With their third-round pick Thursday night, the 80th overall selection, the Padres selected Georgia righthander Cole Wilcox.
Wilcox came into the draft as the No. 24 prospect in the Baseball America 500 and in the final mock draft before things got underway Wednesday, he was slotted 22nd overall to the Nationals.
But as Wednesday came to a close, he had not been selected, and it became easy to wonder if Wilcox might be unsignable for the rest of the draft and would be looking to return to Georgia.
The Padres stopped his slide in the third round, however, and they’re confident they can get him signed, in large part because they have experience in these types of situations.
“We were in this situation last year with Hudson Head, where we took a player that I’m confident in the process that we ran and I think part of the draft now is understanding the dollars and managing some things and I think at the end of the day I’m pretty confident that we’ll get something done like we did last year,” scouting director Mark Conner said, referring to the Padres’ 2019 third-round pick, who signed for $3 million.
The raw materials for Wilcox, which include a fastball that can reach 100 mph, a plus slider and a changeup that projects to be average or better, aren’t in question and that stood out to the Padres.
“Big, physical, strong arm, feel for a changeup, competitive, and a college pitcher that is trending in a very good way,” Conner said of Wilcox.
It’s worth noting that Wilcox still does have more leverage than many others would in his position. As a draft-eligible sophomore and thanks to eligibility relief for college baseball players due to the cancellation of the spring season, he could return to Georgia with three years of eligibility remaining and would presumably be the Bulldogs’ Friday starter moving forward.
That type of showcase could be big for his draft status should he return, because he hasn’t had that type of opportunity yet for any length of time.
As a freshman, he had some of his best outings late in the season, but he was inconsistent and ended the campaign with a 4.07 ERA and 38 walks in 59.2 innings. But that was during a season when he split time between the bullpen and starting.
In 2020, he began the season in the rotation and it was a different story, as he went 3-0, 1.57 with 32 strikeouts and two walks in 23 innings of work. The problem, of course, is that the season was shut down after four weeks and he didn’t get to prove it against Southeastern Conference hitters, which would have been his biggest test.
Even in a small sample, it does seem notable that he thrived once he got into the rhythm of starting each week, and that wasn’t lost on those who were evaluating him.
“One of the big things for him is bouncing between the starter and reliever role last year a little bit, the consistency of the routine wasn’t as smooth, so once he got on a better routine (he improved),” Conner said. “He’s a kid that really challenged himself going into the year. (His) throwing partner was Emerson Hancock, one of the better pitchers in the country, taken in the first round, and Cole was driven to get better. The strikes, the delivery, the feel for the slider, all that stuff improved this year.”
The Padres took a big swing with some inherent risk when they selected Wilcox, but if he signs, he could provide tremendous pick value.