The Texas Rangers chose former Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker with the No. 3 overall pick on Sunday night in the 2022 Major League Baseball Draft. Rocker was one of the most well-known names in the draft class, but the top-three selection was a huge draft-night surprise.
The explanation begins with last summer's draft, when Rocker went unsigned after being selected 10th overall by the New York Mets. The two sides failed to reach an agreement following the results of a post-draft physical.
Rocker had only so many routes he could take from there, as stipulated by MLB's rules governing amateur players. He could've returned to Vanderbilt for another season, he could've played in an independent or international league, or he could've sat out entirely. For a while, the signal went silent, other than the occasional rumor about his arm's wellbeing. One veteran high-ranking scouting official even remarked to CBS Sports in the spring that he was the most difficult prospect to get new info on in the entire class.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
As it turns out, Rocker's absence was in part because he underwent shoulder surgery last fall, as first reported by ESPN. He did resurface in the summer for a proof-of-life tour, however, joining the Tri-City Valley Cats of the Frontier League. He didn't look rusty, either. Indeed, he amassed a 1.35 ERA and an 8.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio in five starts. One scout in attendance for Rocker's debut clocked his fastball up to 99 mph, and evaluated his slider as being a 70-grade offering, or near-elite. Rocker's pitching was good enough to land him in CBS Sports' pre-draft top 30 ranking.
Still, Rocker didn't seem likely to go off the board in the top 10, let alone at No. 3. Teams already had reservations about his game stemming from last draft cycle. They fear that his fastball-slider combination will be undercut by his lack of a changeup, and that his delivery will negatively impact both his command and his long-term arm health. Factor in that he'd barely pitched this year, and that he'd already required one operation on his shoulder, and it seemed more likely than not that he would find himself being selected in the mid-to-latter stages of the first round.
The Rangers evidently thought Rocker was still an elite prospect, and one who merited a top-three selection. (It didn't hurt that Rocker was willing to take an underslot deal, according to Jeff Passan.) Now, Rocker can join the same organization that already employs Jack Leiter, his former Vanderbilt teammate.
The upside here is that the Rangers will have two promising power arms who should reach the majors in short order. Of course, the downside is that Rocker's health and aforementioned limitations, plus the top of this class' strength, will leave Rangers fans wondering what might have happened if the club had just taken one of the available hitters instead. Such is the warp and the woof of draft night.