Emerson Hancock wasn’t quite ready to leave Georgia. But Major League Baseball made it worth his while.
Hancock intended to be playing in the College World Series on Wednesday. But he also grew up hoping to play in the big leagues one day, and Hancock came a step closer to realizing that dream when he was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the No. 6 pick in Wednesday’s MLB draft. That put him in a tie for the Bulldogs’ second-highest draft selection of all-time, joining Derek Lilliquist, who went sixth to the Braves in 1987. Jeff Pyburn remains the Bulldogs’ highest draft pick, going No. 5 to San Diego in 1980.
Not overtaking Pyburn was the least of Hancock's concerns as he got the call from the Mariners at his home in Cairo, where he watched the draft with family and friends.
“I thought it was perfect; I thought it world out just the way it all was supposed to,” Hancock said in a Zoom video conference call shortly after his selection. “I'm very blessed that the Mariners believed in me and I'm ready to get to work.”
Hancock was projected to go as high as No. 2 in Wednesday’s draft. As it is, the 6-foot-4, 213-pound right-hander became the 11th first-round draft selection in Georgia baseball history. His selection gave the SEC four of the top six picks Wednesday.
The Bulldogs thought they might have two pitchers for in the first round Wednesday night. Right-handed pitcher Cole Wilcox, a sophomore, also had received first-round grades heading into the draft. But the 6-5, 232-pound righty from Chickamauga was passed over by 29 teams, plus eight teams in the competitive balance round A that completed the first night's work.
If the coronavirus pandemic had not halted sports nationwide, Hancock and Wilcox very well could still be playing for Georgia. The Bulldogs were 14-4 and ranked No. 2 in the nation and on a bus traveling to play No. 1 Florida in Gainesville when the team was ordered back to Athens after the SEC’s decision to cease all sports activity.
The 6-foot-4, 213-pound Hancock, UGA’s ace and Friday-night starter, was 2-0 at the time with a 2.75 ERA with 34 strikeouts and only three walks at the time. In his Bulldogs career, Hancock is 16-7 with a 3.47 ERA in 33 appearances, all starts. He has tallied 206 strikeouts and 55 walks in 192 innings.
In two seasons, Wilcox is 6-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 appearances including 10 starts. Wilcox earned second-team All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball in 2020 after going 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA. He had 32 strikeouts and two walks in 23 innings.
In interviews leading to the three-day draft, Hancock insisted that returning to UGA was an option. But he admitted that the call he received Wednesday night represented the realization of a lifelong dream.
“To hear the commissioner call your name, man, that's something that hit me really hard,” Hancock said. “It kind of makes you remember all your past experiences, tournaments and things you've done to get to this point. And having all these special people with me ... it hit me really hard.”
Hancock and Wilcox are the top tier of more than a half-dozen Georgia players hoping to get a call from a major league team. Normally a 40-round event, the draft was trimmed to five rounds this year in a cost-cutting measure for professional baseball.
Rounds two through five will be held Thursday, accounting for an additional 123 selections. Among the Bulldogs considered top 500 prospects are junior left-hander Ryan Webb, senior shortstop Cam Shepherd, junior outfielder Tucker Bradley, junior left-hander C.J. Smith, junior infielder Riley King and sophomore outfielder Ben Anderson.