When a college program announces its signees, their position is always listed right next to their names.
However, South Carolina didn’t have enough room to list them all for Easley senior standout Joey Pankake, who inked with the Gamecocks during November’s early signing period. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder starts at shortstop and also pitches for the Green Wave.
However, he may end up filling any number of roles in Columbia. He’s familiar with every infield and outfield position and could become a starter or reliever at USC.
“I can play pretty much any infield position,” said Pankake, who picked USC over Clemson and North Carolina. “I’ve played them all. I just started pitching a little bit. I’m catching on pretty quick with that. And any outfield position I can do OK at, but I prefer the infield.”
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Pankake, rated the state’s best shortstop by Diamond Prospects in the Class of 2011, has been Easley’s starting shortstop since his freshman year. He started at third base as an eighth-grader. Last season, he earned Class AAAA all-state honors after hitting .530 with 40 RBIs, 13 doubles and six home runs.
“I like to hit from gap to gap,” Pankake said. “I’m a line-drive hitter. I’m a doubles guy. I’ll hit a triple or a home run every now and then, but I’m mostly a doubles guy. I’m looking for the straight one (fastball), but I don’t mind hitting the curveball, because that’s what I get a lot in high school.”
The Gamecocks have told Pankake, a right hander, that he could fill several different roles – or all of them. Considering the litany of shortstops the program has recruited, he could be the team’s third baseman of the future.
“I’ve had a lot of great players over the years, but Joey stands out with his base running, his hitting, he throws 93 miles per hour and he’s a great defensive player,” Easley coach Roger Finley said. “He’s talented, he really is. He has all the tools. That’s why they came after him. They know what they are doing.
“He can play anywhere. He can play in the outfield, too.”
USC’s coaches visited Easley last fall and were impressed with Pankake’s arm. However, he would prefer to be a position player instead of a pitcher. Still, he’s done whatever Finley and Co. have asked and would do the same for USC coach Ray Tanner, Finley said.
It’s hard to argue with Pankake’s ability on the mound. He struck out 14 players in a game last week, an impressive feat considering the lack of experience he has as a pitcher. Finley has decided that he’ll start just one more game this season before moving into the closer’s role, a responsibility he also held in 2010.
“I’m going to use him one more time and then we’ll use him strictly as a closer,” Finley said. “That will keep down his pitch count. He threw 90-something pitches the other night. I just don’t want to do anything to hurt him.”