The best prep prospects are always worth keeping an eye on entering the MLB Draft. Some are taken in the first round and swayed to forgo college and become professionals. There are others who should be first-round picks, but their commitment is so strong that they are passed on until much later. Right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock was the latter in 2017.
As one of the best prep prospects from the state of Georgia, Hancock almost priced himself entirely out of the draft (as the 1,132nd pick) because of his desire to honor his commitment to the University of Georgia. That decision paid off as he now looks poised to be taken within the top-five of the 2020 MLB Draft.
Hancock struggled in his freshman season, but his overall numbers in his sophomore season look dominant with a 1.99 ERA and 0.841 WHIP and a 5.39 K/BB. His ERA was more inflated in 2020 at 3.75 in 24 innings, but his WHIP was still 1.042. He also boasted a K/BB of 11.33. His frame is 6’4″ tall and 212 pounds, and he ranks as the fourth-best prospect, according to MLB.com.
The clear strength of Hancock’s game is his deep, quality repertoire. He throws four pitches, all graded 55-65/80. His fastball has elite stuff to it with riding life, topping out at 99 MPH. He can follow that up with three plus-secondary pitches, but his go-to is a slider. This pitch sits in the mid-80s, and he shows good feel with an exceptional ability to manipulate the break.
After that, he can throw either a changeup or curveball. Although the changeup is not a pitch he has needed to use often at Georgia, he possesses the ability to get swings and misses with it because he can locate it well with fade. Hancock has not used his curveball as much since high school, but it is still a good offering with a hard break.
While this repertoire helped him generate 206 strikeouts in collegiate 192 innings, his control impressed most of all. He recorded a BB/9 of 1.8 in 90.1 innings pitched in 2019. He followed that up with a rate of 1.1 in the abbreviated 2020 season.
Scouts feel that Hancock possesses everything desired in a top-of-the-draft selection. His attributes, talent, and potential lead to the thought that he will be a front-of-the-rotation pitcher in MLB.
Emerson Hancock’s health is the most alarming aspect of his resume to consider come draft day. He only pitched in 14 games in 2019, and there was a clear drop off in dominance after he returned from a lat injury. He started the season by allowing eight earned runs in ten starts. After the injury, he allowed 12 earned runs in four starts.
That lack of dominance appeared to bleed into 2020. He allowed ten earned runs in his four starts although several of his other starts were still eye popping.
The consistency is also something to be cautious about with Hancock. His freshman season of 2018 resulted in a 5.10 ERA with 3.8 BB/9. He was much better in 2019 upon cutting down on the walks, but he was clearly a different pitcher after the injury. Finally, with the walk rate even lower in 2020, his ERA still ballooned to 3.75 as he allowed 2.5 more H/9.
MLB.com notes the striking similarities between Emerson Hancock and current Detroit Tigers top prospect Casey Mize, who was drafted first overall in 2018. Both men pitched in the SEC. They also possess similar builds and deep repertoires with the ability to attack the strike zone with any pitch. Coincidentally, they both missed time in their sophomore seasons due to injury.
Heading into the draft, Mize drew comparisons to former Tiger and current Houston Astro Justin Verlander. This comp works well for Hancock as well. Both men have identical repertoires and similar builds with Verlander being slightly bigger. Verlander utilizes his curveball more than his changeup, but he primarily uses a fastball, slider combination just like Hancock.
Verlander has the ability to pace himself, starting his fastball out in the mid-90s and move into the high-90s. His slider averages 87 MPH, as well. These velocities are similar to what Hancock has displayed in college.
Emerson Hancock is a quality athlete with body control. If he can stay healthy, he can be a front line starting pitcher in MLB in the future.
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