Hancock Dominates Winter League

Following a stellar season at AA Arkansas, SP Emerson Hancock was assigned to the Santiago Dawn of the South Western Hemisphere Winter League, along with many of the Mariners’ other top prospects. The winter league functions as a place to send top prospects looking to get in a little more work or make up for games lost to injury, fringe prospects trying to prove that they have some shred of promise, or, for some reason, Rafael Devers. Mariners’ GM Will Gibson stated that the top goal of this year’s winter league experience was to identify at least one pitcher in addition to Jeff Russell who the team can count on to be a member of the future rotation. Hancock was likely already the frontrunner before his recent performance, but he has gone above and beyond to solidify his place in the hopes and dreams of Mariners fans everywhere.

Drafted 6th overall in the 2020 Draft, the 2021 season was Hancock’s first taste of professional ball due to the pandemic-induced cancellation of the 2020 minor league season. Through 24 starts at AA, the right-hander posted a 2.97 ERA while striking out 9.6 batters and walking 2.7 per 9 innings, a very impressive performance to start off his career. Despite his excellent performance, scouts remained split on his potential. Most believed that he would be able to make it into a big league rotation, but likely only as a bottom of the rotation starter.

Upon arrival in South America, Hancock was named the Dawn’s #2 starter behind Russell, and he immediately got to work, pitching 7 scoreless innings against the Giants’ Suriname Gryphons while striking out 10. Hancock faced a bit more resistance against the loaded Stanley Pumas of the Pittsburgh Pirates (side note: I’m highly doubtful that the Falkland Islands is home to any pumas), where he allowed 1 run on 5 hits and 2 walks over 5.1 innings. Since that outing, Hancock has been utterly dominant, striking out 33 batters over his last 19 innings while allowing only 1 run on 6 hits and 6 walks. After his first 5 starts, the 22-year-old has posted a league-leading 0.57 ERA, 13.8 K/9, and a 1.43 FIP, as well as a 0.83 WHIP and 2.3 BB/9. Scouts also report that his velocity is up a tick, with his fastball reaching a personal high of 98 mph. Despite facing mostly sub-par competition (all of the teams Hancock has faced other than the Pumas have a winning percentage of .400 or below), observers have been very impressed with Hancock’s work and many are now believing that he can be a middle of the rotation or better starting pitcher.

Hancock’s performance raises the question of when he will make his major league debut. Likely the most advanced of the Mariners top pitching prospects, his overall lack of professional experience will likely keep him in the minor leagues a bit longer. However, I would expect a Spring Training invite and a probable start at AAA for the 2022 season. If he continues to perform the way he has thus far, he should find himself in the majors before season’s end. The future is certainly bright in Seattle, and it looks as if Emerson Hancock has emerged as a top option for the next great Mariners team. A future rotation of Hancock, Russell, Alvaro Seijas, and possibly this year’s #2 overall pick should provide plenty of hope to return to the playoffs for the first time in two decades.

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