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Former Vanderbilt right-hander Kumar Rocker, the unsigned first round pick of the New York Mets last year, began his stint with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League on Saturday. Rocker struck out six while allowing two runs on three hits and zero walks in four innings. He surrendered a two-run home run and threw 43 of 60 pitches for strikes.

Rocker reportedly sat 95-97 mph and touched 99 mph with his fastball Saturday, and his slider was in the mid-80s, all of which is his usual range. Several high-level MLB team scouting executives were said to be in attendance. Here's some video:

"It's always good to have those eyes on you, to have an opportunity to play at the next level," Rocker told following Saturday's start. "So that was amazing."  

Selected with the No. 10 pick in last summer's draft, Rocker did not sign after the Mets saw something they didn't like in his physical and reduced their bonus offer. The two sides reportedly agreed to a $6 million signing bonus prior to the physical. Reports indicate the Mets had concerns about Rocker's elbow, but obviously he is healthy enough to pitch now.

Rocker, now 22, is draft-eligible again this year and he has a little more than a month to showcase himself with the ValleyCats. Our R.J. Anderson ranked Rocker the No. 30 prospect in this year's draft before he signed with Tri-City. Here's the write-up:

John Steinbeck once wrote that the only remaining heroes are the scientists and the poor. Rocker, though neither of the above, deserves your empathy after the events of last summer. As a refresher: Rocker was selected 10th overall by the Mets, who balked at signing him after they reviewed his physical. MLB rules dictate that he had no meaningful recourse, no ability to become a free agent and sign with a team of his choosing; his options were limited to returning to Vanderbilt, pitching professionally for an independent or a foreign league team, or sitting out until he could re-enter the draft as the most famous and, therefore, the most scrutinized player in the class again. Scouts already had reservations about Rocker's durability, as well his command and his arsenal's depth; he's unlikely to resolve those perceived issues in what seems certain to amount to a proof-of-life start or two this summer. He should come off the board sometime in the first round on the strength of his track record and his hellacious slider, but the top 10 seems out of reach. Amor fati, or something.  

Rocker was one of the most dominant pitchers in the country during his time at Vanderbilt. He went 28-10 with a 3.35 ERA and 321 strikeouts in 236 2/3 innings in three seasons, one of which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, Rocker threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter with Vanderbilt facing elimination in the Super Regionals. It is one of the greatest performances in college baseball history.

This year's draft class is thin on high-end college pitching because many top arms got hurt this spring. Rocker is technically not a college pitcher, though he does bring that pedigree. A strong showing with the ValleyCats these next few weeks could vault Rocker back into the first round. Going as high as No. 10 and/or receiving a $6 million bonus seems unlikely, however.

The 2022 MLB draft will be held July 17-19. The Mets received the No. 11 pick in this year's draft as compensation for failing to sign Rocker.