The South Carolina baseball team begins fall team practices Friday at Carolina Stadium. Five things to watch as the Gamecocks attempt to make another run at the College World Series
1. THE JOEY PANKAKE SHUFFLE
After serving as the starting shortstop his first two seasons, the junior from Easley he will show up in different spots on the field this season. The coaches hope to get him on the mound, where he could emerge as the team’s hard-throwing closer. Or, he’ll move to third base, which suits his skill sets better. He will remain an integral part of the batting order as one of the team’s best all-around hitters.
2. ROTATION ROUNDUP
Two returning left-handers figure to front the staff: junior Jordan Montgomery and sophomore Jack Wynkoop. Both are accomplished arms who have big-game experience, especially Montgomery. And this could be junior right-hander Joel Seddon’s best opportunity to earn a more significant role. Quite a few talented newcomers, from both the junior college and high school ranks, also will get into the mix for starting and middle relief roles.
3. STAR POWER
Catcher Grayson Greiner, who played this summer for Team USA, and speedy center fielder Tanner English, who played well in the Cape Cod League, form a solid nucleus in the lineup along with sophomore second baseman Max Schrock. Greiner, Pankake, and English could improve their stock for the MLB draft next summer with big seasons. But just as significantly, they have the ability to lead the Gamecocks back to Omaha.
4. CREATING CHEMISTRY
With a strong recruiting class joining some solid veterans, the talent appears to be in place for another trip to Omaha, as predicted by both Baseball America and Perfect Game. Coach Chad Holbrook will need to find a way to mesh the old with the new this time around to accomplish that. Maybe new student assistant coach Adrian Morales, the third baseman on the two title teams, can help provide a jolt of energy.
5. NOTICING THE NEWBIES
The most important one will be shortstop Marcus Mooney, the brother of Peter, who helped the Gamecocks win the 2011 title. A slick fielder like his older brother, Marcus should stabilize the infield defensively, an important factor when the pitching staff gets a lot of ground balls. Junior college left-fielder Elliott Caldwell and freshman right-fielder Brock Maxwell also could assume regular roles. Coaches also like freshman pitcher Jordan Gore, whose strong arm could get him time in the middle infield or on the mound.