C.J. Smith (5) throws a pitch during the game against Jacksonville State on March 6, 2019 at Foley Field in Athens, Georgia. Georgia won 5-1. (Photo/Maya Giro)

Georgia baseball lost both of its premier right-handed starters to the 2020 MLB draft. Emerson Hancock, the No. 6 overall pick, and Cole Wilcox, who fell to the third round, combined for an undefeated 5-0 record this past season.

Now that Hancock and Wilcox have signed with the Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres respectively, head coach Scott Stricklin has two returning starters and a solid depth chart of middle relievers to piece together his 2020-21 rotation.

Here’s how it could come together:

C.J. Smith

Experienced but underwhelming this spring, the rising senior Smith could assume a spot at the top of the rotation. He moved exclusively to the mound last season after nine starts in 2018-19 alongside 16 games in the outfield. Smith secured one decision in his four 2020 starts, a loss to Georgia Southern in the Diamond Dogs’ final outing on March 10. Yet it was his most productive start of the year. He threw an even six innings featuring one earned run off three hits and a walk.

Smith’s biggest drawback is his command. He threw twice as many walks last season as Hancock and Wilcox combined, but gave up less than a third of their hit count, allowing the lowest opposing batting average of any 2019-20 starter. If he stays in the strike zone, Smith proved that he can both go deep in games and keep runs off the board. But once he starts giving out free bases, he becomes an earned-run liability. 

Garrett Brown

Aside from his five-inning, eight-strikeout flash of brilliance against Kennesaw State on Feb. 25, Brown struggled to string together productive innings in his first season for the Bulldogs. He gave up the most hits of any pitcher with less than 20 innings and finished with the highest ERA of Georgia’s starting rotation. The 6-foot-7 right-hander threw five strikeouts and gave up six runs in 7 1/3 innings between his two losses against Georgia Southern in March.

While Brown showed he has the ability to post starts on par Georgia’s MLB-bound righties, the challenge will be finding consistent stopping power and depth from the towering 20-year-old. Without much starting experience in the rest of the bullpen, he’ll likely be Stricklin’s compromise candidate for one of the vacant weekend starting jobs.

Will Childers

Heir to Georgia baseball royalty as the nephew of 1990 championship team catcher Terry Childers, the rising sophomore excelled as a middle reliever last season. He allowed one earned run in 11 1/3 innings of work, although he left the mound in his only start on Feb. 22 after giving up three hits and three walks in just over three innings. Command issues aside, he rang up five of the 14 Santa Clara batters he faced.

The balance between accuracy and power defined Childers’ first season with the Bulldogs, and given that he glimpsed the starting job, Stricklin could be grooming the 19-year-old for a bigger role in the rotation next year. 

Jonathan Cannon

A top performer in Georgia’s 2019-20 relief staff, the freshman Cannon displayed similar, if not greater, potential than Childers to settle in as a starter. In the same number of appearances and innings, he threw a third as many walks, allowed half as many hits and never conceded a run. Cannon’s longest appearance was 4 2/3 innings against Georgia Tech on March 1, in which he bailed out Smith and struck out five to pave the way for the Diamond Dogs’ 9-3 victory.

He tied for the most wins of any Georgia pitcher last season with three despite never starting a game. That could change next year, however, as the 6-foot-6 20-year-old has a good chance of toeing the rubber as a starter and has upside as a dependable weekend arm if his stats hold up. 

Other contenders

Rising senior Ryan Webb struck out 18 batters in nine innings across his first two appearances in 2020, including a five-inning, 11-strikeout showing in the season opener. While the left-hander ended his year with shorter relief appearances, he has the potential to catch a couple starts in 2021. And his left arm would be beneficial alongside a righty-heavy starting four. 

Although he's in the transfer portal, rising senior Will Proctor joined the weekend rotation in 2019 and posted a 4.35 ERA before a shoulder injury kept him in the dugout through spring 2020. If he stays in Athens next season, Proctor could join the conversation as well.

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