The Mariners have limped into the All-Star Break a full 16 games under .500 (if you are reading this in the future, like in the off-season or in 2020, hello! Things are bad here, in the past) and currently possess the sixth-worst record in baseball. The good news is, after a weak draft class last year, this year’s draft looks equally as loaded as 2018’s draft—the one where the Mets took Jarred Kelenic at pick #6. While much can, and will, change between now and draft day, it’s worth keeping some names in mind to monitor leading up to the draft. Between now and then, we’ll profile some of the top talents in the 2020 class so you have an idea of who to keep tabs on. Previously, we profiled ASU 1B Spencer Torkelson, considered by most experts to be the top bat in the class. Today, we’ll look at the widely-considered top arm in the class, Georgia righty Emerson Hancock.
Hancock was drafted in the 38th round by the Diamondbacks out of high school, although the selection was academic; the Georgia native drew early-round interest but was considered to be an extremely tough sign due to his strong commitment to being a Bulldog, as many of his family members had been before him. As a freshman, Hancock was merely ordinary-to-fine: he recorded a 5.10 ERA and struck out 75 in just over 77 innings pitched with 34 walks. But with his first season in the SEC behind him, Hancock committed himself to working hard over the summer to improve, opting to stay on campus and continue training rather than go play in the Cape Cod League. He added 15 pounds of good weight to his 6’4” frame and focused on improving the command on all of his pitches, but especially his fastball. That improvement showed in his sophomore season, when he cut his walks almost in half (18) while pitching over ten additional innings (90.1).
The fastball is what captivates scouts about Hancock; he can run it up to 98-99 with movement, and with his improved command, he struck out 97 batters in his 90 innings as a sophomore. It’s not the elite numbers top pitching prospect Casey Mize posted at Auburn (Mize had a double-digit K/9 both his sophomore and junior years while walking no one), but Hancock’s fastball has a potentially higher ceiling. Not only does it have plus velo, but also movement and sink, and Hancock’s arm action is clean and unbelievably quick:
Emerson Hancock, 3 Pitch K (98mph, 97mph & 96mph), 7.1/12Ks for @BaseballUGA (sophomore) pic.twitter.com/O9vU5K2uND— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 16, 2019
Hancock lives on his fastball, but he also has an arsenal of other pitches that project to be above-average offerings, including a slider, changeup, and curveball. The slider is probably the most advanced of the secondaries, with sweep and sink that makes it disappear on batters, but Hancock says he feels his curveball is one of the pitches that’s taken the biggest step forward with his added muscle, as he feels like he’s getting tighter spin on it. If you watch this video of his 11-K day against Missouri there’s a particularly nasty example of the curveball at 1:04, plus plenty of examples of the slider:
The only thing that slowed Hancock’s sophomore campaign was health. After a dominant 11-strikeout performance on April 18, it was announced Hancock would miss his next start due to “arm soreness,” later refined to a diagnosis of a minor lat strain. Hancock didn’t pitch again until mid-May, and he only tallied just over 20 innings for the rest of the season, including a start against Ole Miss where he couldn’t clear the fourth inning. Lat strains aren’t a chronic issue, but it is something to monitor as Hancock looks to cement his place as the top arm taken in the draft this year. Much can change in a year, especially for pitching prospects, but the general buzz around Hancock currently is that he won’t make it out of the top three picks—a shame, because his work ethic and overall makeup would make him an ideal Mariner, and he’d already have a built-in friend in the org with 2018 draftee and fellow Bulldog Keegan McGovern. Nevertheless, now that we’ve covered the consensus top arm and the consensus top bat at the top of the draft (as of this writing), we’re about to enter the tier where the Mariners will most likely be shopping, and things are about to get very interesting.