ARLINGTON — Rangers right-handed pitching prospect Kumar Rocker has a torn ligament in his right elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery, the team announced Tuesday. The operation will be performed by team doctor Dr Keith Meister later this week.
The former Vanderbilt ace was selected by the Mets 10th overall in the 2021 MLB Draft, but he did not sign with the club after a review of his medical information raised concerns over the shoulder right-handed. He opted out of returning to Vanderbilt for his senior season, instead signing with the Tri-City ValleyCats of the independent Frontier League before entering the 2022 MLB Draft, where he was ranked third overall by the Texas.
General manager Chris Young pointed out that this injury was completely different from what kept the Mets from signing him in 2021 and what Rangers saw last summer after the draft.
“It was an acute injury and was completely different from what we saw on our post-project exams and MRIs,” Young said. “It was an injury he suffered while throwing for us. His last start until this round, he was really, really good. The amazing part is that he was still throwing 94 to 96 mph this last round, but that was very different from what we saw after the draft.
Despite the risks at the time and the setback in light of the news, Young still believes Rangers made the right decision in deciding to select Rocker last summer.
“From my perspective, every pitcher has risk,” Young said. “I think by getting to know Kumar well over the last year, seeing the person, the character, the composition and the competitiveness, I’m more confident than ever that he’s going to be a successful Major League player. I’m glad he’s a Texas Ranger, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Pitching for High-A Hickory to open the 2023 season, Rocker posted a 3.86 ERA in six starts, striking out 42 and walking seven in 28 innings. MLB Pipeline lists him as the No. 9 prospect for the Rangers.
Rocker didn’t allow a run in his first two starts of the season for the Crawdads, combining eight innings, 12 strikeouts and just one walk. Then he hit a speed bump, giving up three and four runs respectively in his next two starts. The following week, Rocker righted the ship, pitching six scoreless innings with eight strikeouts to secure a win for Hickory.
The injury was sustained in his last start against Bowling Green, when he pitched four shutout innings before allowing five runs in the fifth. He was taken out of the game with two outs in the fifth with elbow discomfort, which led to the MRI.
Young said the 23-year-old was a “man on a mission” after the diagnosis. While initially disappointed, Rocker is in high spirits as he prepares to tackle this next phase of his career.
The target date for Rocker’s return to the mound will be the second half of the 2024 season.
“My disappointment with the situation was only for Kumar, because he is such a good person and really embodies everything we want in a Texas Ranger,” Young said. “He was doing so well. He was close to a promotion [to Double-A Frisco], and to have ripped everything out from under him at this point. As he told me, he likes a challenge. I have no doubt that he will respond favorably to it. It will come back better and stronger and even more resilient than before. We’re going to have a great pitcher.