Tigers draft watch: Georgia ace Emerson Hancock returns to form

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

This is the third in a series of updates on players the Tigers could select with the No. 1 overall pick in June’s MLB Draft.

No way, you say, the Tigers will draft a pitcher first overall. Not this year. Not in June, 2020. Not when hitters such as Spencer Torkelson, Austin Martin, and Nick Gonzales are wrecking fences and opposing pitchers. Especially, when they are college batters, seasoned against competition and pitching that make the big leagues a more predictable path.

Georgia's Emerson Hancock fired seven shutout innings in his second start of the season.

And that forecast probably holds.

But if you're pitching-hungry, as 30 big-league teams to varying degrees all are, the shelves already are stocked with slightly more than three months to go before the June 10 MLB Draft arrives.

Emerson Hancock looked more like Emerson Hancock in his second start last weekend. Tigers scouts won't ignore Georgia's prized right-hander as the countdown continues. 

Nor will Asa Lacy of Texas A&M be shunted aside as the Tigers debate which hitter to grab in June.

But hold any and all horses before assuming anything ahead of June.

This is baseball. These are prospects. And any early handicapping is going to change. 

Count on it.

1. Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State, 6-foot-1, 220, 1B: As an example of what Torkelson’s life will be like through the remainder of ASU’s spring, he batted six times Tuesday against New Mexico State. Five of those at-bats were walks. He has walked 18 times in nine games for the Sun Devils. He still has four homers and a 1.485 OPS. His slugging percentage (.880) is heavier than his on-base average (.605). Those who believe Torkelson is sliding out of any preseason top slots are counting on subsequent games and weeks to tell a different tale.

More: Possible Tigers pick Torkelson 'close' to perfect hitter, 'generational-type player'

2. Austin Martin, Vanderbilt, 6-foot, 170, 3B: No complaints through Martin’s first nine games: .367, 1.112 OPS, with a single strikeout and six walks. He has one home run, and D1Baseball.com’s scouts say the power drop is tied to swing changes Martin needn’t have made. Appears also as if he’ll be moving from third base to center field, which is where some big-league teams believe he eventually will settle. For now, a wee bit of mystery has arisen relative to his power and whether it will reassure scouts. Answers will be clearer as Vandy dives into its SEC schedule.

3. Emerson Hancock, University of Georgia, 6-4, 213, RH starter: Everyone knew that first jagged start against Richmond was an off-night. Hancock was back in gear last Friday against Santa Clara: seven innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, eight strikeouts. He began the 2020 college schedule as baseball’s best amateur pitching prospect. He remains there. For now, anyway.

4. Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State, 5-10, 190, 2B: The way he’s going, Gonzales could unseat Martin from that second spot. In nine games, Gonzales, who bats right-handed, has seven home runs, three doubles, a triple, and a 1.970 OPS. He has five whiffs and 12 walks. Gonzales isn’t playing the brand of opponent Martin sees in the SEC, but scouts are factoring some differences there as they appraise the hottest of 2020’s prime-time talent. 

More: Tigers draft watch: Nick Gonzales debuts with four-homer weekend

5. Asa Lacy, Texas A&M, 6-4, 215, LH starter: Hard to say where Lacy ends up on June’s draft list once he finishes destroying batters this spring. But, if anything, he could climb a notch. Or two. He has been Lacy-like in two starts: 11 innings, 22 strikeouts, three walks, and seven hits. 

6. Garrett Crochet, University of Tennessee, 6-6, 218, LH starter: Not yet worrisome, but Crochet has some early arm strains that have kept him out of work. He should — should — be back as early as this weekend, at which time something close to that 100-mph fastball in which Crochet specializes will likely return. If nothing’s amiss and Crochet resumes old habits, he figures to be one of the meanest starters in the land.

7. Jared Kelley, Refugio (Texas) High, 6-2, 200, RH starter: Still early for preps who won’t get serious until March. Unless the old prep-pitcher bugaboos — arm ills, principally — blindside Kelley, he could be the first prep pitcher snagged on June 10. Power, body, uncommon polish — he has a lovely future.

8. Nick Bitsko, Central Bucks East High, Doylestown, Pa., 6-4, 220, RH starter: He’s draft-eligible in June, as a 17-year-old. Only problem is that cold-weather venue in which he plays, which means scouts will wait a few more weeks before getting a pre-draft bead on Bitsko. He’s supposedly committed to the University of Virginia. But draft-night dollars are expected to change plans there.

9. Austin Hendrick, West Allegheny High, Oakdale, Pa., 6-1, 205, OF: Another gent who knows why Sunbelt prospects get so much more attention. West Allegheny, like most schools north of the tropics, won’t begin its season until mid-March. Until then, Hendrick, a left-handed batter with an equally big left arm, will remain veiled.

10. Carmen Mlodzinski, University of South Carolina, 6-2, 231, RH starter: Nothing dramatic — yet — after a pair of Mlodzinski starts. He has an 0.64 ERA, while batters are hitting a chilly .188. Otherwise, in 14 innings: nine hits, nine strikeouts, two walks, and a lone run. Decent bet that as Mlodzinski makes it back from some arm issues last spring, his stuff will pick up, and so will his draft stock.

Others to watch: Mick Abel, RH starter, Jesuit High, Portland, Ore; Reid Detmers, University of Louisville, LH starter; J.T. Ginn, Mississippi State, RH starter; Robert Hassell III, Independence High, Franklin, Tenn., OF; Ed Howard, Mount Carmel High, Lynwood, Ill., shortstop; Casey Martin, University of Arkansas, shortstop; Garrett Mitchell, UCLA, outfielder; Tyler Soderstrom, Turlock (Calif.) High, catcher; Zac Veen, Spruce Creek High, Port Orange, Fla., outfielder. 

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.