As the 2020 MLB draft rapidly approaches, the Kansas City Royals, once again, have the opportunity to bolster their farm system with premier talent. Holding the fourth overall selection, the Royals have been mainly linked to New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales and high school outfielder Zac Veen, who ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel had the Royals taking in his most recent mock draft. But what if Kansas City reverts back to the college pitcher route with the fourth selection?
Right-handed pitcher Emerson Hancock out of the University of Georgia was a hot commodity following his junior season in 2019, in which he posted a 1.99 ERA with 97 strikeouts in 90.1 innings. His performance placed him No. 1 overall on a few “way-too-early” mock drafts prior to his 2020 senior campaign.
Unfortunately, before his season was shut down to the COVID-19 outbreak, Hancock had taken a few steps back in comparison to his junior year. Overall, in four starts, he logged 24 innings and posted a 3.75 ERA with a career-high 8.3 hits per nine. But there was a silver lining in his shortened season in Athens. Despite his previous career-high of 9.7 strikeouts per nine, Hancock was punching out 12.8 K/9 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 11.33. Though his shaky start to this season might have scared a few teams off, Hancock did trend upward during his final starts. After allowing six runs in four innings in his first start against Richmond, Hancock rebounded over his next three - surrendering just four runs on 13 hits in 20 innings (1.80 ERA). The right-hander also struck out a total of 30 batters and walked two during that span.
Hancock’s pitch arsenal is what has scouts raving about in addition to his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame. His fastball can sit anywhere from 94-99 mph with a mid-80s slider that is his best off-speed pitch. Per his MLB.com scouting report in April, Hancock’s “best offering is a fastball that sits at 94-97 mph and peaks at 99 with riding life, and all three of his secondary pitches grade as at least plus at their best.” That fastball grades out as a 65 and his slider and change-up grade at 60 respectively. Additionally, his scouting report labels him a “frontline starter if he stays healthy.”
With arms such as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch, and Kris Bubic making their rise through the system, general manager Dayton Moore has reason to believe taking a college arm with the Royals’ first-round selection is unwarranted. However, Kansas City isn’t in position to whiff on any top-five picks if contention is in its plans in a couple of years. Not to mention the Royals’ starting rotation is in a fractured state. Their pitching staff was the second-worst in the American League and fourth-worst in all of baseball. Perhaps adding a potential frontline starter to join the improving farm system is exactly what’s in the cards for Kansas City.
Hancock seems to be coachable player, with Georgia pitching coach Sean Kenny describing him as “mature, articulate, he’s also extremely respectful” and “extremely bright.” He has also been praised as a teammate, showing good leadership skills, according to head coach Scott Stricklin.
“Emerson was on the top step, cheering on the guys,” Stricklin said after his four innings of work against Richmond during week one. “That’s the kind of teammate he is. That’s why he is going to be so good because he’s unselfish.”
Help us welcome Emerson Hancock to the Leadership Academy Class of 2019. Emerson is from Cairo, GA, majoring in sports management, and pitches for @BaseballUGA— The Georgia Way (@TheGeorgiaWay) October 2, 2019
Welcome Emerson! #LEADDawgs pic.twitter.com/DV4AchbkW5
The possibility of Hancock falling out of the top three isn’t as unlikely as many presumed it would be months ago. Assuming Detroit goes with first baseman Spencer Torkelson out of Arizona State and Baltimore goes with Vanderbilt’s Austin Martin at No. 2, the only thing that stands in front of Hancock uniting with Kansas City is Miami. That being said, the Marlins have been frequently linked to left-handed pitcher Asa Lacy out of Texas A&M rather than Hancock.
Kansas City will have a handful of options to jump at when the fourth selection comes around. Whether or not the organization feels the need to add a bat or arm remains in question. But if Hancock falls into the lap of the Royals, he’s going to be a difficult name to turn down.