As we count down to the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which will be held in Denver from July 11-13 during this year’s All-Star Game festivities, Vanderbilt pitcher Kumar Rocker is expected to be one of the top picks.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-hander comes with an impressive resume. He has a 99-mile-per-hour fastball and also effectively throws three other pitches. He helped Vanderbilt University win the 2019 College World Series, earning Most Outstanding Player honors, and that came after he threw a no-hitter in the Super Regional against Duke to help the Commodores reach Omaha and the CWS. Against Duke, Rocker threw 131 pitches and racked up 19 strikeouts while only walking two batters.
There is no question that Rocker has made his impact on Vanderbilt and college baseball. But all of that story would be completely different had Rocker inked with the team that selected him in the MLB draft just before starting his Vanderbilt career.
The Colorado Rockies drafted Kumar Rocker in the 38th round of the 2018 draft.
It was a good reminder from one of our contributors that started us going down the rabbit hole of what might be different for Rocker, the Rockies, and Vanderbilt had he signed with the Rockies out of North Oconee High School in Bogart, Ga.
The Rockies selected Rocker with the 1,146th pick in the 2018 draft. If that draft had taken place this year, Rocker would not have been drafted as the 2021 draft will only be 20 rounds.
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However, had Rocker signed with the Rockies following the 2018 draft, he might find himself in Double-A Hartford this season, which would be his third full professional season (since there was no minor league ball in 2020). Even coming into Vanderbilt, Rocker’s fastball touched 98 and he was the second-highest rated high school right-handed pitcher in the draft that season. With that skill set, could he have progressed within the Colorado system to Double-A this year and perhaps be on track for an MLB debut in 2022 or 2023? It’s highly likely.
As a point of reference, Colorado’s top draft pick in 2018, right-hander Ryan Rolison, could make his MLB debut this season after healing from his recent surgery. But Rolison also played two seasons at the University of Mississippi before he was drafted so he had experience and development on his side that Rocker had not yet gained.
Once Rocker fell to the 38th round of the 2018 draft, it was highly unlikely that he would sign with the Rockies. His social media post making his intentions clear about attending Vanderbilt quickly put any thought of starting a career in the Rockies organization to rest.
With the Rockies having the eighth overall pick in the 2021 draft, it’s highly unlikely that they will have the chance to select Rocker again. However, like Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and so many others, Rockies fans can wonder “what if” Rocker had signed with them when the team originally drafted him.