USC baseball coach Chad Holbrook feels good about Joey Pankake’s elbow.
The junior third baseman strained it in the fall , which also ended the experiment of getting him on the mound, but it looks to be healed. Holbrook stated that Pankake, who batted .311 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs last season, was throwing across the diamond with no pain as he adapted to his new position.
“He’s gotten a lot better and a lot more comfortable over there. (Assistant coach and former MLB third baseman) Brian Buscher has done an incredible job with him,” Holbrook said. “He fits the mold of what an outstanding third baseman should be — a power hitter and a big strong physical kid. He’s very, very versatile and very athletic.”
Pankake, who is looking to have a big season in advance of the MLB draft in June, feels fine about not trying to pitch this season.
“I’ve always been a hitter first,” Pankake said. “Being able to focus on hitting will help me out a lot.”
Grayson Greiner, USC’s 6-foot-5 junior catcher, is receiving a lot of attention after playing for Team USA in the summer. He was named to a pair of preseason All-America teams as the second-team catcher, and he is listed by Baseball America as the No. 24 college prospect for the MLB draft and the No. 2 catching prospect in the nation.
“It’s good to know the hard work I’ve put in the last 15 years is coming to fruition,” Greiner said. “Individual accolades are pretty cool. They’re more for my family and friends than for me. I’d trade all that stuff in a heartbeat. Team accolades are what I play for. All I care about is what this team does and how far we go.”
Holbrook calls Greiner a great player and leader as one of the team captains.
“He has the ultimate respect of all our players,” Holbrook said. “He’s as close to irreplaceable as any player we’ve got. He’s the heart and soul of our team in many ways.”
Making the pitch
Holbrook knows he must find a few more starters as well as a closer, but he loves the front of his rotation with left-handers Jordan Montgomery and Jack Wynkoop. The coaching staff will use the next three weeks to find roles for others.
He said that freshman right-hander Wil Crowe has the ability and the makeup to be a weekend starter or the closer. He likes what right-hander Cody Mincey, a junior-college transfer, has shown in the bullpen. And he expects junior right-handers Joel Seddon and Evan Beal, who will miss this weekend’s scrimmages with a sore back, to play more prominent roles this season.
Junior first baseman Kyle Martin has established himself as a lineup regular after having the team’s most productive fall season. Martin, who also might pitch some as a lefty reliever, is ready to contribute after two seasons as a backup.
“I’m looking forward to being out there every day. It takes a little of the pressure off not having to come off the bench and pinch-hit,” he said. “As far as pitching and hitting goes, it won’t be too much of a hassle. I’ve done it all my life.”
Holbrook called Martin a good defender who can be a legitimate middle of the lineup hitter with the potential to hit double-digit home runs.
The outfield will have speedy junior Tanner English, who’s in his third season as a starter, back in center field. He will be flanked by junior-college transfer Elliott Caldwell in left and junior Connor Bright in right.
“I love Connor Bright. He’s a tough nut who plays hard,” Holbrook said. “I call him our silent assassin. He doesn’t say boo, and many people forget about him, but he’s a good player.”
Back to football
Holbrook said outfielder and football tailback Shon Carson, who was on the baseball roster last season, will focus all of his attention on football this spring. He added the two will get together at the end of the semester and discuss Carson’s status for the 2015 baseball season.