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Mets and top pick Kumar Rocker fail to get contract done by deadline

Vanderbilt starting pitcher Kumar Rocker throws against Arizona

Vanderbilt starting pitcher Kumar Rocker throws against Arizona in the first inning during a baseball game in the College World Series, Saturday, June 19, 2021, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.  Credit: AP/Rebecca S. Gratz

Kumar Rocker emerged as something of a star in the usually anonymous MLB Draft last month after the Mets selected him with the 10th overall pick.

The 21-year-old righthander from Vanderbilt said all the right things about wanting to start his professional career with the Mets.

The sides reportedly were close to a contract that included an above-slot $6 million signing bonus. But the Mets didn’t like something they saw on Rocker’s routine pre-signing elbow MRI, according to sources, and the sides were unable to reach an agreement before Sunday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

Scott Boras, Rocker’s agent, disputed implications about his client’s condition in a statement: "Kumar Rocker is healthy, according to independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons. Immediately upon conclusion of his collegiate season, he had an MRI on both his shoulder and his elbow. When compared with his 2018 MRIs, the medical experts found no significant change. Kumar requires no medical attention and will continue to pitch in the regular course as he prepares to begin his professional career."

Rocker can go back into the draft in 2022 if he chooses to return to Vanderbilt. He could sign with an independent league team or go overseas if he wants to turn pro. The Mets, who failed to sign the first No. 1 draft pick of the Steve Cohen era, will get a compensatory selection at No. 11 in the 2022 draft under current MLB rules.

That’s not what the Mets had in mind when they selected Rocker as what some experts called the steal of the draft.

"This is clearly not the outcome we had hoped for and wish Kumar nothing but success," acting general manager Zack Scott said in a statement. "We’re excited about the players we have signed and look forward to watching them develop and contribute to the organization in the years to come."

Rocker was MLB Pipeline’s top-rated amateur prospect entering the 2021 season. He slid to 10th despite leading NCAA Division I with 14 wins and striking out 179 in 122 innings.

"Sometimes don’t walk past the obvious, and for us, this was an obvious pick," Mets scouting director Marc Tramuta said the day after the draft. "This is just an extremely talented young man that we just couldn’t pass on."

But they did pass on signing him. Rocker was the only first-round pick not to sign.

Rocker said July 11: "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. Moving to New York, a bigger spotlight when I get to that point, I’m going to try to make the most of it."

The Mets didn’t ink Rocker even after a last-hour plea on Twitter from celebrity fan Jon Stewart, the formerly influential host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central.

"Sign Rocker. Love, Everyone," Stewart posted.

The last time the Mets failed to sign their first-round pick was in 1970, when high school shortstop George Ambrow (the 23rd overall selection) decided to attend USC. Ambrow was drafted in the 18th round four years later by the Angels but never played pro ball.

Guillorme to IL

Luis Guillorme was placed on the 10-day injured list with a left hamstring strain suffered while running the bases on Saturday. Righthander Geoff Hartlieb was recalled from Triple-A Syracuse and allowed three runs in the ninth in the Mets’ 7-1 loss to the Reds.

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