HERE’S A LOOK at five story lines for the South Carolina baseball team as the focus begins to turn to next season.
1. 2016 NCAA CHANCES
After having their string of 15 straight NCAA tournament appearances snapped this season – barring a surprise announcement by the NCAA selection committee on Monday – the Gamecocks could face an uphill battle again next season. Their top three hitters and top two pitchers likely are all gone because of a combination of graduation, the MLB draft and injury. That will put an onus on the team’s returning players to make improvements in their games and for a number of the incoming recruits to have an immediate impact.
2. CHAD HOLBROOK’S FUTURE
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The third-year head coach got an emphatic vote of confidence during the Vanderbilt series from athletics director Ray Tanner, the former baseball coach who handpicked Holbrook to take over the program. After reaching an NCAA Super Regional and a regional his first two seasons, Holbrook saw the program take a step backward this season. He’ll get time from Tanner to fix it, but probably not a lot of time given the high standards for one of the school’s flagship sports.
3. COACHING/PLAYER CHANGES
All the assistant coaches have ties to the best times at South Carolina. Pitching coach Jerry Meyers served on the College World Series teams in 2002-04 and 2011-12. Assistant coach Sammy Esposito worked on the staff for the second set of three straight CWS appearances, including the two title teams. And assistant coach Brian Buscher was a top player on the 2002-03 CWS team as well as a student assistant on the 2011 club. Tanner has expressed confidence in them as well. While there’s always transition in the player ranks, there might be a little more than usual as a roster remake gets underway.
4. MLB DRAFT PROSPECTS
First baseman Kyle Martin isn’t returning because he’s a senior, but he should improve his draft position over last season’s 20th round after an All-SEC season. The Gamecocks are likely to lose their top two juniors – left-hander Jack Wynkoop and second baseman Max Schrock – if the round and offer is right. Wynkoop is ranked as the No. 115 prospect for the draft by Baseball America, which could put him in the top four rounds, while Schrock made All-SEC second team despite battling injuries. Junior college outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams was selected in the 19th round last season and could go again after another strong season at Iowa Western. High school right-handed pitcher Nick Neidert of Suwanee, Ga., is Baseball America’s No. 55 draft prospect nationally.
5. HELP FROM RECRUITS
In addition to Dom Thompson-Williams and Nick Neidert, the Gamecocks have a few other players who could push for playing time in the field and on the mound. Those include catcher Chris Cullen, shortstop LT Tolbert, outfielders Danny Blair and T.J. Hopkins, and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen. Cody Morris, a highly touted right-hander from Maryland, is having Tommy John surgery and will miss next season, joining current USC right-hander Wil Crowe in the dugout for the same reason.