Mariners 2020 First-Rounder Emerson Hancock Talks Pitching

Emerson Hancock brought a power arsenal with him to the Seattle Mariners organization. Drafted sixth-overall last year out of the University of Georgia, the 22-year-old right-hander features a mid-90s fastball, a biting slider, a plus changeup, and a capable curveball. But he’s not your prototypical flamethrower. While not backing away from the power-pitcher label, Hancock fashions himself more as a craftsman, a starter who can go deep into games by mixing and matching, and by commanding the strike zone. His track record backs that up. Over his final two collegiate seasons — this in the talent-laded SEC — he logged 131 strikeouts, and walked just 21, in 114-and-a-third innings.

No. 4 on our Mariners Top Prospects list, Hancock currently has a 2.19 ERA in four starts comprising 12.1 innings with the High-A Everett AquaSox. He talked pitching with FanGraphs over the weekend.


David Laurila: To start, give me a self scouting report. How do you identify as a pitcher?

Emerson Hancock: “One thing I’ve always tried to do, especially since college, is be able to ‘pitch’ — mix speeds, throw pitches in different locations, throw anything in any count to get hitters off balance. That’s something I take pride in. Another thing is trying to do the little things right, like holding runners.”

Laurila: You have plus stuff. How do you go about balancing power and command?

Hancock: “Something that’s helped me is that I haven’t always had the power. In high school, I struggled to have that big-time velocity, so I kind of had to learn at a younger age how to ‘pitch.’ At Georgia, [velocity] started happening — it came along — so now I had this other way. I had to learn how to use it. Even now, in the minor leagues, I’m trying to find different ways to use it. It’s something that’s always evolving for me.”

Laurila: How hard did you throw in high school?

Hancock: “My senior year, I would have a couple of games where I was maybe up to 92 or 93 [mph], but I would settle in at 89-90 the majority of the game. That was still good enough to get guys out.”

Laurila: What was behind your velocity gain in college?

Hancock: “I think it was a combination of two things. I got to work with two of the best coaches possible: our strength coach was Ryan Gearheart, and Sean Kenny was our pitching coach. I came to Georgia at 182 pounds and I got up to about 205 by the end of my freshman year. So the weight training was definitely one thing, and then getting to work with Sean Kenny every day, smoothing out mechanics and finding ways to get the most-efficient with my body… those two things kind of collided together.”

Laurila: Where is your velocity now?

Hancock: “I’ll touch a seven, or touch an eight, but I kind of settle into that four-to-six range. That seems to be the sweet spot for me right now. Sometimes when it gets warmer, velocity picks up a little bit, but that sweet spot is where I like to stay, and just pitch.”

Laurila: How fastball-heavy are you?

Hancock: “I would say about 50%, maybe a tick below. It kind of depends on what offspeed is working that day. If I got a really good feel for a certain pitch, it might be a little bit below. Again, you’ve got to pitch. You’ve got to make adjustments and mix counts.”

Laurila: Are you throwing a four-seamer, a two-seamer, or both?

Hancock: “All four-seams.”

Laurila: Have you ever thrown a two?

Hancock: “I have not”

Laurila: I recall seeing somewhere that you have thrown some twos…

Hancock: “It’s always just naturally run on me. I’ve tried to make it ride a little bit — I’m kind of working on that a little bit — but run is something I’ll probably always have. If we can find a way to potentially do both, that would be pretty cool.”

Laurila: You’d ideally have carry up in the zone…

Hancock: “Right. But there are certain times, or certain hitters, where you want to run an inside fastball in on a righty’s hands. That pitch has a pretty significant purpose, too.”

Laurila: Outside of what you’ve told me, what have you learned about your fastball since coming to pro ball? The Mariners are obviously a data-savvy organization.

Hancock: “Yes, that’s the part where technology is creeping in everywhere. When you get to pro ball you start learning more about your pitches — how they play and where you need to locate them. For me, it’s learning that new location piece, where I can put this pitch to get the best results.”

Laurila: Where is your fastball most effective?

Hancock: “I think I can move it all around. That’s the cool thing about it. If I want to run it a little bit, it’s going to play well on that inner half. Then if I want to ride it and go up in the zone… that’s two easy pieces.”

