- He becomes the first Ivy Leaguer selected in this year’s MLB Draft and fourth-highest pick in Yale history. Meanwhile, New York Mets failed to sign Vanderbilt University pitcher Kumar Rocker before July 31 deadline.
Indian American baseball player Rohan Handa has signed with the San Francisco Giants. Last month, the left-handed pitcher was selected in the fifth round of the 2021 MLB draft with the 146th overall pick. As per the Major League Baseball website, The left-handed pitcher became “the first Ivy Leaguer taken in this year’s draft and the fourth-highest pick in Yale history.”
“It’s official! Let’s roll @SFGiants,” Handa tweeted on July 23.
In just two years at Yale, the North Carolina native has progressed from being an average baseball player to a star athlete pursued by scouts. “It was unbelievable, especially to be drafted by such a class organization like the Giants,” Handa told mlb.com. He said he’s also excited to work with the Giants’ “well-regarded pitching coaches, including director of pitching Brian Bannister and coordinator of pitching sciences Matt Daniels, to see how he can continue to elevate his game as he begins his pro career.”
A rising senior at Yale, the 21-year-old has been making a mark in the college circuit and attracting the attention of professional scouts. He most recently played for the Mystic Schooners in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
With a short 2020 season and a canceled 2021 season, Handa began working with private coaches to help improve. “The results helped make Handa one of the most incredible draft stories in recent history,” as per aroundthefoghorn.com, a website about the SF Giants.
Last year, Handa made four appearances with a 1.80 ERA, 1-1 record, and one strikeout, as per the Take baseball website. That year, as a sophomore at Yale, the left-handed pitcher was throwing in the low-to-mid 80s with a 1.80 ERA (earned run average) in four appearances before COVID-19 ended the season early.
That’s when Handa returned home to Charlotte, North Carolina. He used the time to analyze his baseball career. “I needed to take a good look at myself and realize there was a lot of stuff I needed to work on,” Handa told The Hartford Courant. He enlisted the help of Tread Athletics, a Charlotte-based pitching performance training service, to help him reach that next level.“Honestly, I’d say COVID has been the biggest blessing for me,” Handa told The Hartford Courant. “If COVID didn’t really happen, I maybe would have been the same because I didn’t have a set routine at the time and I was able to figure myself out as a pitcher.”
Handa speaks three languages — English, Chinese, and Hindi, and also plays the viola. He founded the U.S. chapter of an international charity organization “Kitaab,” which promotes childhood literacy and provides books to underprivileged kids around the world. At Yale, Handa is pursuing a degree in both political science, statistics, and data science. “I suppose [it’s about] having a purpose,” Handa told The Hartford Courant. “And having that sort of discipline, which is what I got from my parents. Their influence means the world to me. It changed me completely.”
Before joining Yale, Handa was a four-year letterman in baseball at Cannon School in Concord, North Carolin He won the MVP Award in 2018 and Cy Young Award in 2017 and 2016. At Concord, he made it to the second team Independent Schools all-conference in sophomore, junior and senior years.
He was selected for USA Baseball Under 14 National Talent Development Program in 2014 and the USA Baseball Under 15 National Team in 2015, becoming the only player from North Carolina on the national team. He also represented the U.S. in Pan American games held in Mexico where he won a gold medal. Recipient of the High School Rising Player of the Year Award in 2016, he was nominated for High School Pitcher of the Year and Academic Player of the Year awards in 2018. He was a starter for South Charlotte Panthers, a prestigious North Carolina travel baseball team.
Talking about being one of the few Indian American baseball players, he told The Day that he’s “just trying to expand the game.” He also mentioned the need to create “something in India, where people start to enjoy, people start to learn.” Adding that “it’s going to take a long time, a lot of discipline and a lot of planning. But I do think we can get if we get the right group of people to figure this thing out, it would be probably the greatest thing that’s ever been achieved in my life.” Till then, Handa wants to improve himself as much as possible. “If the draft happens, it will definitely be a good opportunity.”
Last month, Vanderbilt University pitcher Kumar Rocker fell to the New York Mets at No. 10 in the MLB draft on July 11 night. However, the Mets did not sign the right-hander before the July 31, 5 p.m. ET signing deadline. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound right-hander, who is about to turn 20 in November, had a signing agreement with the Mets for $6 million. “But the deal fell apart following his physical examination as the Mets expressed concern over the health of Rocker’s arm,” ESPN reported, citing sources. However, Rocker’s agent, Scott Boras, said in a statement that his client is healthy. “Kumar Rocker is healthy according to independent medical review by multiple prominent baseball orthopedic surgeons,” read the statement, as reported by various new media.
“The Mets will receive the 11th pick in the 2022 draft as compensation for not signing Rocker,” reported ESPN. Rocker was the only one of the Mets’ 20 draft picks to not be signed by the franchise.
Meanwhile, CBS Sports reports that Rocker could return to Vanderbilt, “where he can take advantage of the new NIL rules to enrich himself while attempting to raise his stock ahead of next year’s draft.” However, as per a report in Barstool Sports, Rocker won’t go back to Vanderbilt after failing to sign with the Mets.
Rocker is the son of the Eagles’ first-year defensive line coach Tracy Quinton Rocker, and Lalitha “Lu” Rocker, who is originally from India — her parents having immigrated to the U.S. from India, making them a “Blindian” couple.
Kumar, who once played both football and baseball, stopped playing football, which he lettered in twice, completely by his junior year of high school, according to his Mets Draft profile. As a high school junior in 2017, Kumar had a 1.63 earned run average (ERA) with 68 strikeouts in 55 2⁄3 innings, according to Wikipedia. In 2017, he played in the Under Armor All-America Baseball Game and Perfect Game All-American Classic. Later that same summer, he played for the USA Baseball 18U National Team. By the end of the 2018 baseball season, the right-hander was considered not only one of the best prep pitchers available in the 2018 MLB Draft but one of the best players available, period. Colorado had picked Rocker in the 38th round in 2018, but Rocker decided to attend Vanderbilt out of high school rather than sign a major league deal.
Appearing in 19 games for the Vanderbilt Commodores and starting 16 of them, Kumar posted a 3.25 ERA in 99.2 innings, allowing 88 hits, walking 21, and striking out 114. His first few appearances in the NCAA were not bad per se, but he really started gaining momentum in his second half, posting a 2.17 ERA in his last 11 starts, striking out 82 in 70.2 innings. Kumar’s dominance continued into the NCAA tournament – a big reason Vanderbilt won the 2019 College World Series – and on June 8, Rocker made history. Pitching against Duke, he became the first pitcher in NCAA history to throw a no-hitter in the Super Regional round of the 2019 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament, striking out 19 batters in the Commodores’ 3-0 victory. He followed this up with another record – recording 11 strikeouts in 6.1 innings in the College World Series finals against Michigan, setting Vanderbilt up to win its second national championship. He was also named the College World Series Most Outstanding Player, reported Baseball America.
According to ESPN, Rocker, who was born in Montgomery Alabama, moved through seven states as a kid, because of his father’s coaching career. The longest stay was seven years in Arkansas; the shortest was 11 months in Oxford, Mississippi. “Moving definitely made me the person I am today,” Rocker was quoted as saying. “It showed me how people act and go about their business. I took a little from each person in each of those seven states and put it in myself.”