Max Schrock doesn’t know if he has played his last game in a South Carolina baseball uniform.
The junior second baseman will hear his name called in the MLB draft this week after three solid seasons as a Gamecock. It’s just a matter of when.
Although the Chapel Hill, N.C., native battled a variety of injuries the past two seasons, he provided numerous memorable moments.
A highly touted prospect out of high school, Schrock turned down the chance to play professionally in the summer of 2012 to attend USC.
“It’s been an absolutely thrilling three years so far, and they’ve flown by,” Schrock said. “Even with the injuries, they’ve still been great. There are definitely no regrets I’ve had in these three years. I’ve had a great time playing in front of the best fans in the country and playing in the best conference in the country.”
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Schrock came on strong at the end of the season despite a serious wrist sprain and a sore Achilles tendon. He batted .a career-high .328 with 11 doubles, six homers, 34 RBI with a .500 slugging percentage and a .419 on-base percentage. He walked 32 times while striking out 18, earning All-SEC second-team honors.
But this season didn’t end as expected for Schrock and his teammates. The Gamecocks finished 32-25 and failed to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1999.
“It was obviously frustrating for me and for everybody else in the program. I had a taste of the (2014 NCAA) regional and (2013) Super Regional, and I know how fun those things are to play in,” Schrock said.
“Things just weren’t clicking as consistently as they needed to be. We played some good baseball at the end of the year against Vanderbilt, Texas A&M and LSU. Those were five pretty strong wins right there. We showed we could do it, but we couldn’t put it all together on a consistent basis.”
Schrock came up big with an RBI triple against Vanderbilt in a three-run sixth inning of the 3-2 victory that clinched the series. That was typical of his career. The Commodores were loaded with great pitching, and Schrock responded.
“He thrives against the best,” USC coach Chad Holbrook said after that game. “That’s just how he’s always been.”
Schrock, who hit .354 in SEC games with four homers and 20 RBIs this season, has batted .302 in his career with 17 homers, 93 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
“I like the competition, and I like the pressure. I guess there may be something to that,” he said. “I know if we’re facing a premier arm, something subconsciously clicks a little more than it usually does. My awareness and my focus heighten a little bit.”
He also hit a pair of first-inning solo homers in games against No. 1 LSU to end the regular season. But the most dramatic moment of his career came in his sophomore season, when he blasted a game-tying, pinch-hit, two-run homer in the ninth inning of a stunning comeback win against Ole Miss. He wasn’t playing that day because of a badly sprained ankle, and Holbrook didn’t expect him to be available.
But the last-minute decision to send him to the plate paid off. After crushing the ball, Schrock triumphantly limped around the bases Kirk Gibson-style.
“That’s a memory I’ll take with me to my grave,” Schrock said. “When I think back to it, it’s still incredibly surreal.”
After a standout freshman season, Schrock appeared headed to bigger and better things as a sophomore until a bad ankle, a virus and a back injury forced him to miss 27 games. But he looks back on that period and finds a positive.
“It helped me develop as a player. I was always the guy on the field playing, and I never got to see what it was like to be on the bench,” he said. “It helped enhance my leadership skills and allowed me to learn how to be a good guy in he dugout. If I were to see something like maybe a pitcher was topping his pitches or falling into a tendency, I could go up to the hitter and say what I saw.”
Schrock isn’t certain whether he’ll sign a pro contract or return for his senior season at USC. Holbrook believes his infielder might return , but he knows the right draft round and right money offer can change that.
“If he doesn’t (come back), I’ll be his biggest supporter for as long as he needs me around,” Holbrook said.
Like many college players, Schrock has dreamed of playing on the professional level. He realizes that he’ll have a decision to make.
“You say you want to be one of those guys. If I have the opportunity, maybe this year, maybe next year, I’ll have to wait and see,” he said.
In the meantime, his years at USC will always hold a special place in his heart, especially the bonds he formed with teammates such as Kyle Martin, Marcus Mooney, LB Dantzler, Grayson Greiner and Joey Pankake.
“I’ve made friends that I’m sure I’ll have for the rest of my life,” Schrock said.
Schrock Scouting Report
What the MLB.com scouting report says about Max Schrock:
“Had he been signable, Schrock might have gone in the top five rounds of the 2012 draft as a North Carolina high schooler. He turned down the Diamondbacks as a 28th-rounder to attend South Carolina, where he has drawn comparisons to Coastal Carolina’s Tommy LaStella.
“A stress fracture in his back as a sophomore and injuries to his left Achilles tendon and right wrist as a junior have kept his numbers down, but he projects to hit for average. He has a quick left-handed swing and surprising pull power for someone who stands just 5-foot-9.
“He possesses average speed and keen baserunning instincts, though he won’t be a huge threat to steal. He’s an adequate if sometimes erratic defender at second base, with his below-average arm leaving left field as his lone option if he has to change positions.”
The schedule for the Major League Baseball amateur draft:
Rounds 1 and 2 ... 7 p.m., MLB Network
Rounds 3-10 ... 1 p.m., MLB.com
Rounds 11-40 ... Noon, MLB.com