At the beginning of April, the stat sheet didn’t look so good for Max Schrock, South Carolina’s freshman second baseman.
He was pressing hard to carry his weight at the plate as USC coach Chad Holbrook was considering dropping him to eighth in the batting order after hitting him between second and sixth through the first 28 games.
Despite an average of .212 in 99 at-bats with one homer and 16 RBIs, however, Holbrook kept the faith. Schrock still remembers the pep talk Holbrook gave him at the time.
“He said, ‘I have confidence in you, and I know the player you can be. You’ve just got to go out there and play your game. You can’t worry about the expectations that you want to live up to,’ ” Schrock said. “That was a big confidence boost for me.”
Indeed it was.
Since that first week in April, when the Gamecocks played midweek games against Charleston Southern and Furman before going to Tennessee for an SEC road series, Schrock has taken off. He has batted .386 (22-for-57) with three homers and 15 RBIs in 17 games. And he earned SEC freshman of the week honors after returning from Tennessee, where he went 11-for-22 with eight RBIs in the five games that week.
“I carried some of that momentum on to the other games, and I’ve been playing well ever since,” Schrock said.
Holbrook saw the player that he recruited out of North Carolina — one who was rated the No. 151 prospect in the nation by Perfect Game and drafted in the 28th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“Since that point, he’s been terrific. He’s been the player we thought Max Schrock was going to be,” Holbrook said. “He’s provided us with stability in the middle of our lineup and given LB (Dantzler) some protection there.”
Schrock has raised his average to .276 with four homers and 31 RBIs. But he’s much more than that. Holbrook loves the plate approach that has led to Schrock compiling more walks (28) than strikeouts (17), a rare feat for a freshman.
Schrock has steadily raised his on-base percentage (.389) and slugging percentage (.423). He also leads the team with 12 stolen bases in 16 attempts. And he has made four errors while making one outstanding play after another up the middle. Although he played shortstop and second base before he got to college, most college coaches and professional scouts projected him as a second baseman because of his size — 5-foot-9, 175 pounds — and the need to increase his arm strength.
“I do pride myself on my fielding, and at the beginning of the season, when I wasn’t swinging it well, I told myself that I had to help the team somehow,” Schrock said. “I tried not to carry my at-bats to the field, and that’s what I did. It worked for me because I’ve played pretty well out there so far.”
As his hitting has taken off, he’s proving to be a complete package for a team that’s coming off a series win against LSU heading into this weekend’s home series against No. 2 Vanderbilt.
“He makes all the plays. He can make plays to his left and to his right. He can make the slow-roller charge plays; he can turn a double play,” Holbrook said. “He can run the bases; he’s fast. He can do a number of things. He’s a good baseball player.”
His transition can be attributed in part to his more relaxed manner. Holbrook and Schrock believe Schrock put too much pressure on himself at the beginning of the season to justify his spot as a starter.
“It’s not easy to come out here as a freshman and make an immediate impact. I let a little bit of that pressure get to me instead of just going out there and doing what I can and playing my game,” Schrock said. “Sometimes you’re going to get beat, and sometimes you’re going to make outs. I let that affect me, and I didn’t perform like I wanted right away, and I let that get to my head a little bit.”
Sophomore catcher Grayson Greiner, who started as a freshman, knows what the pressure to perform as a freshman in a conference as tough as the SEC can be like, especially when you struggle.
“You feel like you’re letting the team down and the fans down,” Greiner said.
But he likes how Schrock has settled in.
“He’s got the right mindset. He works really hard in practice and in the (batting) cages. He doesn’t let the game get to him like a lot of people do,” Greiner said. “Lately, he really has started to take some good swings. Even his outs are hard outs. He’s going to be a special player here, and I love playing with him.”
Schrock has embraced all of the challenges of playing against the top competition in the country.
“This is what you dream about as a kid, coming here and playing in front of seven or eight thousand fans, going to LSU and playing in front of 10,000 fans. There are so many great atmospheres,” he said.
Holbrook is convinced the best is yet to come.
“He’ll be a .300 hitter for his career at South Carolina, I don’t have any doubt about that,” Holbrook said. “He’ll be an All-SEC player before he leaves — hopefully, an All-American. I think he’s that good.”
Series info: USC vs. Vanderbilt
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 12 noon; Sunday, 1 p.m.
WHERE: Carolina Stadium
RADIO: WNKT-FM 107.5
TELEVISION: SportSouth, Friday; SportSouth, Saturday; CSS, Sunday
SERIES: USC leads 49-23
LAST MEETING: The teams split four games last season
RECORDS: USC 33-12, 13-8 SEC; Vanderbilt 39-6, 19-2 SEC
RANKINGS: USC is No. 15 and Vanderbilt is No. 2 in the Baseball America Top 25
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Friday, USC LHP Nolan Belcher, Sr., 6-4, 2.03 vs. Vanderbilt LHP Kevin Ziomek, Jr., 8-2, 2.12; Saturday, USC LHP Jordan Montgomery, Soph., 3-0, 1.40 vs. Vanderbilt RHP Tyler Beede, Soph., 11-0, 1.63; Sunday, USC TBA vs. Vanderbilt RHP T.J. Pecoraro, Jr., 2-1, 3.93
NOTES: Although USC leads the overall series by a wide margin, the Gamecocks hold only a slight 10-9 edge over the past five seasons. RF Connor Bright is expected to be back in the lineup after an injury that caused him to leave last Sunday’s game at LSU. C Dante Rosenberg continues to make steady progress in his return from a broken hamate bone in his wrist. The Commodores, who have won six straight games, haven’t lost a series all season.