Eleven months and four days since the last time he took the mound for the Vanderbilt Commodores, Kumar Rocker made his Frontier League debut for the Tri-City Valley Cats on Saturday.
Rocker, who was drafted 10th overall by the New York Mets last year but ultimately went unsigned due to concerns over his medical history, all but silenced any questions about his pitching arm after the first batter he faced.
Pounding the plate with a 97 miles-per-hour fastball for a called third strike, Rocker struck out the leadoff hitter and fanned five more over four innings, allowing two runs on three hits and walking none. His lone blemish was a two-run home run allowed in the fourth inning.
"It was a long year,” Rocker told reporters after the game. “A lot of work being put in. And I'm glad to see the results. I had a process I was given, we followed the process, and when we got the start date, it was attack, attack, attack. Let me go out there and do my thing."
Of Rocker’s 60 pitches, 43 were strikes and his fastball regularly hit 95-97 mph. Some radar guns even registered him as high as 99 mph. His secondary pitches — slider (84-86 mph), cutter (86-88 mph), changeup (88-90 mph) — were also consistently in the mid-80s.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker has a month and a half before the 2023 MLB Draft to convince scouts that he’s still a first-round talent.
This year's class is thin on top college arms as MLB Pipeline only has three NCAA pitchers with a first-round grade and D1Baseball has six. Rocker is the No. 31-ranked 2023 draft prospect according to MLB Pipeline. A few more solid starts with Tri-City could push him into the middle of the first round.
"He should've been [back] on the mound a long time ago," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin told reporters after VU’s 21-1 win over New Mexico State on Saturday. "All he did for our school was compete, and I'm just glad he's getting to play and get out there and refresh himself a little bit. He looks great."
Rocker had a 28-10 record with a 2.89 ERA and 321 strikeouts in 236.2 innings over his three years with the ‘Dores. He was a unanimous first team All-American and first team All-SEC first team selection in 2021 while leading the NCAA in wins (14) and tying former teammate Jack Leiter for the NCAA lead in strikeouts (179).
The 22-year-old also led Vanderbilt to a College World Series title in 2019, when he was named the CWS Most Valuable Player. That year, he also threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the postseason.
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