On June 10, 2020, Texas A&M left-hander Asa Lacy was drafted fourth overall by the Kansas City Royals and Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock went sixth overall t0 the Seattle Mariners. 12 college starting pitchers went in the first round that year including the competitive balance picks (first-37 selections). If we were to redraft today, most would still take Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer as the first collegiate arm off the board, but there’s a good chance Lacy and Hancock would be drafted after the likes of Reid Detmers and Cade Cavalli — possibly even Garrett Crochet. If you ask me, Tanner Burns is the sleeper name to know from the tail-end of the 2020 first round, and someone I hold in just as high of a regard as Lacy and Hancock. But we’re here today to discuss the second and third college hurlers selected back in 2020, and how their stock has shifted since that memorable day.
Prior to the abbreviated 2020 college season, the industry consensus was that Hancock and Lacy were the premier college pitching prospects to target inside the top 5-10 picks. In the fall of 2019, Hancock was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the upcoming draft’s top overall prospect (Meyer was ranked 23rd in those fall rankings). Despite coming into pro ball with the perception of polished pitching prospects, Lacy pitched all of 2022 at the High-A level, while Hancock logged 31.0 High-A innings and 13.2 frames at Double-A. Meanwhile, Crochet and Detmers have already broken into the big leagues, and Meyer dominated his way up to Triple-A and appears to be on the cusp of a big-league start sometime this summer.
We’ll begin by attacking this chronologically, beginning with Asa — who likely would have been able to secure a hefty Name, Image, and Likeness deal with Victoria’s Secret (Lacy’s lacy line) if he were in college today. As I just stated, Lacy pitched all of 2022 at High-A Quad Cities, logging 52.0 innings and finishing with a 5.19 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 13.7 K/9, 7.1 BB/9, 7.1 H/9, and 0.9 HR/9. Hitters didn’t exactly square Lacy up consistently, but he had trouble finding the zone and limiting walks. He struck out batters at basically the same rate he did in college (13.3 K/9), but the walks were up dramatically from his time in College Station (4.0 BB/9). It was always something he needed to refine moving into the pro game, but it certainly ballooned on him during his first campaign in the Royals organization. And that’s exactly what I wrote about in my first Razzball post in March of 2019 when I broke down the top-10 college prospects for the 2022 MLB Draft:
Lacy sits five spots below Detmers on this list for the simple reason that his command, control and delivery need more smoothing out and therefore project him to require more time in the Minor Leagues… Lots of upside with a guy who has a prototypical MLB frame (6-foot-4, 215 lbs.) with four plus-pitches (FB: 60, CB: 55, CH: 55, SL: 50) and sits 92-97 MPH on the gun, but my recommendation is to dedicate your energy on some of the other names above him that may garner less attention from your league-mates.
The vast majority of that profile has stayed static. Ranked at No. 7 in that initial post, Lacy still wields the same arsenal and works 92-97 with his heater. However, the changeup and slider have improved and now possess grades of 60 on the 20-80 scale. He still has the stuff to be a frontline starter, but the repeatability of his three-quarters delivery is a concern, and the underlying reason for his elevated BB/9 numbers can likely be attributed to there being too much effort in that delivery. One would certainly hope that the access to professional pitching instruction should allow him to overcome this hurdle, but he has the fastball-slider combo to be a late-innings weapon if it comes to it. We should get to see Lacy pitch most of 2022 at Double-A and above, and if he shows increased control, there’s no reason he can’t debut this upcoming year. Lacy was left off of Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list for 2022, but he sits at No. 66 in MLB Pipeline’s rankings.
Shifting over to Hancock, the righty was solid in 2022 but was by no means an alcoholic superhero. Then again, maybe this is what an inebriated superstar would pitch like. Across 44.2 innings split between High-A and Double-A, Hancock turned in a 2.62 ERA with a 1.03 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.8 H/9, 3.4 BB/9, and 0.2 HR/9 (just one homer in 179 batters faced). Those numbers are commendable for a first pro season, although he pitched to a 3.29 ERA in 13.2 Double-A innings (all the other ratios stayed relatively constant). Despite that, Hancock was left off of Baseball America’s top-100 just like Lacy. Although Hancock’s status is a bit more perplexing in that regard, he comes in at No. 34 on MLB Pipeline’s list. We’ll repeat the same exercise that I provided with Lacy, going back to my March 2020 post when I tabbed Hancock as the No. 4 prospect in the class:
MLB Pipeline has Hancock tabbed as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, but I’d be surprised to see a name other than Martin or Torkelson called in that spot. Still, Hancock commands four quality pitches, with his 65-grade fastball peaking at 99 MPH and typically sitting 94-97 MPH during starts. His slider and changeup both received grades of 60, while his hard curveball is a 55.
The consensus seems to be that Hancock often relies too much on his duo of breaking pitches and needs to trust his changeup more, which in itself is a plus pitch. If he does so as he develops as a pitcher, his stuff and natural build give him the ceiling of the top-of-the-rotation power pitcher.
Since he got roughed up in two of his four 2020 starts by Richmond and Georgia Tech, he’s unlikely to go number one overall in the 2020 Draft. His college track record (16-7, 3.47 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 206 K) still provides enough evidence to illustrate the upside Hancock possesses when taking into account his steady arsenal of pitches. What’s more, he improved both his K/9 and BB/9 from his career totals in his shortened 2020 campaign (12.8 K/9, 1.1 BB/9). When it comes to an arm like this, it’s often most important to see evidence of the guy harnessing his stuff and going after hitters because they simply outmatch the competition the majority of days they’re on the mound.
Evidenced by that breakdown, Hancock has never limited runs at an elite rate (3.47 college ERA) but he has the arsenal to do so. None of the grades on his pitches have shifted in the last two years, and they don’t need to for him to be a frontline MLB starter — so long as he maintains all four offerings at their current status. To this point, all three of Hancock’s secondary offerings have shown plus potential, even the 55-grade curveball that we may have yet to see the best of.
Shifting back to a comparison of both players, each hurler has battled some type of injury/setback in their brief pro careers. Hancock was shut down for the rest of the season in early September 2021 with shoulder fatigue, although the Mariners reported that there was nothing structurally wrong. Still, that prompted BA to leave him off their top-100 list entirely — so industry pundits certainly noticed. As for Lacy, the southpaw struggled with an eye problem at the alternate training site during the absence of Minor League Baseball in 2020 — but there have been no reports of it resurfacing since the fall of that year. That being said, Lacy certainly possesses the more promising health outlook at present, but his effort-packed delivery leaves uncertainty for his long-term durability.
In summary, Hancock entered the 2019-20 draft year with a higher prospect pedigree, but Lacy showed more promise in the shortened 2020 season and was drafted two spots higher. Hancock has performed better on the mound than Lacy through their first-full pro seasons, although Hancock has more health concerns than lacy heading into 2022. Both are ranked in the top-100 by MLB Pipeline, but neither is ranked by Baseball America.
At the end of the day, I prefer for the facts alone to provide you with the data needed to make your own informed decision. But if I’m in a dynasty draft and have the opportunity to draft either player at the same spot — I’m giving the slight edge to Hancock. That falls in line with our very own The Itch’s analysis, as he ranked Hancock at No. 22 and Lacy at No. 26 in his Top 25 Starting Pitcher Prospects For Dynasty Fantasy Baseball in 2022.
That’s all for this week, Razzball fam! As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.