
Three years ago, Rocker led Vanderbilt to a College World Series title as a freshman. He was a three-year standout and posted a 2.89 ERA in 42 games (39 starts). He also was named MVP of the College World Series, racking up 44 strikeouts in 28 postseason innings, including a 19-strikeout no-hitter in an NCAA Super Regional against Duke. His ERA was a microscopic 0.96 in four postseason starts.
He opted not to go back to college after not signing with the Mets, training instead on his own. The short stint with the ValleyCats allowed him to get back in the groove of live action.
“He’s the real deal,” Tri-City manager Pete Incaviglia said. “It’s not just his stuff that makes him, it’s his will to compete. He loves to compete. He loves to take the ball every day. Those guys are special.”