The Toronto Blue Jays have the fifth overall pick in the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, scheduled for June 10 and 11.
As with any draft, there is much speculation concerning what player the Blue Jays will select. Keith Law of The Athletic (subscription required) named Emerson Hancock as a player for whom the Blue Jays have an interest.
This article will review the Hancock candidacy, and it will draw upon the summaries published by Baseball America (“BA”), Baseball Prospectus (“BP”), and MLB.com. For reference purposes, Table 1 contains FanGraphs Tool Grades; Table 2 reflects FanGraphs Future Value Chart.
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Hancock is a 21-year old, right-handed pitcher who is 6’4″ and weighs 215 pounds. He was drafted in 2017 by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 38th round. However, he instead elected to enrol with the University of Georgia. In 2019, his sophomore year, he posted a 1.99 ERA and led the SEC with a 0.84 WHIP in 90.1 innings. Hancock was not nearly as effective in 2020: in 24.0 innings, he recorded a 3.75 ERA and a 1.042 WHIP.
BP describes Hancock as “a physical presence on the mound with an athletic frame, broad shoulders and long limbs. He’s exactly what a workhorse starter is supposed to look like”.
Hancock’s fastball ranges from 93 to 97 mph. BA notes that, “some evaluators question the underlying quality of the pitch, wondering if it has the riding life and swing-and-miss qualities you’d like to see from a frontline starter.” BA observed that a lower arm slot might be the reason for those concerns.
BP stated that his “heater comfortably sits in the mid-90s and he carries it deep into games”.
MLB.com. MLB.com assigned a 65-grade to Hancock’s fastball.
BA reported that Hancock “throws a slider in the low 80s that he worked on over the offseason and gets plus grades at its best. The pitch is more often a 55-grade offering”. According to BP, his slider starts, “in the zone before it darts down and out. It’s not a power slider you see a lot more often these days; rather, it relies more on late tilt”. BP asserts that Hancock’s slider is average, but added strength could boost it into a plus pitch.
In terms of his changeup, BA observed that it tumbles, is his most consistent off-speed pitch, and produces whiffs from batters on either side. BP determined that Hancock’s changeup is his best secondary pitch. He has deceptive arm speed, which makes his changeup “a weapon he can use against both lefties and righties.”
BA mentioned Hancock’s curveball but offered little insight; BP called it “so-so.”
MLB.com gave a 60-grade to Hancock’s slider and changeup; his curveball received a 55-grade.
BA considers Hancock’s command to be among the elite of the 2020 draft class. BP supported that opinion and added that he is “able to spot (his pitches) in all quadrants of the plate.”
MLB.com did not provide a grade on his command, but did give him a 55-grade on control.
BA commented that “Hancock should be one of the first pitchers off the board.” However, “teams would prefer a frontline pitching prospect to have a no-doubt, out-pitch breaking ball.” Scouts would also like more consistency in the quality of his breaking ball.
BP raised the topic of recent performances. They observed that “he missed some time toward the end of last season (2019) and did not finish strong. He took the (2019) summer off from competitive pitching and was poised to solidify his draft standing with a strong 2020 start but came out of the gates flat against Richmond”. BP also pointed out that “his final three starts were all much more Hancockian, as he posted 20 innings with 13 hits allowed, four earned runs, two walks, and 30 strikeouts”.
BP passed along some Trackman data information. Hancock’s “spin rate on the slider is a tick below average, as is the curveball, but the fastball and changeup both registered data consistent with their above-average to plus qualities.” The below-average spin rate on his slider and curveball may mean that Hancock will have difficulty developing a quality third pitch.
BA, BP, and MLB.com all ranked Hancock #4 on their own prospects list. MLB gave an overall 60-grade.
BA opined that Hancock’s “athleticism, frame, command, velocity, changeup and track record in the SEC all combine to provide some safety and make him difficult to pass up.”
BP summed up the critical questions for all amateur scouting directors: risk versus reward, high ceiling versus high floor, and raw versus polished. Hancock is a “highly productive pitcher who has both present skill and room for future growth, who also has good command and multiple ways to get outs.”
The other drafting pearl of wisdom offered by BP is that it is essential to avoid overthinking. Will you “pick the flashier player with the bigger fastball or the 3,000 rpm breaking ball? The trick here is not to overthink, don’t get cute, and realize you have all the makings of a mid-rotation starter with the potential for even more”.
MLB.com’s concluding comment was that Hancock is “a quality athlete with good body control.” Furthermore, “he commands his entire arsenal and should be a frontline starter if he stays healthy.”
The last word
Hancock is likely to be a mid-rotation starter, but with upside. I wonder if the Blue Jays would opt to use their first-round pick on a player with a higher ceiling (Zac Veen or Max Meyer) rather than on Hancock?