We're all still licking our wounds from being Refsnyder'ed in the CWS finals by the Arizona Wildcats. But hey, while it's still on the mind, let's talk baseball! We actually have a lot of reasons to be excited for next season, and opening day is only eight months away, folks. First, let's size up the present so we can wildly speculate about the future.
We lose three primary position players (Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli and Adam Matthews) and two pitchers (Michael Roth and Matt Price.) That stings to read, but considering the only other departing player is the rarely-used Logan Munson, it could be worse. It's kind of wild when you realize Munson, Roth and Matthews are our only seniors. Despite some of our biggest numbers being put up by upperclassmen, this was a fairly young team.
The holes are few but gaping. Five more of the Rushmorian visages of our Omaha glory run are now alumni, and we're left looking for new heroes. So let's have a ludicrously early look at how the line-up could shake out next year. I'm admittedly under-schooled on most of our recruits, so the bulk of this prognostication will be based on the existing roster. I welcome any corrections/counter-opinions/accusations of under-researching this piece:
(Continue reading after the jump!)
While younger than rising senior Colby Homes and rising junior Forrest Koumas, Jordan Montgomery threw some inspired innings down the stretch. I'd like to see Tanner tab the tall lefty as our Friday starter next year. If it pans out, we could have our ace for the next two to three years. Some combination of Evan Beal, Holmes and Koumas should round out the rotation.
Unless Tanner decides to move him into the rotation, Tyler Webb could be our new Matt Price. Webb was a horse in Omaha and seems to be developing that killer instinct out of the pen. Nolan Belcher (listed at 5'8", evidently measured while standing on a stack of telephone books) returns, backflips and all. Other returning relievers include Adam Westmoreland and Hunter Privette.
Freshman All American Grayson Greiner struggled in Omaha, but that's no reason to believe he won't be our starting catcher for at least the next two seasons. He's got the markings of a big time player, and I have complete faith that Ray Tanner working on his mechanics paired with our top notch facilities will develop Greiner into a bigger, badder dude. We're lucky to return sturdy back-up Dante Rosenberg, who'll be looking to schedule his fourth Omaha visit next June.
The most yawning gap on our roster will be that left by Christian Walker at first base. Kyle Martin and Brison Celek are both listed as first basemen. Martin DH'ed in the championship series, so one might be led to believe that Ray Tanner favors the Greenville native. But don't overlook incoming freshman Ryan Ripken, son of Cal. At 6'5", he's got the height of a major league first basemen and might be able to snag a few of those high throws Joey Pankake likes to make.
Chase Vergason returns for his senior season (he was a JUCO transfer, remember.) Vergason had a solid run in Omaha, not to mention a year of experience as part of the ridiculous sounding Pankake-Vergason double play combo. (More ridiculous than 2011's Mooney-Wingo? You be the judge.) Connor Bright and TJ Costen both provide depth at second, and incoming freshman Max Schrock could make some noise. You'd have to believe a Pankake-Schrock DP tandem would pretty much trump anything.
"I have to tell you The Pankake Story! Joey Pankake, on national pancake day, hit a home run. He then when to IHOP for--you guessed it--pancakes." -- Noted crazy person Mike Patrick
Yes, Joey Flapjack returns after an admirable freshman campaign. He was a streaky fielder, but you have to imagine that will only improve as he works on his game over the offseason. He also had the second highest batting average among freshmen. Look for Pankake to STACK up well against [is catapulted over mountain].
LB Dantzler absolutely demolished a home run in Omaha--the only Gamecock to go yard at TD Ameritrade this year, if I'm not mistaken. Look for he and Greiner to provide the offensive power next year. Dantzler, also a JUCO transfer, will patrol the hot corner as a senior. Defensively, he'll need to shore up his game a bit. I noticed a few instances when was affected in high pressure situations, specifically botching a late game throw against Clemson early in the season and one against Arizona in the finals. Erik Payne can back up Dantzler, and I'd imagine will get a look at first base as well.
Right-handed Payne and left-handed Martin could be interchangeable at 1B/DH depending on pitching match ups. Payne had some big games offensively in 2012, so he may be a solid option for making up for the numbers we'll lose from Christian Walker. Always a strategy-based slot for Ray Tanner, Bright and Celek also saw time at DH this season.
After the 2011 season, it was our infield that all but dissipated. This year, two of our three starting outfielders depart, leaving only freshman stud Tanner English. Granted, with English's speed, he may not need two more outfielders. But Marzilli's and Matthews' oft-flashed leather (not to mention big game experience and knowledge of SEC parks) will be missed. I'd imagine English moves over to center field, and beyond that, we'll have to see. Amazingly, we only have two other players listed as outfield: Sean Sullivan, most known for a few clutch hits this season, and Seth Constable, most known for just having just been named in this sentence. Jamie Jarmon was a big signee for the Gamecocks, but was drafted early and signed with the Rangers. Additional incoming outfielders (who I think will be in Columbia) are Brett Knieff, Anthony Paulsen and Ray Murphy. Murphy is a power hitter out of Lexington, and will have the opportunity to walk on this fall.
I'm sure there are some abundantly obvious players I'm overlooking, so I'll welcome you all to make any additions or corrections in the comments section and I'll update the article as necessary. At any rate, there are plenty of reasons to think we could be back in Omaha in 2013. The biggest question mark is starting pitching, since we don't have a surefire ace. Again, I think it would behoove Tanner to put his confidence in Jordan Montgomery, who's performance in Omaha might, like Roth in 2010, have warranted the opening day start in 2011.