Kumar Rocker has had success on big stages. Now he comes to the biggest stage of all.
The 6-5 righthanded starting pitcher out of Vanderbilt was selected by the Mets with the 10th pick in the Major League Baseball Draft on Sunday night in Denver. Viewed as one of the top three pitchers available entering the event — and as perhaps the one most ready to face big-league competition — Rocker has the look of a steal at No. 10.
"We really thought there was very little chance that this would happen," Mets vice president for amateur and international scouting Tommy Tanous said. "A pitcher of this talent and this portfolio — this doesn’t happen very often. So we were thrilled. We feel very fortunate that his name was . . . still on that board. He was more of a dream than anything else for us."
"Sometimes don’t walk past the obvious, and for us, this was an obvious pick," scouting director Marc Tramuta said. "This is just an extremely talented young man that we just couldn’t pass on]. It’s somebody that we think fits in our philosophy as we look at pitchers, fits our philosophy as we look at makeup, fits our philosophy of a first-round pick that can have impact and longevity . . . he was just a guy that you just can’t walk past."
As a freshman, Rocker threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the NCAA Super Regionals and then won a pair of games to earn Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series as Vanderbilt won the national championship.
Asked about playing in the New York glare, Rocker said: "That’s what I feel like I was made for.
"There’s a lot of things that the college experience has already given me, and I think I’ve exhausted everything in college baseball from the highs to the lows," said the 245-pound Rocker, a Georgia product who is the son of former NFL lineman Tracy Rocker. "Moving to New York, a bigger spotlight when I get to that point, I’m going to try to make the most of it."
Rocker was 14-4 with a 2.73 ERA in 20 starts for the Commodores this season and a first-team all-SEC selection. With a devastating slider as his best pitch, he struck out 179 in 122 innings. Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin, interviewed on MLB Network, called him "an alpha" and "bottom line: a winner."
As for holding up to the New York scrutiny, Tanous said no place better prepares a college player.
"Nashville, you could argue, is the New York City of college baseball," he said. "He’s been under that microscope for that long and always stepped up."
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