Nats can still draft quality collegiate pitchers at No. 22

Welcome to the First-Year Player Draft. Tonight we will find out the Nationals' selection at No. 22. They also have selections in these next two days at No. 55 and No. 71 overall.

Tonight will feature a pair of University of Georgia right-handers in Emerson Hancock and Cole Wilcox very likely going in the first round. Hancock is slated as the No. 4 prospect and Wilcox is judged No. 23 overall in the latest top 200 prospect list. Georgia has had two players go in the first round twice in school history: 1987 and 2008.

The Nats have their eyes again on Wilcox, who was 6-2 with a 3.38 ERA in 23 appearances over two campaigns, earning second-team All-America honors after going 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in the shortened 2020 season. He had 32 strikeouts and two walks in 23 innings.

Thumbnail image for Cole-Wilcox-white-sidebar.jpgThere is a chance Wilcox could be around when the Nats select at No. 22. The organization has already demonstrated its belief in him, selecting Wilcox late in the 2018 draft.

"I think the sky is the limit for Cole," said South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston. "He has an extremely big, strong, durable body. The velocity, I think, will be in the 100-to-102 mph range someday. I think whoever drafts him will probably send him out as a starter and see how he fares there, and knowing that if that's not turning out the way they want he could absolutely be a dominant bullpen guy."

Hancock went 16-7 with a 3.47 ERA in 33 collegiate starts, striking out 206 and walking just 55. The 6-foot-4 starter is almost assuredly going in the top five tonight because he is that good.

"Just a lot of polish," said Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin. "That's the one thing Emerson is probably rated a little higher than Cole, just because of the cleaner arm action. It's not as much of an effort. Cole is a grunter. It's going to be 100 mph with some effort, and Emerson is a little easier in his delivery. The command might be a little better. He throws four pitches. He throws a breaking ball and a slider. Same thing, just humble, hard-working, competitive, really talented."

Stricklin said Hancock and Wilcox were inseparable on the baseball diamond and around the campus the last couple of seasons, working hard to make each better through friendly competition.

"Him and Cole are partners in everything they do," Stricklin said. "They literally had a competition to see who would get the higher grade in accounting. One got a 97 and the other got a 96. We won't divulge who won that, but that shows how competitive they are. You don't see that very often, guys that are so talented. Some players have a tendency to skate a little bit on their talent. Not these two guys. These guys are just hard workers and want to get better."

With these two big hurlers commanding the mound, the Bulldogs were ranked in the top five nationally after a blazing 14-4 start. Stricklin thought this was going to be a special season, thanks to Hancock and Wilcox, before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered their run.

"We finished the season ranked No. 2 in the country," Stricklin said. "A lot of it had to do with our pitching. When you look at our No. 1 and No. 2 guys in our starting rotation, it made teams very uncomfortable when they knew they had to face those two guys on Friday and Saturday. We felt like we had as good a chance as anybody to advance very far this year. I really feel for our team. I feel for our players that work so hard to kind of put our team on the map."

Georgia might also have a few other players that go later in the draft. Nationals scouts looked at Wilcox hard and hope he is available, but Stricklin says his team has some other players that could get a look today or tomorrow. How many times have teams gone to see one prospect but then take notice of one of his teammates as well?

"Outfielder Tucker Bradley is a fourth-year junior," Stricklin said. "He got injured in his junior year in game three diving for a fly ball. He was having the best season. Hit for power, he's a good defender, he's a good baserunner, he's also pitched out of the bullpen for us. Really competitive. He's a guy I think can be in that fourth- or fifth-round range.

"Guys like infielder Riley King and shortstop Cam Shepherd, left-hander C.J. Smith, those are three other guys that I think are top-10-round talents. Do they go in the top five? You just don't know. This condensed draft has really made it difficult. I hate it. It is kind of unfair to the players, but it is out of their control and it's just kind of wait and see."

As for South Carolina, Kingston suggested keeping an eye out for Noah Campbell, a junior infielder out of Durham, N.C. Campbell saw his stock elevated after two quality summer seasons in the Cape Cod League and was listed as a 2020 third-team All-American by Baseball America.

In the final mock draft, senior writer Jim Callis likes the Nats to go for Louisville right-hander Bobby Miller. draft expert Jonathan Mayo says it's another ACC arm here for the Nats in Duke right-hander Bryce Jarvis.

Focusing on the No. 20-to-No. 31 window tonight, there still could be a good selection of top-flight collegiate arms available for the Nats to select at No. 22, including Oklahoma right-hander Cade Cavalli, Miami right-handers Slade Cecconi and Chris McMahon, and even Auburn right-hander Tanner Burns.

But there is also some position-player talent in this area too, and the Nats could go away from their usual trend and select Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler or Baylor shortstop Nick Loftin with their first pick if they are still on the board late in the evening.

Either way, the Nats are going to get some solid talent at No. 22, a good place to be in the first round for a team that went all the way last season to win it all.

Orioles select Heston Kjerstad with second overall...
A look back and a prediction as draft day arrives

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