If you wanted a starting pitcher straight out of central casting, Emerson Hancock would be your guy.
At 6’4”. 213 pounds, he’s the prototypical build of a frontline starting pitcher. Of course, the reason he’ll go in the top 10 picks of the 2020 draft go much further than that. Hancock was a noted and highly ranked prospect coming out of high school and might have been selected in the first few rounds in 2017 but for a strong commitment to the University of Georgia. That route obviously worked out very well for him.
Back then, his fastball sat more in the low-90s, but with obvious projection which has come to pass as he’s added about 20 pounds in the ensuing three years. As a freshman, he stepped into Georgia’s weekend rotation right away, making 15 starts. The 5.10 ERA in 77.2 with middling peripherals (75K/42 free passes) might not impress at first glance, but holding one’s own as a true 18-year old freshman in the rugged SEC is no small feat.
The breakout came last year, posting a 1.99 ERA in 90.1 innings over 14 starts, with 97 strikeouts against 22 free passes. In the first half of the season, he was arguably the best pitcher in college baseball before a lat injury cost him two weeks in late May. Across 45 innings in the first six weeks of SEC play, he allowed just 8 runs (1.60 RA/9) with 52 strikeouts. Of his four starts after that, one was excellent but the other three were middling.
2020 ended right before the SEC season was due to begin, but after getting roughed up in his debut, he struck out 30 in 20 innings over his next three start — though the most notable opponent in Georgia Tech touched him up for 4 runs on 8 hits.
Stuff-wise, his fastball has moved up to sitting in the low/mid-90s, touching higher and apparently up to 99. His slider is generally referred to as his best offspeed pitch, generally in mid-80s with some two plane sweep. But he’s also got a very good curve in the low-80s, not quite a true hammer of power curve but with more depth and the ability to both land it in the zone for strikes and miss some bats. He’ll at least flash a quality change-up with fade and good arm-side run that misses some lefty bats in the video below.
With that good four pitch mix, and no obvious or glaring command issues (not a high effort delivery), he should be a relatively good bet to be an above average frontline starting pitcher (with all the normal caveats). None of the offspeed pitches is truly a wipeout plus/plus offering at this point, but neither is this a case of a polished college pitcher with a four mix pitch of average-ish pitches who pitches himself into the first round as a “safe” pick (the Jon Harris/T.J. Zeuch/Deck McGuire trap if you will). Hancock has multiple above average to plus offerings
Coming into 2020 he was at least a dark horse possibility to go 1-1 and expected to go in the first couple picks, but seems to have dropped down a bit and been passed among college pitchers such as Asa Lacy and perhaps Max Meyer. He could always be a candidate to cut a deal with a team picking before the Jays, Baltimore perhaps being the most obvious candidate. He doesn’t seem to be strongly linked to the Jays, with most mocks having him available at #5 and being passed over. While in the past few years they’ve been pretty accurate, this year is obviously strange circumstances, and four months ago it would have probably been considered a surprise if he even was available to the Blue Jays.