Kumar Rocker while pitching for Vanderbilt

Rock, Rock, Rocking MLB

On Sunday the New York Mets failed to sign their first-round pick from Major League Baseball’s 2021 amateur draft, Kumar Rocker. This is not where I will be joining the chorus of folks harping on the futility of the Mets or the mask completely coming off of Mets owner Steve Cohen following his comments after the team failed to sign their man. I may agree with both sentiments, but others have opined on them far better than I ever could. The only reason I am writing about Rocker today is due to the right-hander representing an interesting opportunity for the world of baseball outside of MLB.

The most obvious path forward for Rocker is to head back to Vanderbilt and play another season before re-entering the draft in 2022. Put my feet to the fire and I’m quite sure that’s the path that Rocker will choose to take. It makes sense, not just for him, but for his family and his future. It’s the safest path he could launch himself on and it just so happens to be the least interesting of all the options in front of him.

Rocker could decide to sit out the 2022 season and re-enter the draft after giving his arm some time off to rest. This would be an interesting and odd decision, but it’s the least likely of decisions. Sure, an injury after returning to college could hurt his draft stock, but a year off from in-game action would seriously hurt his progression as a player. Not to mention it would also serve to hurt his draft status as the lack of in-game competition would make his stuff harder to judge.

The former, maybe, Vandy standout is barred from signing with another MLB club due to the wholly anti-labor rules that go along with MLB’s chattel system that is known as the amateur draft. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t sign with another professional league that is not affiliated with MLB. As I am wont to say on this site, MLB is not that all there is to baseball and Rocker could help to further that point by signing with some team somewhere else in some other league.

There are a couple of caveats with the last scenario. 

First and foremost, this all depends on how badly Rocker wants to be a member of the MLB ranks. He could work out a deal with any unaffiliated team on a month-to-month or even just a yearly basis. If he is bound and determined to play in MLB then going that route is the only way this option makes any sense, but it would limit the number of unaffiliated leagues that would possibly sign him.

Beyond his desire to play in MLB, Rocker’s decision will be guided by his desire to develop as a pitcher. He could pitch, likely very successfully, in just about any of the lower-level unaffiliated leagues. These leagues wouldn’t offer him much in the way of development, plus they’d come with very little in the way of a payday and the risk of either bad results or an injury sidelining his MLB dreams.

The more likely avenue and the one that I personally would like to see Rocker go down is one where he signs with one of the higher-level unaffiliated leagues. For all intents and purposes, this probably means that any of the Partner Leagues are out of the question as they are doing everything in their power to bend to MLB’s will. What does that leave Rocker in terms of options? Why Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization of course.

In the case of the KBO, they’ve never really done anything like what I am suggesting. They are the dark horse in my dream Rocker signing. They have the money and the resources to make it happen, but if they’ve never given any inkling of making a splashy signing of a drafted but not signed big-name American ballplayer, why would they start now? The same cannot be said for NPB who have already shown in the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks signing Carter Stewart that they are willing to at least dip their toes in the MLB waters.

NPB would represent the perfect landing spot for Rocker. He could make big-time money for Japan’s top baseball organization while also getting with a team that will value his development and help him to become a better pitcher. By the time his NPB contract runs its course, he would be in his prime free agent years and have the ability to enter the MLB ranks on his own terms. It’s a perfect replication of what Stewart is currently trying to do with the Hawks.

Is it likely that Rocker will wear the brown and orange of the Yomiuri Giants in 2022? No, it’s not very likely at all. Would it benefit the greater baseball world immensely if Rocker were to sign with any NPB team? Yes, it most definitely would. That’s why it’s the path I am most hopeful that Rocker takes because if nothing else I want to see MLB’s world shaken up a bit.

Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Sports Illustrated

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Bill Thompson
Father (human/feline/canine), husband, Paramedic, Socialist, writer Internet Baseball Writers Association of America and Off the Bench Baseball; freelance writer at various online and print publications. Member Internet Baseball Writers Association of America & Society for American Baseball Research.

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