Laurila: Do you know what your spin rate and spin efficiency are?

Hancock: “I do not. I’d have to check and see.”

Laurila: That’s not something you pay much attention to…

Hancock: “I mean, it’s one of those things where… for me personally, it’s nice to know. I think it’s nice to know how your pitches spin, especially your offspeed, but I try not to get completely bogged down on that.”

Laurila: What is your best breaking pitch?

Hancock: “Right now, I’d say it’s my slider. It’s a pitch I learned in college, and it’s something that I can control. If I need it early in the count, I can throw it for a strike. When I need it for later, to finish counts, I’m pretty confident in being able to do that.”

Laurila: Is the ability to command it the primary reason you feel it’s better than your curveball?

Hancock: “Yeah, I think so. In my arsenal, the slider holds a different purpose. It’s a little bit harder, it’s a little bit firmer, and it has a little more movement on it than the curveball. I think that’s why it’s a better pitch for me.”

Laurila: Is it more depth-y or more cutter-ish?

Hancock: “I’d say more cutter-ish.”

Laurila: Is that something that comes naturally?

Hancock: “I’d say it’s something you work on every day. You figure out different things to make it move, and then eventually you kind of say, ‘This is the best kind of movement for me with how my arm [works].’ That’s kind of how it’s played out.”

Laurila: What about your changeup?

Hancock: “That’s a pitch I’ve had since I was 10 or 11. It’s one of the first pitches I learned when I was working with my pitching coach, and it’s turned out to be a pretty good pitch for me. It’s something I like to use to both sides of hitters.”

Laurila: Who was your pitching coach at the time?

Hancock: “It was a local guy, but he actually played a couple years in the big leagues — Boo Taylor [Billy Taylor] played with the Athletics. Having him — a guy who’s done it, and did it for pretty extended period of time — was pretty cool for me,”

Laurila: Is the changeup you’re throwing now basically the same one he taught you?

Hancock; “It is. Same grip. It’s a pretty different grip. We wanted to keep it as similar to my fastball as possible, so I kind of just shaved my fingers over a certain way from my fastball grip. That’s been the one that’s worked for me ever since I was probably 12 or 13.”

Laurila: Your hands are obviously a lot bigger now…

Hancock: “Right, so it’s not the exact same — you have certain tweaks with your fingers; you slide them over a little bit — but it’s still pretty cool to learn that grip so young, and still have it working for me all these years later.”

Laurila: Is it a four-seam circle?

Hancock: “Basically, yeah, except the index finger is not completely off. I like to have it right on the inside of that seam.”

Laurila; Changing direction, you’ve thrown a limited number of innings so far this year. I assume that’s going to change over the course of the summer?

Hancock: “Yes. I think the goal is to continue to build on each one, and eventually get to the point to where I’m good to go for 100 pitches every night — which I would love. That’s part of being a pitcher, right? You want to have that freedom to go out there and go as long as you can in the game.”

Laurila: It must be a little frustrating to only get a handful of innings…

Hancock: “Especially when you get rolling, but hey, it’s part of it. It’s good that they’re watching out for us and trying to protect us. I know that a lot of the guys definitely appreciate it.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Hancock: “People always ask, ‘Who do you love to watch?’ If you want that answer from me, it’s [Jacob] deGrom. That guy is unbelievable. I got to see him throw against the Braves, in Atlanta, last summer and it was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had — just to be able to watch how his arm works, and how he works. That guy’s incredible.”

Laurila: Along with being smart, deGrom is a power pitcher. Do you consider yourself a power pitcher?

Hancock: “I think so. I think you have to say that, right? When you have a little bit higher velocity, that’s a case for being a power pitcher. But at the same time, there’s an aspect of command. There’s an aspects of control that I really love learning about. I want to keep dive more into the whole idea of pitching.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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2 years ago

whenever I read these pieces about young players making their way through the minor league system (and I make a point to read each one because they’re excellent) I come away thinking gosh I was nowhere near as intelligent or inquisitive as these young people when I was their age. Really good insight and interesting perspective as always.