In the early part of his professional career, it seems Emerson Hancock’s greatest challenge has been remaining on the field.
The 23-year-old right-hander has been limited to 27 starts since being drafted by the Mariners with the No. 6 overall selection in 2020. Despite the small sample, Hancock has been brilliant when he’s actually on the mound. He holds a 2.35 ERA over those 27 games between High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas.
But it was two different injuries that caused him to miss significant time. The first was labeled shoulder fatigue, which cut short his time at the team’s alternate site in 2020 and resurfaced to prematurely end his season last August. Then, this February, Hancock suffered a lat strain that pushed his season debut to May 17.
Fortunately for Hancock, it’s been smooth sailing since his season debut. He’s made 15 starts for the Travelers with a stellar appearance at the Futures Game in between. The 6-foot-4, 213-pound University of Georgia product boasts a 2.19 ERA with 64 punchouts over 70 innings while holding opposing batters to a .194 average and .591 OPS.
The second-ranked Mariners prospect struck out the side in the sixth inning during his Futures Game appearance at Dodgers Stadium. It was a particularly impressive feat considering the National League squad only struck out two other times in the contest.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, Hancock gives an in-depth look at his pitch mix and what’s allowed him to be successful this season. He also talks about what it’s like to dominate on the big stage, his work back from injuries and keeping focus while being mentioned in trade rumors.
MiLB.com: You've been pretty consistent since your debut this season -- what has worked to get you to this point?
Emerson Hancock: The biggest thing for me this year has just been health. I've always known what I can do when I'm healthy and when I'm on the mound and competing. And this year, I've been able to stay into my routine, I've been able to stay in my preparation each week and just kind of use the work that I do week by week, just kind of translated to the mound.
MiLB.com: OK, let's start with the on-field stuff. Could you run through your pitch mix?
Hancock: I start with my fastball. My fastball can get some ride and run, depending on where I want to throw it in the zone. When I throw it down, it's going to have a little more sinking action. When I throw it up, it's gonna have a little bit of run, a little bit of ride at the top of the zone. Next, I go to my changeup, which I really like. It's something I can use to get over for strikes for righties and lefties. And when it's really, really good, it's kind of down and arm side kind of down and in to a righty. Then I go to my slider. My slider is one of those pitches I feel like I can kind of throw in any count. As a pitcher, I can throw that back foot to a lefty or off the plate to a righty.
MiLB.com: Is there anything in particular that has been a point of focus or something to improve?
Hancock: I try to take one thing out of every outing and make it a focus point -- whether it's in my throwing, whether it's in my bullpen. This past week was more of just kind of going right after hitters and trying to get ahead and trying to win each count. That can be, not only with fastballs, but with all three pitches. If I'm doing that, I get myself a really good chance, I give my team a really good chance to win.
MiLB.com: What was your Futures Game experience like? Not just to be on that stage, but shine on that stage?
Hancock: Yeah, it was cool. It was really nice to get another chance [at pitching in the game]. And then to be in L.A., All Star Weekend, Dodger Stadium, I mean, the things just go on and on. It was awesome. A group of guys that we had, you know, getting to be with them and they're just watching. You know, I really, really enjoy watching really good players perform and being on that stage. So, that was really cool getting to talk with them. I pitched pretty well. I felt really good. It's kind of weird coming out the bullpen for the first time in my life but awesome experience in all. I couldn't be more grateful for it.
MiLB.com: Is there a moment that really sticks out for you, besides actually playing in the game?
Hancock: I just think about the people I interacted with the most. I talked with Taj Bradley a bunch, Jack Leiter, Alec Marsh. I got to throw to Dillon Dingler. I mean, it was cool. [Dingler] was really good back there. That's really kind of the guys that I think of, you know, it was a really jam-packed day. You didn't really get much time to spend with them. But that whole clubhouse, that whole group of dudes, they were really good players really good people. So we had a blast.
MiLB.com: Now, you were in an interesting position as one of the better prospects in an organization that was contending at the trade deadline. What was that like for you?
Hancock: Yeah, I mean, I think anyone who tells you, they don't hear about it, they don't think about it, I think they're lying because I think that's the reality. You know, I want to scroll through Twitter, which I tried not to do, you know, my name popped up a bunch, but at the end of the day, you know, being able to focus on the next start and try to take a thing one day at a time, that really helped me. But I just tried to, you know, maybe up the intensity, my focus in my start and just go about it like that. But it was completely out of my control, and if you dwell on those things, it can kind of get to you.
MiLB.com: Last year, you had the shoulder issue; this year was the lat. What was the work like to get back and get your body right?
Hancock: It was a lot of work, honestly. It was a lot of up-and-downs, a lot of build-up. And it would re-aggravate and just build it back down again. And then eventually, I had to leave in the end of the season last year to rehab in Arizona. From that time on, I was in Arizona rehabbing and working and going through our high performance camp -- doing everything I could to put my body in the best position for this year. And sometimes you got to take a step back to take a step forward. And I felt like that's what it was for me. I had to go in and focus on what was going to give me the best chance to be a pitcher that I know I can be this year and the pitcher I can be for the Mariners moving forward.
MiLB.com: Is there anything that wasn't in your routine before that you picked up in rehab?
Hancock: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me is just not overdoing it. I really have a tendency to err on the side of working a little more. Sometimes I didn't, but I should have been able to have that awareness to know that maybe today I don't need to -- I need to save a couple throws or I need to focus more, save a couple throws and add them to the mound. Or just kind of flip flop in my routine and what I need to do to give my body the best chance for each start.
MiLB.com: What do you want to see from yourself in the stretch run? Is there anything within the actual game and the way you pitch that you would like to improve?
Hancock: Honestly, I think if I just continue to prepare the way that I do, continue to focus on doing everything that I can, on a day-by-day basis to give our team the best chance to win, no matter where I'm at, that's just how I operate the best. When I start thinking about me and myself and how to do things, that's where things kind of get sideways for me. So, the best way for me is to go out, no matter what team I'm pitching on, and try to give us the best chance to win. And that's just kind of how I operate the best. I think that's how they move forward, no matter where I'm at.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.