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2020 Mariners Draft Preview: RHP Cole Wilcox

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A 6’5” flamethrower with a deep arsenal and plenty of upside left

USA Baseball 18U National Team Trials Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

The 2019 draft was a bit of a snoozer, but 2020 is shaping up to be a banger, and the Mariners should have at least a top-10 pick, if not closer to top-5. This year’s draft boasts a deep prep class (so far we’ve covered five-tool OF Pete Crow-Armstrong, Texas power arm Jared Kelley, and a short look at internet sensation INF Blaze Jordan), but where it really separates from 2019’s draft is in a much deeper class of collegians, specifically college pitchers. (The college bats we’ve covered so far are ASU’s Spencer Torkelson and tooled-up Vandy Boy Austin Martin). There’s a strong possibility that one school alone, Georgia, has two of the top-five draftees in 2020. We’ve already covered righty Emerson Hancock; today we head back to the Bulldogs’ rotation to look at another intriguing right-handed pitcher.

Cole Wilcox is actually a year younger than his rotation-mate Hancock, but he’s a draft eligible sophomore who just celebrated his birthday on the 14th of this month (happy birthday Cole, and a shoutout to all summer birthday babies who never got their special day during the school year and had to have the “celebrate everyone’s birthdays at once” on the last day of school). The 6’5”/230 Wilcox, who played on Team USA and excelled at all the major showcases, was highly coveted out of Heritage HS in Georgia, but as the son of a Dawg himself—his father brought him to a Georgia baseball game when he was just five years old—Wilcox wanted to don the red and black, and set a prohibitively high price tag on his services.

In high school, Wilcox’s fastball already sat 91-94; as he’s added more muscle he’s boosted that into the high 90s, and has touched triple digits.

Wilcox also throws a slider that was the least developed of his three pitches coming out of high school, but has improved over his year at Georgia into a true weapon. His second-best pitch is an 81-84 changeup with good fade that he’s had since high school, a testament to how developed his pitch repertoire was even at a young age, and the reason clubs coveted him so despite his strong commitment to Georgia. Wilcox is a quick worker on the mound and doesn’t nibble; he goes right after hitters and trusts his arsenal to get the job done.

Some scouts have raised concerns about Wilcox’s delivery, which he repeats well but is slightly unorthodox. Wilcox throws from a three-quarters slot with a motion that begins “deep,” with his arm almost parallel to the ground before he catapults it forward, leading some to worry about the potential for a shoulder or other injury and others to see a future in the bullpen. Here’s a look at him pitching on the Cape earlier this summer; at about thirty seconds in, you can get a good look at his motion from the side:

More concerning to the Mariners might be Wilcox’s free passes; this year he issued 38 of them against 64 strikeouts in 59.2 innings, with an ERA of 4.07. Those aren’t terrible numbers for a true freshman playing in the SEC by any means, but they do suggest work yet to be done in refining his command. A healthy, effective sophomore season could help determine if clubs feel comfortable with expending a top-10 pick on him (or more importantly, top-10 money); ultimately, Wilcox holds the leverage in this situation, and will simply return to school if he isn’t offered a deal commensurate with his talents. There’s more risk here than in a traditional college arm, but also an appealing blend of polish, youth, and upside that should make Wilcox one of the first pitchers off the board next June.