No need to look for the familiar No. 9 playing shortstop when South Carolina opens the 2014 baseball season.
After starting more than 120 games there in his first two seasons as a Gamecock, Joey Pankake will be standing in a different spot when the games begin next spring. He might be at third base or first base. He might be in left field or right field. Most importantly, he definitely will take the mound.
Looking for a way to use Pankake’s strong right arm as a means of getting opposing hitters out, USC coach Chad Holbrook decided to change his shortstop’s everyday position so that it will be easier to insert him into games as a pitcher without disrupting the team’s up-the-middle defense.
“We’re moving him off shortstop with the total intention of pitching him a significant amount,” Holbrook said. “I’m thinking of using him as a short reliever, either a setup guy or closer. We lost those two guys from last year (Adam Westmoreland and Tyler Webb). He has the arm, and I hope he can get to that point.”
Pankake has not pitched since playing at Easley High, where he flashed a fastball in the 90s and a wicked slider. But he’s ready to do what it takes to get the Gamecocks back to the College World Series after they fell one game short this past season.
“We lost some bullpen guys, and I’m trying to step in and maybe fill a role there,” Pankake said. “It’s not set in stone that I’m going to have any certain spot in the bullpen, but I want to make an impact if I can and still hit every day.”
His struggles defensively opened the door to a position switch along with Holbrook’s desire to have him pitch. Pankake made the same number of errors both seasons with 17, but his putouts, assists and fielding percentage were down in 2013, suggesting his range was not the same as he became bigger physically.
With junior college transfer Marcus Mooney coming in to take over at short, the most natural shift would be to third base, which is more of a reaction position defensively and one where more power generally is expected.
As for no longer playing shortstop, Pankake said, “It will be odd. Maybe I won’t miss it too much.”