The Pitchers Who Know How Kumar Rocker Feels

The Pitchers Who Know How Kumar Rocker Feels
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The Pitchers Who Know How Kumar Rocker Feels

The Pitchers Who Know How Kumar Rocker Feels

On August 1, Carter Stewart, starting pitcher for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Japanese Professional Baseball League Nippon, saw history repeat itself at 7,071 miles in Queens.

As hours dwindled before the signing deadline for selected players in the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft, Kumar Rocker, the Mets’ first-round pick, was unsigned. It was reported that the team had concerns about the health of Rocker’s arm after a physical exam at Citi Field. Stewart, who had a similar experience in 2018, felt a hint of sadness when another player was forced to defend his health against a team that held all the power.

“I would love to know more about what they saw,” said Stewart. “It was very strange to see a guy like him not sign, because of his dominance throughout his career. I would love to tell her my story and say, ‘Hey, you’re gonna be okay.’ “

When Rocker, a right-handed hard-throw pitcher from Vanderbilt University, was selected by the Mets on July 11, many viewed the choice as a steal. Entered the draft, he was ranked sixth best prospect by and fifth best by Baseball America. Falling to the 10th pick seemed weak for a pitcher whose devastating pitching lineup had made him a sensation online, as well as teammate Jack Leiter, who was caught by the Texas Rangers with the No.2 pick.

Tommy Tanous, the Mets’ vice president for amateur and international screening, told reporters Rocker was a “dream” acquisition. Marc Tramuta, the team’s amateur scouting director, described him as an “obvious choice”. Two Mets starting pitchers, Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker, tweeted encouraging words to Rocker, and days later, Rocker’s face adorned billboards in Times Square and Queens.

It was like the start of something big.

But it was July 11. As the days went by, Mets officials stopped receiving questions about where Rocker would start in their minor league system and started receiving questions about why they didn’t sign him with a contract. which would have been agreed and which included a bonus of $ 6 million. Zack Scott, the acting chief executive, has repeatedly declined to comment.

By August 1, all that enthusiasm for what Rocker could mean for the future of the organization was gone. The deadline expired without the team and the player agreeing to an agreement.

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It’s a situation that has played out before, perhaps most notably when the Houston Astros refused to sign Brady Aiken, the No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, over concerns about his elbow. While concerns have proven to be legitimate with Aiken, other players like RA Dickey and Stewart have shown that the alleged medical issues can be overstated.

According to MLB rules, failure to sign the 10th pick in 2021 means the Mets will receive the 11th overall pick in 2022 as compensation. While this would generally require the team to offer Rocker at least 40% of their $ 4.74 million bonus, a lower offer was not necessary in this case as Rocker chose not to participate in the program. MRI before the league draft.

Rocker, meanwhile, is unable to sign with another team this season despite Tim Corbin, his coach at Vanderbilt, claiming he never knew the player was in good health. Either way, Rocker will be placed in the pool of players eligible for the 2022 Draft.

“MLB missed the opportunity to have this player in their system due to the club’s decision to continue with next year’s draft,” Scott Boras, the agent who represents Rocker and Stewart, said in a statement. press release, referring to the Mets getting the bonus. pool for two first-round picks next year by not signing Rocker. “The player should have the option of suing other MLB teams to sign with.”

Boras called the draft compensation rules unfair.

One question dominates the others: what exactly did the Mets see? Rocker may not even know what the Mets were concerned about, and for Stewart, who didn’t sign because of what he describes as an unexplained wrist issue, it’s one of the biggest hurdles for a young pitcher who is trying to move his career, and his life, forward.

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

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Stewart was selected by Atlanta with the eighth overall pick in the 2018 Draft. He had never been out of time with a wrist injury, but something the team saw in his MRI gave him enough time to lower its supply considerably. The two sides failed to come to an agreement and Stewart filed a grievance against the Braves through the players’ union.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever really had any clarification on this,” he said. “I always wondered why they had come to the decision they had made.”

Stewart describes the period after refusing to sign with Atlanta as a dark one. He didn’t pick up a baseball for five months. He was only 18 at the time and, with the union’s grievance pending, he was unable to attend four-year college. Junior college baseball season was months away, giving him ample opportunity to reflect on what had happened. He didn’t hate baseball, but he hated the way he treated it and felt trapped in a system that offered him little or no agency.

It wasn’t until Stewart started throwing again that he rekindled his love for the game. He had a solid season at Eastern Florida State College, posting a 1.80 ERA and 108 strikeouts in 13 starts. When the draft took place later that year, he decided to forgo the system altogether, signing a six-year contract with the Japan Hawks for $ 7 million.

“I had no real allegiance to Major League Baseball,” he said. “They hadn’t done anything for me so far, so why did I have to force myself to stay here?” “

Dickey, the knuckleball pitcher who won the 2012 National League Cy Young Award for the Mets, took the opposite route in the face of a similar situation. He vividly remembers the day in 1996 when he arrived at Ballpark in Arlington to sign a contract with a bonus of $ 810,000 after being selected by the Texas Rangers with the 18th overall pick in the draft. He was supposed to meet Nolan Ryan, throw the first pitch and watch the game with his agent. But after a physical exam, he ended up not doing any of these things.

As Dickey stood on the balcony of the Rangers’ management offices, watching what he believed to be his future team at batting practice, general manager Doug Melvin told Dickey’s agent they had concerns with his arm and they should wait until he underwent further testing to make an offer. An MRI revealed Dickey’s right elbow was missing his ulnar collateral ligament – the ligament repaired during Tommy John’s surgery – a diagnosis Dickey described as “beyond shock.” The Rangers canceled their offer and Dickey decided to re-enroll at the University of Tennessee.

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“Then they called me the day before my first day of class and said we would give you $ 75,000 take it or leave it,” Dickey said. “They said that was all they had left in their budget. They had all the means, of course. You enter a classroom and you are not eligible. I should have finished my senior year and hoped another team would give it a try, but with that condition floating around there, who knows. So I decided to take the money.

The experience was a lesson in humility for Dickey. For a while, he felt anger towards the team medic, but he eventually channeled that anger into motivation, determined to shake off the label of “the guy who’ll end up crunching.” It was this determination that led him to knuckleball, a field that transformed and extended his career.

“Having another human being who doesn’t know me intimately tries to tell me what I am and what I’m not capable of – that stuck with me,” Dickey said.

Dickey and Stewart view these experiences as painful but crucial. It took a long time for them to relearn to trust their bodies and to assuage the feelings of insecurity that resulted. But Dickey offered Rocker some optimism as the youngster enters his own uncertain chapter.

“You have these highlights in your trip, and there is one,” Dickey said. “How he deals with it will determine part of what happens in the end. He could win a World Series and sign a 15-year contract for $ 700 million. But at some point it will bounce back at that point. And that’s a big deal.

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