By JOHN KEKIS
AP Sports Writer
TROY, N.Y. (AP) — Former Vanderbilt star right-hander Kumar Rocker returned to the mound Saturday night with the Class A Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League, and his first experience as a pro ended after four innings of work.
With several major league scouts and a near sellout crowd of 4,088 at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium on hand to get a glimpse of Rocker’s first game since last June 30, the hard-throwing, 6-foot-5, 245-pounder breezed through the first three innings against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles, his fastball topping out at over 98 mph. He threw 38 pitches and struck out five, all but the first one swinging, and allowed just a bloop single to left field by the second batter he faced, second baseman Ricardo Sanchez.
But Rocker ran into trouble in the fourth, hitting the leadoff batter and tossing a wild pitch that prompted Tri-City manager Pete Incaviglia to make a brief visit to the mound with cleanup hitter Carlos Martinez at the plate. Rocker stayed in and allowed a two-run homer to left field to Martinez on the eighth pitch of a long at-bat for a 2-0 lead.
That was it for Rocker. He faced 16 batters, threw 60 pitches, 43 for strikes, struck out six, did not walk a batter, and allowed two earned runs.
Three years ago, Rocker led Vanderbilt to a College World Series title as a freshman and as a junior was drafted No. 10 overall last year by the New York Mets. He then walked away from the Mets when the two sides failed to reach an agreement by the August deadline because of concerns over the health of Rocker’s right arm. He was the only first-rounder not to sign. To compensate for not signing Rocker, New York received another first-round pick this year.
The 22-year-old Rocker signed a minor league contract with Tri-City in mid-May that will keep him active until the MLB draft in July.
At Vanderbilt, Rocker was a three-year standout and posted a 2.89 ERA in 42 games (39 starts), leading the Commodores to a national championship in 2019. He was named MVP of the College World Series, racking up 44 strikeouts in 28 postseason innings, including a 19-strikeout no-hitter in the NCAA Super Regional against Duke. His ERA was a microscopic 0.96 in four postseason starts.
He went 28-10 for Vandy and opted not to go back to college after not signing with the Mets, training instead on his own. The short stint with the ValleyCats will allow him to get back in the groove of live action.
Rocker’s draft prospects are uncertain since scouts haven’t been able to see him throw until now, but he still could go on the first round again, though not as high. He’s expected to make at least three more starts in June for TriValley.
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