The Georgia baseball team opens their 2020 season at home in Foley Field on Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14th with a three-game series versus Richmond. There are a lot of high expectations around this year’s Diamond Dogs, a consensus top-ten baseball team in the preseason polls, to return to Omaha for the first time since 2008. Although the Bulldogs came up short in 2019, we are going to look at five reasons why Omaha is a realistic goal for this year’s team. Reason number one, and one of the big topics of conversation surrounding this team, is Georgia returns a strong pitching staff. With Cole Wilcox and Emerson Hancock at the helm, the Diamond Dawg Duo are of one of the best starting rotations in the country and are both considered potential MLB first-round draft picks.
But what is it about Wilcox and Emerson that is so great? Are there more guys than just those two that can make a difference?
Well, we will begin with the first question.
Junior right-hander Emerson Hancock and sophomore Cole Wilcox are two of the more elite arms returning in the SEC this season, and two of the better pitchers in the nation. Hancock is coming off a dominant sophomore campaign coming off an 8-3 starting record, and a 1.99 ERA in 90.1 innings pitched. Wilcox had a 4.07 ERA but is more known for his pitch speeds that can reach the upper 90s. He also has a slider that can leave batters at the plate with their jaws dropped.
Besides those two, junior left-hander C.J. Smith returns adding another element of depth to the Bulldogs’ pitching staff under coach Sean Kenny.
“When you’re able to put an Emerson Hancock out there on a Friday, a Cole Wilcox on Saturday, and a C.J. Smith on Sunday, that’s a ton of experience and a lot of high-level talent, too,” head coach Scott Stricklin said according to UGASports.com.
Smith, like former Bulldogs player Aaron Schunk, played both ways but will focus more on pitching this season. Smith has a nasty fastball that can reach up to 94 mph and can make batters miss looking. He boasted a 4.30 ERA, but had a 1.26 WHIP as he had 38 strikeouts, which was sixth-most on the team.
It will be pretty common to see MLB scouts at Foley Field this season watching this trio, but there are also other guys on the team that contribute as well.
Georgia returns Will Proctor, who is returning from shoulder surgery, and veterans Ryan Webb and Justin Glover add depth after coming back from a strong 2018 season.
Webb and Glover are both left-handers and give the Bulldogs an edge when facing opponents’ left-handed hitters.
Redshirt freshman Garrett Brown will make his Bulldogs debut this season. The Manchester, Ga native was a huge pickup for Stricklin’s staff two years ago as he is a towering 6-foot-7, 209 pounds. During his senior year at Manchester High School, he posted a 5-2 record and 0.93 ERA in eight starts with 61 strikeouts and 11 walks in 37 innings.
The Bulldogs also return sophomores Darryn Pasqua and Jack Gowen with a pair of seniors in Logan Moody and Trevor Tindor.
But there are some talented freshmen in the Bulldogs’ arsenal as well and that young group is led by 6-foot-6 monster right-hander John Cannon.
Cannon allegedly has a fastball that reaches north of 95 mph, and a nice slider with a great changeup. Cannon pitched against Florida back in October’s exhibition and struck out three batters with that changeup, leaving Gators’ players looking off-balanced.
Cannon is predicted to be the Tuesday night starter or even possibly seventh inning relief.
Freshman Michael Polk is another name that could open some eyes this season. Polk played at Cambridge High School under former Georgia pitcher Evan Tieles (2008-2010). Polk saw action primarily as a reliever/closer and led the Bears in appearances, saves as a senior. Polk pitched in the seventh against the Gators going 1-2-3 maxing out with a 95 mph fastball.
Right-handers Will Childers and Brandon Smith are the other that end that list of youngsters. Smith posted some impressive numbers at River Ridge High School last year, and Childers was a 30th round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks before deciding to stick with his commitment to UGA.
“We feel we’ve built our pitching staff to the point that we’ve got depth and we’ve got experience, and that’s something we’ve been doing for the last several years,” said Stricklin.