The Mets’ pitching factory added another attractive cog to its wheel on Sunday night when highly-regarded Vanderbilt prospect Kumar Rocker fell into their laps with the 10th pick of the 2021 MLB Draft.
The 21-year-old righty was ranked the fifth-best prospect by Baseball America and sixth-best by MLB Pipeline. He was regarded as the No. 2 pitcher in the entire 2021 draft class behind only Jack Leiter — his Vanderbilt teammate who went second overall to the Texas Rangers.
Quite a catch at 10th-overall.
“We’re still so elated here… that Kumar got to us. We really thought there was very little chance that this would happen — a pitcher of this talent and his portfolio,” Mets vice president of amateur and international scouting, Tommy Tanous, said. “This doesn’t happen very often. We feel very fortunate that his name and magnet was still on the board. Kumar was more of a dream than anything else.”
During his 2021 season at Vanderbilt, Kumar went 14-4 with a 2.73 ERA, 179 strikeouts, and 39 walks in 20 starts. Those 14 wins were tops in NCAA Division I while his punchouts were tied for first with Leiter. In his three years at the collegiate powerhouse, he went 28-10 with a 2.89 ERA and 321 strikeouts.
“[New York] is another animal, but that’s what I feel like I was made for,” Rocker said. “They’re getting a guy with a track record of winning.”
Mets director of amateur scouting, Marc Tramuta, suggested that Rocker is ready for the spotlight in Queens after pitching at the “New York City of college baseball,” at Vanderbilt.
“This is a supremely talented player, but even more, it’s elite makeup,” Tramuta continued. “He’s been under that microscope for so long and always stepped up.
But there were some concerns surrounding Rocker leading up to the draft. A member of an MLB organization that was picking even lower in the first round of the draft said that they “probably would have passed” on him because of his agent — the high-profiled Scott Boras — and concerns about his consistency involving his secondary pitches and delivery.
That included a strike rate of under 50% with his fastball and a majority of his misses with his slider coming from chases
“It’s hard to pass on pedigree and makeup,” they added.
That drop isn’t being used as extra motivation for Rocker, though.
“From now on, it’s what you do after this,” he said.
For a Mets team that is desperate for viable starting pitching depth after injuries have ransacked their rotation, Kumar could be a godsend for the club — which bungled a bullpen game on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in which they blew a 5-0 lead to lose.
The Mets currently have four healthy starters in Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker, Marcus Stroman, and Tylor Megill while Carlos Carrasco and Noah Syndergaard rehab from injuries; Carrasco inching ever so closer to his Mets debut while Syndergaard is slated to return in September.
Meanwhile, their depth pieces in David Peterson, Jordan Yamamoto, and Joey Lucchesi are on the shelf with injuries, too.
While most draft prospects don’t sniff the majors the year they were drafted, Rocker could be the exception.
“Mets fans, you might see him this year,” ESPN analyst Eduardo Perez said after Rocker was taken.
“I can definitely see him dominating in the big leagues and doing his thing very soon,” Leiter added to ESPN.