I’m struggling to wrap my head around this situation with Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker and the New York Mets, and I’m not alone.
What in the heck happened? What changed to prevent the Mets from signing a draft pick they’d celebrated landing at No. 10 — and who’d been healthy enough to pitch all the way to the final day of the college baseball season?
And since that deal has fallen though, why wouldn’t Rocker come back to Vanderbilt?
None of it makes sense.
Starting with Rocker’s elbow, over which opinions seem to differ greatly at this point.
If Rocker isn’t healthy, first off, someone should tell the Commodores. Yes, his velocity was down slightly. Rocker generally wasn’t as dominant in 2021 as he was in 2019. He was plenty good, though, and agent Scott Boras is insisting that nothing had changed in his client’s medical evaluations and that “Kumar requires no medical attention.”
Let’s – for argument’s sake – assume the Mets did find something wrong with Rocker’s arm after drafting him.
They realize that doctors these days can fix arm problems in pitchers, right? Why not pursue a remedy instead of throwing your big catch back in the water?
Especially since the injury might not have been that serious anyway?
As Justin Toscano, the Mets beat writer for NorthJersey.com, wrote, “Rocker could pitch tomorrow, one source said. That’s not the issue. The Mets believe Rocker could have a successful career somewhere. But they simply didn’t feel comfortable enough with the prospects of his long-term health.”
I’m sorry, what?
The Mets thought Rocker could still be a successful pitcher and didn’t sign him?
Something just doesn’t smell right with that.
If I’m guessing, I’d say the Mets developed buyer’s remorse for drafting him and realized they could just walk away on the cheap and turn it into a similar compensatory draft pick next year.
The Mets can do what they want, but if so, such an action would expose an enormous flaw in baseball’s onboarding process. This was embarrassing for the Mets, but they’re strategically collecting another high pick for the trouble.
Rocker, meanwhile, is stuck for a year. He unfairly can’t sign with another major league team until after next year’s draft, which will arrive with more questions — legitimate or not — about his health.
You especially hate that it’s Rocker, whose contributions and reputation at Vanderbilt had reached mythical proportions at times. For years now, he has had a gigantic spotlight on him, and as a college kid, he has handled it well.
That leads to another part of this that doesn’t make sense:
Again, why wouldn’t Rocker rejoin the team at Vanderbilt?
I don’t believe the door is completely shut on the possibility of Rocker returning to college. But it is unlikely. Unless something changes, I’d look for him to end up playing in an independent league or maybe overseas.
Why go through all that when there’s a better option? Rocker is adored in Nashville, even more than most professional athletes in the city.
With timely changes allowing college players to profit from their celebrity, Rocker could make a small fortune in legal endorsements by playing another season at Vanderbilt — certainly more than he ever would in some no-name independent league filled with fringe minor-league ballplayers.
That’d just be sad. Kind of like Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith having to catch passes in a semipro league at a local park rather than the NFL.
Even if it’s just for one year, Rocker deserves better than that.
He deserves better than this whole bizarre fiasco.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.