How Mets drafting Kumar Rocker went so very wrong

New York sports activities followers typically regard baseball’s novice draft the identical method they take a look at NASCAR, or faculty soccer, or Republican primaries: as curiosities, shrugged off by the lots and embraced by the diehards.

The Mets’ number of Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker with the Tenth decide this yr violated that norm and transcended the area of interest following to turn into a darn huge story. It grew exponentially when the Mets, involved by what they noticed within the 21-year-old’s bodily examination, decided to not make Rocker an offer at all and consequently obtained the eleventh choice in subsequent yr’s draft as compensation.

The sequence of occasions didn’t merely enrage the Mets’ fan base. It dominated business speak, with folks on each side of the aisle, crew and participant illustration, making an attempt to make heads or tails of what went down.

Let’s attempt to do the identical, question-and-answer fashion.

Q: OK, how badly did the Mets screw this up? Should they’ve been extra cautious of Rocker?

A: Look, the speak of Rocker’s diminished velocity throughout his redshirt sophomore season at Vandy was so distinguished that Tommy Tanous, the Mets’ vp of novice and worldwide scouting, answered a query about it throughout a Zoom information convention following the draft’s second day.

“We were aware of the velocity decrease in the middle of the year,” Tanous stated. “I might say nearly all Division I pitchers had a velocity lower as a result of that is the primary time that they had been prolonged [after the COVID-shortened 2020]. It’s simply he’s such a extremely seen decide and pitcher who was constantly throwing between 96 and 100 [mph], and when he does throw 92, 94, it’s checked out. He was used fairly a bit early within the season and his pitch counts have been cheap, however they have been excessive. I feel he had somewhat little bit of a lull in the course of the season. We noticed it decide up on the finish of the yr.

“We were well aware of it, and in some ways, hopefully this was the reason we were lucky enough to land him.”

Kumar Rocker
Getty Images

Undoubtedly, that consciousness factored into Rocker, ranked sixth by, falling to the Mets with the Tenth-overall decide. That didn’t function the one issue, nevertheless. Rocker’s ask (he and the Mets agreed to a $6 million draft-day signing bonus pending the bodily) additionally performed a job, as did the historical past of his adviser, Scott Boras, being a tricky negotiator. If any crew obtained a smoking gun that Rocker, who pitched usually the previous three seasons, suffered from actual medical issues in his pitching arm, versus merely listening to scuttlebutt, I didn’t study that via my reporting this previous week.

If you’ll be able to justify the Mets’ popping of Rocker as a reasonable risk mitigated by the safety net of next year’s extra pick, the remainder of the business confirmed little sympathy for the crew’s plight due to the way it wound up leaving $1.3 million unspent (and unable to be utilized in every other method) on account of its different picks signing for beneath their slot values. The Mets did discover taking some high-end high-schoolers late, but none of their targets appeared keen to cancel their faculty commitments for something within the $1.3 million neighborhood. The Angels discovered such a commodity, Twelfth-round decide Mason Albright, a high-school lefty, who agreed to a $1.25 million signing bonus. We’ll control him.

Q: How huge successful is that this to the Mets’ farm system?

A: It’s important as a result of their cabinet is fairly naked as a result of they’ve traded away a number of prime guys since late 2018. You noticed that at this yr’s commerce deadline, when the Mets, unwilling to deal their prime items (Francisco Alvarez, Bret Baty and Ronny Mauricio), fell brief of their efforts to land one other beginning pitcher as a result of golf equipment didn’t like their depth. And they dealt outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong, their prime draft decide of 2020, to the Cubs for pending free agent Javier Baez. Without Rocker, the warmth activates the Mets to discover a jewel or three from the draft picks they did signal.

Q: What precisely is wrong with Rocker?

A: The Mets expressed concern initially and primarily about Rocker’s proper elbow, in response to a number of sources. Ultimately, the Mets didn’t like what they noticed past simply the elbow, which is why they didn’t assume even Tommy John surgical procedure would alleviate their worries.

Rocker and Boras, in fact, insist that nothing is wrong with him, and so they possess the reasonably spectacular Exhibit A of the pitcher’s physique of labor in school. That is why the complete baseball world, no yet one more than the Mets, can be watching Rocker very carefully.

Q: Why is Rocker turning skilled reasonably than returning to Vanderbilt?

A: “We have found that elite talents like Kumar are best served by a dedicated professional conditioning regime to fully prepare for the next professional step,” Boras wrote in a textual content message. “This also allows him to receive offers from all professional leagues so he can make an informed decision.”

The apparent precedent right here is pitcher Luke Hochevar, one other Boras advisee, who failed to come back to phrases with the Dodgers after getting picked fortieth total in 2005, pitched 4 video games for the unbiased Fort Worth Cats in 2006 after which went first total, to the Royals, within the 2006 draft. Don’t be stunned if Rocker pitches a number of video games for a home unbiased crew early subsequent yr in preparation for the 2022 draft.

Q: What about precedents for guys who failed their physicals?

A: The most up-to-date is left-hander Brady Aiken, drafted first total by Houston in 2014. The Astros lowered their supply from $6.5 million to $5 million after not loving what they noticed in Aiken’s pitching elbow. Aiken handed and, after present process Tommy John surgical procedure, went seventeenth total to the Indians within the 2015 draft. He by no means regained his pre-surgery excellence and is now out of baseball.

In 2010, the Diamondbacks picked right-hander Barret Loux sixth total. He failed his bodily, an motion evoking so a lot anger — Arizona modified basic managers between the draft to the signing deadline, sparking hypothesis that the brand new bosses merely weren’t as gaga over Loux as have been the previous bosses — that commissioner Bud Selig allowed the pitcher to turn into a free agent.

Q: Might that occur now with Rocker?

A: No, as a result of Major League Baseball has since created a program by which the highest 50 pitchers (ranked by an MLB scouting service) are protected against being shut out … in the event that they undergo a pre-draft MRI examination, an motion that mandates the drafting crew to supply its decide no less than 40 % of the assigned slot determine (which was $4.74 million for Rocker). Rocker, like many invited to the initiative, didn’t take part on this voluntary program.

Q: So what’s the ultimate takeaway?

A: If nothing else, the Mets’ motion was daring. They may have signed Rocker, and had he succumbed to their fears, there would’ve been extra disappointment than outrage. Pitchers get harm, in spite of everything. When one thing this high-profile goes so wrong, although, it opens up extra trails to comply with: 1) Rocker’s well being; 2) The fates of gamers picked shortly after Rocker; 3) Late, low-cost picks on this yr’s draft; and 4) That eleventh decide subsequent yr.

Oh, and rookie proprietor Steve Cohen, after his first draft hit a serious snag, in all probability shouldn’t have tweeted, “Education time” when defending himself. It’s clear that, in the case of baseball, he may use simply as a lot schooling as the remainder of us.

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