Madison Stokes arrived at South Carolina out of A.C. Flora High in the summer of 2014 and planned on playing shortstop for the Gamecocks throughout his college career.
After spending time at first base, second base and third base during his first two seasons at USC, Stokes will finally get a chance to play his natural position, shortstop, in 2017.
Stokes played well enough throughout the fall and into preseason workouts to earn the opportunity to replace Marcus Mooney as the leader of USC’s infield.
“He’s always had it in the back of his mind that he was going to be the shortstop here,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said Thursday. “And I’ll be honest with you, I wondered if that was going to be the case. But he’s proven to me that he’s awfully dang good out there. He’s played at a high level and he’s worked extremely hard. I’m thrilled for him.”
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Stokes believes that the time he spent at other infield positions helped make him a better shortstop.
While he would have loved to play shortstop all along, he is thankful that the process worked out the way it did.
“I think that was part of the plan,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to play there, and I think playing those different positions got me to this point.”
Even though Stokes was not playing games at shortstop as a freshman and sophomore, he continued to work there behind the scenes, whether it be at practice or during the summer.
Because of that, the transition was easy.
“I still took reps during practice just to keep my range and arm strength up and my footwork,” Stokes said. “I just tried to stay over there as much as I could just so I could get ready if I was to move over there.”
Stokes was sidelined for the first half of last season with a foot injury before hitting .304 in 31 games with 29 starts the second half of the year.
Now entering the season healthy, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder is as confident as he has been going into a year after a strong offseason.
“I spent more hours in the weight room and in the cages. I tried to have more dedication to the game,” Stokes said. “I tried to sharpen my baseball IQ, just do anything that I could to improve from last year.”
Offensively, he worked on his plate discipline. At one time, Stokes struggled with chasing pitches out of the strike zone but feels he has improved greatly in that area.
“Just seeing more pitches, pitch selection, just being more patient at the plate,” he said of his focus this offseason. “Especially last year I swung at off-speed pitches in the dirt. Just wasn’t swinging at strikes. My strike zone knowledge wasn’t there.”
Madison Stokes will be trying to live up to the Gamecocks’ legacy of great shortstops. Some of the best:
Long MLB career with Astros, Twins
Long MLB career with Orioles
1st-round draft pick in 2002 by Rangers
MLB career with Twins, Orioles, Blue Jays
1st-round draft pick in 2008 by Mets
Played on 2010 national champs
Who: USC vs. UNC Greensboro
When: Friday, 4 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Founders Park
Radio: 107.5 FM
Probable Pitchers: Friday, Clarke Schmidt vs. Jack Maynard; Saturday, Wil Crowe vs. Bryce Hensley; Sunday, Adam Hill vs. Matt Frisbee