Major League Baseball is scheduled to launch its 2020 draft on June 10. This year's edition will look different than years past. The spread of the novel coronavirus means the event will be held remotely. The owners' desire to slash costs, meanwhile, means the draft will last just five rounds instead of 40.
Here at CBS Sports, we recently kicked off this year's draft coverage recently by ranking, , and . We've also covered , and .
Over the next two weeks, we'll be running Q&As with the pitching or hitting coach for each of the top five players in this year's class, according to our evaluation. That continues today with University of Georgia pitching coach Sean Kenny, who had the pleasure of managing right-hander Emerson Hancock.
Kenny explained why Hancock was a positive role model for the pitching staff; why he wanted Hancock to throw up in the zone more often; and why Hancock's stuff was a little down this spring.
Before we get to the Q&A, here's what we wrote about Hancock when we ranked him as the fourth-best prospect in the draft:
Hancock does not have (Asa) Lacy's top-end potential because he does not have Lacy's two top-end pitches. He might have the higher floor, however, thanks to a well-rounded arsenal and a better feel for throwing strikes. Hancock has three pitches that could be classified as above-average: his low-to-mid-90s fastball, his changeup, and his slider. His delivery features some recoil, yet he walked just over seven percent of the batters he faced in three years against top-end SEC competition. (Lacy, in the same conference, walked nearly 11 percent.) Of course, Hancock should be allowed to exist outside of the comparisons to Lacy. He's a high-quality pitcher who ought to hold down a big-league rotation spot for years to come, beginning sooner than later.
Now, onto Kenny's answers.
(Note: the interview has been edited for clarity and length purposes.)
What kind of human being is he?
I get that question a lot, and it's the easiest subject matter ever. I've been doing this 24 years, and you start thinking back to the players who had the best makeup you've ever coached, and he probably has the best makeup I've ever coached -- and I've been fortunate to coach some really good ones. If you meet his parents, you would immediately know why he's such a good guy. They're awesome, salt-of-the-earth, hard-working people. He's respectful; he's a 'yes sir, no sir' kid; he means it, it's genuine; he's an extremely hard worker, he's a focused hard worker; he's a great teammate. He's everything that you want your best player to be. He's not just our best player, he's one of our best kids, if not the best kid. If he's not a 4.0 [GPA] student, he's a 3.8, 3.9 student. Across the board, just an outstanding person.
How has he grown since you met him?
I didn't recruit him. I got hired maybe a month before he was enrolling, so I didn't have a two-year relationship built [with him] like you do in recruiting a lot of times. He wasn't a little guarded around me. Just quiet, always listened, always was respectful and would do anything I ever asked him to do. But the biggest transformation I saw from his freshman to his sophomore year was just his personality started to come out. He'd smile more, he'd laugh more, he's in the locker room more with the guys. He turned into one of the guys, where before he was just learning the coaching staff and learning me, which is a natural progression I think anyway. His roommate, Ryan Webb, who is also going to be a pretty good draft pick, has a ton of personality. It's a little bit of an opposites attract relationship between the two of them, because they're tight. I think Ryan's personality really helped Emerson just let his personality come out and let him know it's okay to have some fun and laugh and smile and things like that.
What's your scouting report on him?
The first thing that sticks out is that the guy just doesn't ever throw balls. He just doesn't, and when he does, he does it on purpose. He's just a strike-throwing machine. It's a constant assault on the hitter because they've got to be in swing mode. It's the power stuff that you're starting to see more and more now in college baseball. It's a 95 mph fastball and a high-80s slider and a really good mid-to-high-80s changeup. It's power stuff, but the way he commands it is probably what sets him apart. He has a prototypical pitcher's body, 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, with long arms and lean, so it profiles as exactly what you want. But I think the thing that people will talk about the most is just his ability to throw strikes.
What about his delivery allows him that command?
