Padres wait till third round to snatch Georgia’s Cole Wilcox

Don’t get too caught up in Cole Wilcox slipping to No. 80 in the Major League Baseball draft. The San Diego Padres coveted Georgia’s big right-hander from the jump and had a plan to get him right where they did.

At least that was the word from baseball experts, who were lauding the Padres’ third-round selection Thursday of the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-5, 232-pound flame-throwing sophomore from Chickamauga. It certainly was far below most projections, which had Wilcox going as high as No. 15 in the first round.

As a draft-eligible sophomore, Wilcox could opt to return to Georgia. But San Diego is among teams known to save their bonus-pool money for draft picks who might have such options. The Padres used their first three picks this year on high school players who went Nos. 8, 34 and 45.

Last year, the Padres drafted and signed high school outfielder Hudson Head to a record $3 million bonus, the most ever for a player in that round. Head was the 84th pick in the 2019 draft. Teams have until Aug. 1 to sign their draft picks.

“All signs point to him signing,” Georgia coach Scott Stricklin said Thursday.

Wilcox was the Bulldogs’ No. 2 starter this past season. He was 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA and had 32 strikeouts and only two walks in 23 innings when No. 2 Georgia’s season ended March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In two seasons on the mound, Wilcox has posted a 6-2 record with a 3.38 ERA in 23 appearances, including 10 starts. He was named second-team All-American honors by Collegiate Baseball this past season.

“Cole is a talented, hard-working and intelligent player, and it’s been an honor to be able to coach him,” Stricklin said. “All the intangibles are there to be a star in the big leagues.”

Wilcox is the first Georgia player drafted by San Diego since Michael Curry went in the 16th round of the 2018. Jeff Pyburn, Georgia’s highest-ever draft pick went fifth overall to San Diego in 1980.

On Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners selected Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock with the sixth overall pick. Georgia has a string of 47 consecutive seasons with at least one player signing a professional contract and now 43 consecutive years with a player being drafted. The five-round draft concludes Thursday.