Texas Rangers welcome Kumar Rocker as two previous top picks make MLB debuts

ARLINGTON, Texas — Kumar Rocker will spend a few more days with the Texas Rangers before heading to Arizona, where he is expected to make his organizational debut in the fall instructional league.

Rocker, the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s draft, was officially introduced by Rangers on Thursday, more than a week after signing a contract with a $5.2 million bonus.

“Getting through this process is the starting line,” Rocker said. “So to launch out there and break free and be myself is a big step in the right direction.”

Hours after Rocker was introduced to the stadium, two of Rangers’ former No. 1 picks made their major league debuts.

Left-hander Cole Ragans, Texas’ first pick in 2016, was the starting pitcher in Game 1 of the series against the Chicago White Sox. Since being selected, Ragans has had Tommy John surgery twice. Bubba Thompson, selected by the Rangers in the first round in 2017, was recalled from Triple-A and was in the ninth batting lineup and playing left field. Thompson was hitting .303 with 13 home runs, 48 ​​RBIs and 49 stolen bases in 80 games at Round Rock.

It was the first time since 1986 that two former first-round picks drafted by the same club made their MLB debuts in the same game. First baseman Will Clark and second baseman Robby Thompson debuted together for the San Francisco Giants in Houston on April 8, 1986.

Rocker, a right-handed pitcher, was drafted again last month, a year after the New York Mets had concerns about a physique and did not sign him after selecting him with the 10th pick in total. Rocker was the only first-round pick in the 2021 draft not signed. After an August deadline, Rocker’s agent Scott Boras said Rocker had “minor non-pitching surgery” on his right arm.

Boras still didn’t go into detail about that procedure on Thursday, but said it turned out to be a way to answer any kind of questions any team would have while bringing some clarity to Rocker.

“I think the point is that Kumar didn’t have the necessary throwing range,” Boras said. “No doctor told us he needed anything. It was really just an assessment of what was out there. I’m certainly glad we did it because it revealed everything. what we were hoping for, that he was capable of throwing and had a very healthy outlook.”

Rangers have no questions about the health of Rocker’s arm. The plan to play him in Arizona this fall, instead of going to a minor league team for the rest of the summer, is what the Rangers are doing with all of their draft picks.

“With our main draft class this year, we’re following that procedure. I think the instructional league is a very fair expectation,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “The 2023 season is the most important step forward. And that’s what we’re aiming for in terms of the preparation of all our players.”

Texas had scouted Rocker in high school, his stint at Vanderbilt University, and then earlier this summer. With the Tri-City ValleyCats in the independent Frontier League, he was 1-0 and had a 1.35 ERA in five starts with 32 strikeouts and four walks in 20 innings.

The 6-foot-5, 245-pound Rocker was 28-10 with a 2.89 ERA in 42 games from 2019-21 at Vanderbilt, where he was teammate with right-hander Jack Leiter. Rangers drafted Leiter the second overall pick last summer, and he’s pitching to Double-A Frisco.

Leiter also didn’t pitch in the minors last summer, or in Arizona in the fall. He attended rookie organizational orientation last August at the club’s compound in Surprise, Arizona. Rocker spent the fall in Nashville, training at Vanderbilt’s baseball facility while taking classes as he worked to complete his education.

Rocker said Leiter has been an incredible resource with nothing but good things to say about the Rangers organization.

When asked if there was more pressure being the third overall pick or what he went through last year, Rocker replied, “Definitely the second thing. … All the pressure is gone. Happy to be No. 3 and happy to move forward too.”

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