It's really simple. There's not a lot of wasted movement, which I like. We don't talk about his delivery much outside of just normal everyday maintenance. What that allows him to understand is how to tweak it if something feels off. There's not a lot of things he has to go back through to figure out what may be off. It's just so simple that he kind of knows where to go with it when he needs to tweak it.
It sounds like he's good at self-correcting.
He's outstanding at it. It's something that he really enjoys. Cole Wilcox is our other high-end first-rounder this year, and they're both very similar in their approach, which is they enjoy getting better. They enjoy looking at the analytics, and looking at film, and trying to figure out what it is they can do better, whether it's their delivery or their pitch development. Both of their aptitudes are unbelievable -- Emerson's certainly is -- and they enjoy the process of getting better.
What goes into his prep for a start?
I think the thing that sets him apart -- and I guess what sets every great player apart from everyone else -- is he has his week prepared and planned down to the minute. There's a reason he's a high-end student as well, because every minute of his week is accounted for. Now, a few of those are video games, there's some Call of Duty in there, but it's regimented: 'I've got to do this on Monday.' So he'll call me or text me every Monday, 'hey, what does my week look like?' because he knows that's what I do on Mondays. I'll give him his week so he can plan. Getting ready for an opponent is no different. He knows the scouting report for this team is going to be done on this day, it's going to be up in Synergy so he can watch film, which is always up and running in our clubhouse, and he likes it. There are a lot of times that he knows the lineup before I do. I'm maybe working on a Tuesday game and he's already looking at Friday. He's meticulous, he's routine-driven, he's detail-orientated, and that's why he's a great player and a great student and all of that good stuff.
What did you work with him the most over the last six months?
Every year he goes in with a project. Two years ago, it was 'I need a slider.' What we tried to do this year was get his changeup going. It's a great pitch, and he knows it's a great pitch, we just hadn't needed it as much because he can get away with fastball-slider.
We were really trying to get him to understand his analytics and pitch to it. We were trying to get him to pitch up in the zone a little bit more, because it's north of a 2,500 RPM fastball, which puts him in the top five, 10 percent in the big leagues. Trying to get him to use his high-spin fastball up in the zone ... that's hard for a guy like him because he's so good at pitching down in the zone where he wants it.
To answer your question, it would be: understand what his analytics are, which he does, and then pitch to them a little bit more than he's been used to. He tries it. He always will do what's asked of him, but that's tricky, when you've spent your whole life hammering the ball down in the zone and now people are asking you to pitch up in the zone.
It's almost unnatural, or feels like you're making a mistake to pitch up.
That's how he feels, and he doesn't always like the look of it, but he was starting to get it. What people forget is he hasn't pitched competitively since early last June. We rested him all summer and then were really light with him last fall. He was just kind of working off some rust and he was starting to get that elevated fastball down.
Did the rust contribute to his stuff being a tick down?
That's all it was. I get it, people want to pick him apart, and I was, too. But you step back and say, 'OK, what really is the problem?' and he was the one who verbalized it to us, 'hey I got it.' He never panicked. 'I'm close, I'm getting it.' I have a tendency to believe him.
Is there anything that he taught you?
I don't think there's anything specific other than really what I've noticed with him, which has helped me coach the other guys: great players are great for a reason. He's great because of his attention to detail and every single day is the same day.
That's kind of what helped me coach that to our entire team. If this guy is this good and he's our best player and our best kid, and he's this regimented, then it's my job as a coach to teach these other guys who don't know how to do that, or it's not innate.
How can I coach them to be good at this? We really have as a pitching staff, we've spent more time on preparation and planning out your day. We've allotted 15 minutes pre-practice to doing that, whereas Emerson and Cole Wilcox and Ryan Webb have already done that. They have taught me -- and Emerson specifically -- how to coach routine and preparation to our younger guys.
So, I think that's something that, just by being around these guys and watching them and how they go about their business, has helped me put focus on that as a whole staff.