With Joey Pankake moving from shortstop to third base after two seasons for the South Carolina baseball team, there’s one question surrounding the upcoming season that Abbott and Costello might ask.
Who’s at short?
The answer to that question might not be clear until the season opener on Feb. 14 against Bucknell at Carolina Stadium. A pair of sophomores — junior-college transfer Marcus Mooney and returnee DC Arendas — are battling for the starting role alongside freshman Jordan Gore.
Mooney, the brother of Peter Mooney (USC’s shortstop for the 2011 national championship team), comes from Palm Beach State (Fla.) College, where he batted .327 for a team that reached the JUCO World Series championship game.
“Marcus Mooney is a lot like his brother,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “I know he doesn’t like me to say that, but he’s a terrific defensive player. He plays with some energy, he plays with some bounce.”
Arendas, a Greensboro native who is Holbrook’s nephew, had 14 at-bats last season. He played well for the Columbia Blowfish last summer and batted .330 in fall practice. Gore, a Conway native, also has shown potential.
“DC Arendas is another polished defender who also was near of top of leading our team in hitting this fall,” Holbrook said. “And Jordan Gore has been a pleasant surprise for us. He’s further advanced defensively than I thought he would be at this time. I like the way he plays. He’s got some energy. He’s got some enthusiasm. He’s got some toughness about him.”
Holbrook wants to take long looks at all of them over the next three weekends of scrimmages before determining which one draws the opening-day start.
“I feel comfortable with all those three guys,” he said. “I’m not in a rush to do anything. Those kids deserve every opportunity to win the position, and I’m certainly going to give it to them.”
Arendas and Mooney both downplay the position battle.
“Everybody in our locker room wants to play,” Arendas said.
“Marcus and I are becoming good friends as a result of this competition. ... We both just want to get better every day. We’re pushing each other, but we also know that whenever we’re called upon, we’re going to be ready to play.”
Mooney comes from a line of shortstops. Peter Mooney hit .280 with four homers and 37 RBIs in USC’s 2011 title season before being drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 21st round. Oldest brother Michael Mooney played at Florida and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 23rd round of the 2009 MLB draft.
Mooney acknowledges the comparisons will be inevitable.
“I want to be my own person, but growing up, my dad and Peter taught me everything I know,” Mooney said. “He’s my role model. I modeled my game after him,” he said. “There are a lot of similarities and some differences.”
Arendas, whose father Dave is the director of operations for the North Carolina baseball program, said his one year at USC will help him this season.
“You get to experience the atmosphere,” Arendas said “As far as being a part of the program and learning from the coaching staff, that was the most important part.”
Mooney bats from the right side, while Arendas bats from the left side and Gore is a switch-hitter. Holbrook said he might shuffle the lineup to get all of them playing time. Pankake might play some in left field, which would open up third base, or Gore might play in left. If Pankake or second baseman Max Schrock were injured, that would open a spot for Arendas or Mooney to move over.
“We’re going to prepare every day as if we could play all three infield spots,” Arendas said. “That will help the depth of our team by being able to move guys in and out of different positions.”
With the national prominence of the program and the standout shortstops over many years, they’re ready to get their opportunity.
“This program has been fortunate to have some very good shortstops and guys who have done well in the professional ranks,” Arendas said. “We want to do the best we can, but we’re also different players than those guys.”