Pitches Who Know How Kumar Rocker Feels


On August 1, Carter Stewart, a starting pitcher for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, saw history repeat itself in Queens, 7,071 miles away.

As the hours before the signing deadline for players selected in Major League Baseball’s 2021 draft faded, the Mets’ first-round pick, Kumar Rocker, went unsigned. The team reportedly had concerns about Rocker’s arm health after a physical at Citi Field. Stewart, who had a similar experience in 2018, felt some sadness as another player had to defend his health against a team that held all the power.

“I want to know more about what they saw,” Stewart said. “It was weird to see a guy like him not sign because of how dominant he was throughout his career. I’d love to tell him my story and say ‘Hey, it’s going to be okay’.”

When Rocker, a hard-hitting, right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt University, was selected by the Mets on July 11, many saw the selection as a steal. Entering the draft, it was listed as the sixth-best by MLB.com and the fifth-best by Baseball America. Relegation to the 10th pick looked low for a pitcher whose devastating shootout sequence made him an online sensation, with teammate Jack Leiter taken by the Texas Rangers as a #2 pick.

The Mets’ vice president of amateur and international scouting, Tommy Tanous, told reporters that the Rocker was a “dream” acquisition. Marc Tramuta, the team’s director of amateur reconnaissance, described him as an “obvious choice”. Two Mets starting shooters, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, tweeted words of encouragement to Rocker, and a few days later, Rocker’s face graced billboards in Times Square and Queens.

It felt like the beginning of something big.

But that date was 11 July. As the days went by, Mets officials stopped receiving questions about where Rocker would start in the minor league system and began receiving questions about why they didn’t sign him to a contract that was reportedly agreed and included the following. $6 million jackpot. Acting general manager Zack Scott has repeatedly declined to comment.

By August 1, all that enthusiasm for what Rocker could mean for the organization’s future had vanished. The deadline ended without the team and player agreeing to a deal.

This has come to light before, perhaps most notably, when the Houston Astros refused to sign Brady Aiken, the #1 pick in the 2014 draft, over concerns about his elbow. while the worries proven legitimate Along with Aiken, other players such as RA Dickey and Stewart have shown that so-called medical problems can be exaggerated.

Under MLB’s rules, not signing the 10th pick in 2021 means the Mets will get the 11th overall pick in 2022 as compensation. While this usually required the team to offer Rocker at least 40 percent of the $4.74 million slot bonus, a lower bid was not necessary in this case as Rocker chose not to participate in the league’s pre-draft MRI program.

Meanwhile, Rocker is unable to sign another team this season despite his Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin saying he only knows the player is healthy. Regardless, Rocker will be placed in the pool of eligible players for the 2022 draft.

“The MLB missed an opportunity to have this player on their system because of the club’s decision to watch the dollar draft in next year’s draft,” said manager Scott Boras, who represents Rocker and Stewart, referring to the Mets receiving the bonus. By not signing Rocker, he will earn two first-round picks next year. “The player must have the opportunity to follow other MLB teams to sign.”

Boras described the draft compensation rules as unfair.

One question stands above the others: What exactly did the Mets see? Rocker may not even know what the Mets are worried about, and according to Stewart, who went unsigned because he described it as an unexplained wrist problem, this is one of the biggest hurdles for a young pitcher trying to move his career and life forward.

“I doubted myself at first,” Stewart said of his own experience. “You would think the team was the best of the best. You would think that everything they said had to be final. Why do they say that when I don’t feel the same way? It’s hard to hear someone hurt when you’re not physically hurt.”

Stewart was selected eighth overall by Atlanta in the 2018 draft. He never wasted time due to his wrist injury, but something the team saw in his MRI provided enough pause to drastically lower the offer. The two sides failed to reach an agreement, and Stewart filed a complaint against the Braves through the players’ union.

“I don’t feel like I’m really getting any clarification on this,” he said. “I’ve always wondered why they came to their decision.”

Stewart describes the period after he refused to sign with Atlanta as dark. He didn’t pick up a baseball for five months. She was only 18 at the time and was unable to attend a four-year college while her union complaint continued. It was months into junior college baseball season, giving him ample opportunity to think about what was going on. He didn’t hate baseball, but he hated the way he treated it, and he felt trapped in a system that gave him little agency.

But when Stewart started throwing again, he rekindled his love for the game. He had a solid season at East Florida State College, scoring a 1.80 ERA and 108 goals in 13 starts. When the draft returned later that year, he decided to abandon the system altogether and signed a $7 million six-year contract with the Japanese Hawks.

“I had no real commitment to Major League Baseball,” he said. “Until now they had done nothing for me, so why did I have to force myself to stay here?”

Knuckle shooter Dickey, who won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award for the Mets, took the opposite route when faced with a similar situation. He remembers well the day he came to the Ballpark in 1996 to be selected 18th in the draft by the Texas Rangers to sign a contract with a bonus of $810,000. He needed to meet Nolan Ryan, take the first step and watch the game with his manager. But after a physical exam, he did none of that.

As Dickey stood on the balcony of the Rangers executive offices, watching the team that he believed to be his future team practice pitching, general manager Doug Melvin told Dickey’s manager that he had some concerns about his arm and that they should wait until the end. was put to further testing to make an offer. An MRI revealed that Dickey’s right elbow was missing the ulnar collateral ligament (the ligament repaired during Tommy John’s surgery). The Rangers canceled their offer and Dickey decided to re-enroll at the University of Tennessee.

“Then they called me the day before the first day of my classes and said we were going to offer you $75,000, take it or leave it,” Dickey said. “They said it was the only thing left in their budget. Of course, they had all the powers. You step into a classroom and you are ineligible. I should have completed my senior year and I could have hoped another team would give me a chance, but that condition is floating there, who knows. That’s why I decided to take the money.”

This experience was humiliating for Dickey. He felt anger towards the team doctor for a while, but he eventually channeled that anger into motivation and decided to ditch the “man who will eventually collapse” tag. It was this determination that led him to the knuckle ball that changed and extended his career.

“When another person who doesn’t know me intimately tries to tell me what I am and what I can’t do – it just stuck with me,” Dickey said.

Dickey and Stewart view these experiences as painful but important ones. It took time for them to learn to trust their bodies again and suppress any feelings of insecurity that arise. But Dickey offered some optimism for Rocker as the young actor entered his own uncertain chapter.

“You have these peaks in your journey, and it’s at one point,” Dickey said. “How it handles it will determine what happens in the end. He could win a World Series and sign a 15-year contract worth $700 million. But at some point, it will leap from this moment. And that’s a big deal.”


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