South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook came ready to dispense his grades Monday, one day afterfall practice concluded with the Garnet and Black World Series.
Instead, he chose to hand out a few incompletes until the spring.
“I don’t know if we answered all of the questions that we wanted to have answered,” he said.
Holbrook will continue to explore his options for a third weekend starter behind left-handers Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop. He still needs to settle on a closer. And he will have to figure out his best combination on the left side of the infield and the corner outfield spots.
Yet even with those things still to be determined, he likes how this team is shaping up as it works toward its fourth College World Series trip in five seasons.
“We saw some really good play from some position players. Our young pitchers were very, very impressive for the most part. Some of our older guys have improved,” Holbrook said. “We feel good about where we are.”
The team is led by three everyday players who likely will hear their names called in next June’s MLB draft — catcher Grayson Greiner, center fielder Tanner English and Joey Pankake, who’s moving this season from shortstop to third base or left field.
Greiner, the only catcher on the team with game experience, is the team’s most important player after a strong summer with Team USA.
“He’s close to being irreplaceable for us this year. We’ve got to keep him healthy and fresh,” Holbrook said. “There’s no way there’s a better catcher in the country at the college level than Grayson Greiner. He’s ready to be an All-American.”
English should provide defense in center, but he’ll also be counted on to get things started in the leadoff spot. The right-handed-hitting English has given up switch-hitting, but Holbrook expects a more patient hitter — English had 13 walks this fall — and a better base-stealer this season.
The experiment to also use Pankake on the mound has ended after he couldn’t throw this fall due to an elbow strain. Holbrook wants to ensure that he can play every day and anchor the middle of the lineup.
“Joey is too important to us from a position-player standpoint. I’ve still got to get him comfortable at a position. He certainly can play third. He has shown he can play left,” Holbrook said. “... Barring Joey begging me to pitch him, I don’t know if it’s going to be worth the risk based on what happened this fall.”
If Pankake ends up at third, that will leave a pair of sophomores battle at shortstop: returnee DC Arendas and junior-college transfer Marcus Mooney. Both showed real ability as Arendas hit .330 in the fall while Mooney played very well in the intra-squad World Series.
Schrock, who emerged as one of the team’s best players last season as a freshman second baseman, likely will return there, especially after bouncing back from a stress fracture in his back to go 13-for-25 late in fall practice. But if Pankake goes to the outfield, some combination of Schrock, Arendas, Mooney and freshman Jordan Gore will fill out the spots at second, short and third.
“I want them to be comfortable at all three (positions),” Holbrook said.
Junior Kyle Martin had the team’s best fall to win the job at first base. He’s a solid defender and showed he can hit in the middle of the lineup. Two more juniors, returnee Connor Bright and junior-college transfer Elliott Caldwell, likely will man the corner outfield spots and provide punch to the lineup.
Montgomery and Wynkoop pitched well last season — a combined 13-4 — and will front the rotation.
“Jack will keep us in the game,” Holbrook said. “We think Jordan is one of the best Friday night guys in the country. We feel good about those two guys.”
Two freshmen, right-hander Wil Crowe and left-hander Josh Reagan, threw well enough to merit consideration for the third weekend slot or a midweek role. Junior-college transfer Cody Mincey is the front-runner at closer.
Holbrook still must whittle his roster to 35 players before the season begins in February, and he doesn’t expect any football players to take a roster spot from the players who have been working with the team all fall. He knows what he has in his veterans, but he also loves what he has seen from his highly-touted recruiting class.
“The newcomers have given us some energy, some competitiveness and some fire,” Holbrook says, “Which has been neat to see.”
2014 PROJECTED STARTERS
C: Grayson Greiner
1B: Kyle Martin
2B: Max Schrock
SS: Marcus Mooney/DC Arendas
3B: Joey Pankake
LF: Elliott Caldwell
CF: Tanner English
RF: Connor Bright
DH: Brison Celek/Taylor Widener
SP: Jordan Montgomery, Jack Wynkoop, Wil Crowe
CL: Cody Mincey