The Mariners saw no concern with Emerson Hancock’s 2020 performance. (Getty)
There was no question the Mariners were sitting pretty heading into the first round of the MLB Draft on Wednesday afternoon with the No. 6 selection, the highest pick in the Dipoto era. The fact that it was a college pitching rich draft was perhaps icing on the cake.
Mariners add to pitching depth, draft Georgia’s Emerson Hancock at No. 6
“It wouldn’t shock me that what we pick with our second pick surprises us just because of the amount of depth in this draft,” Mariners director of amateur scouting Scott Hunter said one week ago.
Strike-throwing, often polished college pitchers have been the preference of general manager Jerry Dipoto in the higher rounds of the draft, with Logan Gilbert selected with the 14th pick in 2018 and a trio of young arms – George Kirby, Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell – accounting for the first three selections in 2019. Add in the acquisitions of Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn in the winter of 2019 and surely they would go offense in the first round in 2020, right? Hunter would not dismiss the possibility.
“If you have a plethora of arms in your system, no one has ever really been hurt by having too much pitching,” he said with a laugh.
Well, if the right guy was there…
On Wednesday with the Orioles bucking the mock drafts and selecting outfielder Kjestad Heston with the second pick, the possibility was there. Two picks later when the Royals selected Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy, the possibility that Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock could be available at No. 6 became more of a reality.
“A couple of picks really shocked us,” said Hunter. “Guys started shuffling around so there’s probably about 15 minutes of real excitement.
“With Emerson, we targeted him from day 1. We couldn’t be more thrilled to get a player like him.”
The feeling appears to be mutual.
“We thought the Mariners would be a good chance for us,” said Hancock from a family friend’s house in his hometown of Cairo, Ga. “We had some really good meetings with them, we got to know a lot of their front office people, especially Mr. Scott Hunter. I got the phone call before – I think it’s a great fit for me, I’m really excited.”
Most of those meetings took place in the fall, well before the cornavirus shut down baseball across the country. At that time Hancock was coming off a sophomore season where he posted an 8-3 record at Georgia with a 1.99 ERA, 97 strikeouts and .185 opponent batting average against. Those numbers had him atop a number of early mock drafts but two shaky starts and talk of arm fatigue in his four starts in his shortened junior season saw his stock start to fall in 2020. The Mariners were not alarmed.
“We didn’t see anything of concern,” said Hunter, who pointed to a lat strain that sidelined Hunter for two weeks and not playing in the summer as the main culprits to the slow start. “I chalked it up to a spring training pitcher goes into his first couple of outings is still building up gets hit a little bit. It actually probably played up our opportunity to get him where people might have gotten a little scared.”
Hancock himself was not concerned about the fuss.
“At the end of the day, I look at those starts as opportunity to look to improve and get better,” he said. “For us, our focus this year was to be primed and ready for May and June when we go to the tournament, when we start the regionals. That was the main focus for me was to be healthy at the end of the year and to really be peak when the games mattered most. That is what I was really focused on.”
In his fourth and final start of 2020, the Mariners saw all they needed to see to believe he was sound. Hancock’s fastball, which can top out at 99 mph, sat 94-97, the breaking ball was sharp and the changeup a pitch worth getting excited about. If the early season proves to be nothing more than a bump in the road, the Mariners may be getting a steal in Hancock.
What’s next for the young pitcher that Hunter considers to be a top-of-the-rotation talent remains to be seen. While not yet officially announced, it is clear there will be no minor league season this year. Dipoto is holding out hope that there will be something perhaps along the lines of fall or instructional ball for select minor leaguers but nothing is guaranteed. At the least, the Mariners are hoping they can run their offseason camps where they would have their first opportunity to get their hands on Hancock.
They have already studied the delivery and the biomechanics, and they’ve gone to work on the analytics. He is 6 foot 4, 200 pounds, and expected to fill out a bit more. He’s a polished four-pitch college pitcher with a big fastball and the ability to command it. While scouts rave about that command, Hunter sees an opportunity. Hancock throws strikes but the data showing he could throw better strikes.
Emerson Hancock, Buckles pic.twitter.com/FlxtxHktjz
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 10, 2020
“The pitch usage, where he puts his fastball, we expect a bigger uptick in his swing and miss,” said Hunter.
There is one other thing Hancock, who will be announced later this week as being on the national ballot for academic All-American consideration, will have to go to work on, and that is his degree. The junior is 12 hours shy of a sports management degree that he has promised his parents he will complete.
“I am looking forward to finding ways I can satisfy that degree,” he said.
And he should do so while wearing a Mariners uniform. Hancock is expected to sign for the No. 6 selection slot of $5.7 million.
“I think it’s a great fit for me,” Hancock said. “It worked out just the way it was supposed to. I’m very blessed for the Mariners believing in me. It’s great and now I’m ready to get to work.”
Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s Shannon Drayer on Twitter.
Mariners MLB Draft tracker: Full list of every M’s pick plus details