MadFriars' Interview: Justin Hancock

This past season the Padres sent one of their most talented staffs ever to Fort Wayne. Max Fried, who was the seventh overall pick in the 2012 draft, and Joe Ross, a first round selection in the 2011 draft, and both Walker Weickel and Zach Eflin had been picked in the first round supplemental phase of the 2012 draft.

But the Padres' best pitcher for the first six weeks, before he was promoted to Lake Elsinore, was Justin Hancock a seventh round draft pick out of Lincoln Trail Junior College in 2011.

Hancock, who turned twenty-three in the off-season, was 5-1 in 12 starts with a 1.73 RA in 67.2 innings pitched. He gave up slightly more than a run and a walk per game while only allowing 54 hits.

"No doubt he was the ace of the TinCaps' pitching staff in the first half of 2013," said Mike Maahs, one of the TinCaps' radio announcer on Hancock.

"What he exhibited was confidence, experience, remember, he was with Fort Wayne in 2012, and maturity."

In 2012 the Padres gambled a bit and sent Hancock to Low-A Fort Wayne where he struggled before returning to extended spring training and then to Eugene. But he turned his year around with the Emeralds where he really performed with a 1.61 ERA in 72 innings.

For Hancock the big change was the age old cliche of becoming more of a pitcher than a thrower. "If you throw something without any movement, it doesn't matter how hard you throw it because it's going out just as fast," Hancock said after his year in Eugene.

"Once I started focusing more on movement and placing my four-seamer where it needed to be that is when I started to find success."

In 2013 Hancock picked up where he left off in Fort Wayne, where the main components of his success were commanding his fastball and keeping the ball down as Midwest League hitters pounded the ball into the ground.

"Commanding the fastball really helped my curve and change-up. I also started to throw a slider later on which really helped me,"said Hancock from his off-season home in Ohio.

The Padres were impressed enough in what they saw to push him up to High-A Lake Elsinore.

"I just can't say enough good things about Justin," said Randy Smith, the Padres' Director of Minor League Development at mid-season. "After he got sent down from Fort Wayne last year he has just been doing a great job."

In most cases a player's path to the major leagues is bound to hit a few bumps and Justin experienced one with the Storm in the second half of the year with a 5.14 ERA in 63 innings pitched.

"When I first got there I was pitching as I did in Fort Wayne, I was attacking hitters. I started to get away from that and began nitpicking and that is when the problems started," said Hancock.

His command vanished with a 39/36 strikeout to walk ratio as batters hit .307 against him in 14 starts, culminating in a tough August that saw the opposition post a .341 batting average against him.

"I knew what I needed to do but I think I started to put too much pressure on myself and began to aim the ball, which is always a problem. That led to my mechanics getting a bit off."

"So yeah, it was tough."

While Hancock would be the first to admit his season in the Cal League didn't go as well as he had hoped, a closer examination of the numbers also shows that it wasn't as bad as it looked.

His ERA at home was a very respectable 2.78 in seven starts. On the road, where he got to pitch in Lancaster and High Desert for four of his seven road starts; two parks that could also double for the Wiffle Ball Championships, it was 8.23.

"Yeah those are some fun parks for a pitcher," laughed Hancock.

"But I got through it too and I was really happy that my last game of the season was in High Desert where I went six innings and only gave up a run."

Hancock, as with most young players in the minor leagues, hasn't experienced much athletic failure in his life. But the minor leagues are not only about learning how to throw a certain pitch or improving mechanics but knowing how to make adjustments when things aren't going well and learn from them and compete.

San Diego seems to have more openings on its AA San Antonio staff, so it is conceivable that Hancock could begin 2014 with the Missions. Also, pitching in Nelson Wolff Stadium where the ball will sink and move, could lead to some big numbers for him.

"The only thing you can really control is to just try to get better everyday," Hancock said on what he learned from last season.

"That is the biggest thing that you learn in the minor leagues. Right now I'm doing a lot of dry work with Matt Wisler, who has give me some tips as well. I plan to go out to Arizona a little early and work out some more with the guys and just keep trying to get better."


MadFriars Top Stories