When it’s time for Jack Wynkoop to travel from his home in Olympia to the Darla Moore School of Business for class each day, he hops on his trusty moped and cruises over.
Wynkoop smiles because he knows his lean and angular 6-foot-5 frame perched atop a motorized scooter is quite a sight.
“I look funny, but it gets me where I want to go,” he said.
There’s nothing comical, however, about where the South Carolina junior left-hander is headed in life and on the baseball field. A risk management and insurance major with a 3.7 GPA, as well as one of the top pitchers in the SEC, Wynkoop has encountered the best of both worlds in his three years on campus.
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“My experience here at the school has been awesome. I’ve grown up a lot with a lot of good people around me, the coaching staff and all of our advisers,” Wynkoop said. “We’re like a family, and I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything else in the world, that’s for sure.”
He has embraced academics as much as he has putting away the best college hitters in the country.
“My education is really important to me. That’s something my parents have instilled in me since I was little,” Wynkoop said. “Coming to South Carolina, not only do you get to be part of one of the best baseball programs in the country, you get to be part of the Darla Moore School of Business with these awesome facilities and great teachers.”
Wynkoop might have to put his plans to graduate after three more semesters on hold if the MLB draft next month brings good news. His continuing success on the mound has professional scouts closely watching him, and he could go higher than his good friend and fellow left-hander Jordan Montgomery did a year ago as a fourth-round selection of the New York Yankees.
He collected early-season wins against Clemson and Kentucky before hitting a bump in the road as the Gamecocks (28-21) struggled. But after a season-ending injury to right-hander Wil Crowe, Wynkoop moved back into the top spot in the rotation and has consecutive wins against Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Auburn, allowing two earned runs with 27 strikeouts over 27 1/3 innings.
Wynkoop ranks first in the SEC in innings pitched (84 1/3), third in fewest walks allowed (11), fourth in ERA (2.45), tied for fourth in wins (7), and tied for fifth in strikeouts (74).
Wynkoop credits USC pitching coach Jerry Meyers for playing an important role in his development. Meyers served as the head coach at Old Dominion when Wynkoop was growing up in nearby Virginia Beach, Va.
“Maturity-wise and makeup-wise, the ingredients were all there,” Meyers said. “The pieces were in place for him to make the adjustment and the transition.”
With 21 career wins, he’s one of 23 pitchers in USC history to win 20 or more. Most impressively besides a 2.78 ERA, he has walked just 32 hitters in 236 1/3 career innings. Wynkoop also possesses one of the best pickoff moves in the country, picking off nine runners in his career.
His calm, collected demeanor on the mound is the biggest reason behind those numbers.
“He stays in the moment, he’s not fazed by any stage or any opponent or any jam he’s in,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said. “He seems to be at his best when there’s (runners on) second and third with one out and he needs to make a pitch. He’s just an unflappable kid.”
Wynkoop salutes the program’s string of standout pitchers for helping him make the transition to the college game, including a pair of tall left-handers, Tyler Webb, who’s now pitching in Triple-A, and Montgomery, who’s pitching in Single-A.
“I’ve been trying to pitch like Gumby (Montgomery) ever since I’ve been here,” Wynkoop said. “He was a great role model for me. He mixes four pitches, and that’s what I try to do.”
With an above-average changeup and a fastball that can touch the low 90s, Wynkoop also incorporates a couple of breaking pitches into his arsenal to keep hitters off-balance. And, Myers notes, Wynkoop shares a competitive spirit and serious work ethic with previous USC pitching greats.
“Jack’s right in that same category,” Meyers said.
Yet Wynkoop knows when to have fun, too. He has surfed since his father J.C. taught him as a young boy in California. Over the holiday break last December, they went surfing in Puerto Rico.
It’s very likely that Wynkoop will take his off-field surfer cool and on-field intensity to the professional ranks over the summer. Meyers expects it to happen, and he’s really going to miss everything Wynkoop has meant to USC baseball.
“He’s an outstanding student, an outstanding person, and one of the best teammates you could ask for,” Meyers said. “He cares about his teammates. It never has been about just himself. That’s been good for the program.”
JACK WYNKOOP BIO
6-5/210, Junior, Left-handed pitcher
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Va.
Major: Insurance and Risk Management
Favorite player growing up: Sandy Koufax
Favorite baseball movie: Angels in the Outfield
Key numbers this season: 7-4, 2.45 ERA, 74 Ks