Often it can be a difficult transition for a freshman to go from facing nonconference pitching to SEC arms.
South Carolina outfielder Carlos Cortes has had the opposite reaction.
The Florida native leads the Gamecocks in batting average (.361) and homers (4) and is second on the team in RBIs (13) in SEC games at the midway point of the conference season.
Cortes has started only nine of the 15 SEC games entering this weekend’s critical series with Florida but should be in the lineup the rest of the year as he has proven to be perhaps South Carolina’s most consistent hitter in league play.
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“He came to camp here when he was in eighth grade and hit them into the street. He’s just swinging the way he’s capable of,” Gamecocks coach Chad Holbrook said. “He’s not trying to put too much pressure on himself, and he knows he’s going to be in there every day. Maybe that helps too. And you’re seeing what kind of hitter he is.”
Cortes hit three home runs and drove in five runs during the final two games of USC’s series with Mississippi State last weekend.
He hit a pair of two-run homers against the Bulldogs on Saturday before launching a solo shot to tie the game at 1 in the sixth inning on Sunday.
Overall he has raised his average to .286 after getting off to a rough start in fall scrimmages and then struggling early on this season.
“It’s definitely grown since the fall just because I was struggling then,” Cortes said of his confidence. “But I always try to stay a positive hitter and always positive in life in general… It’s been tough but you’ve just got to see through, and just know that it’s going to work if you stick to it and trust the process, it’ll work out.”
Cortes has no answer as to why he is playing so well in the SEC, but he hopes it continues throughout the year.
The Gamecocks are tied for second in the SEC East at 8-7 at the halfway point and are hoping to have a better second half after dropping their past three SEC series.
“I couldn’t tell you. I’ve got no answer for that,” Cortes said of his recent power surge. “I’m just looking for pitches to drive and I’m capitalizing on the opportunities that I’m getting right now.”
Holbrook wishes he would have played Cortes more earlier in the year and let him work through his early-season struggles, but is happy with the way the 5-foot-7 slugger is performing now.
He has provided a boost for a team in search of offense with upperclassmen like Alex Destino, Madison Stokes and Matt Williams struggling.
“Carlos has given us some energy for sure,” Holbrook said. “He’s gifted. The game comes easy to him, and he thinks it every step of the way. He’s got great instincts when it comes to playing the game of baseball.”
Over the past few weeks Holbrook has also learned that Cortes is more than just a hitter.
Cortes has impressed coaches with his base-running ability, defense and intangibles. In the series finale against Mississippi State Cortes was moved into centerfield late in the game after TJ Hopkins pinch hit for Danny Blair but was too banged up to play in the outfield.
“I’m just now obviously seeing some things that I didn’t really know because he wasn’t playing every day,” Holbrook said. “He was labeled as just a great hitter only… He does more than just hit. It’s nice that we’re going to have him around a couple of years.”