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Gamecock Baseball 2013 Season Preview

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On Friday, the Yardcocks open the college baseball season against VMI. Will the 2013 squad earn a fourth consecutive trip to Omaha?

Matt Ryerson-US PRESSWIRE

Question for you: what turns the American sportsman’s thoughts to those of brown clay, fresh chalk and pristine grass. If you said HIPPIE COMMUNE ART CLASS, I like where your head is but no points this round.

Presently, our beloved Yardcocks are prepping for Friday’s season opener against Liberty. While it’ll be the first of the last three openers not to feature the hoisting of that most coveted of pennants, there’s still plenty of excitement leading into the 2013 campaign. Let’s have a look around the diamond and take stock.

Note: we at GABA are fans, not insiders, so consider this is more of a broad review of the situation leading into the season, as opposed to an in depth analysis of what to expect. Sound good?

Position players:

First off, let’s talk returners. Our infield loses only one of its 2012 starters, the venerable Christian Walker, drafted as a junior by the Baltimore Orioles. He went in the 4th round, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who followed his career at Carolina, but it is worth noting when you consider he was drafted 49th round out of high school. That a nice feather in the program’s already well-adorned cap from a player development standpoint.

While Christian’s departure leaves a void at first base, his replacement was just 127.27922 feet away*. Noted fish owner and 2012 3B LB Dantzler will switch corners, allowing 2012 2B Chase Vergason will make a complementary move to third. Rising sophomore and Mike Patrick conversation piece Joey Pankake returns to the starting shortstop position. Catcher Grayson Greiner had an impressive enough 2012 campaign to net freshman All-American honors, despite hitting just .222. Still, expectations are steadily rising for the 6'6" catcher, who was recently named a preseason second team All American by Louisville Slugger.

*Holy crap, I just used the Pythagorean Theorem. Someone, inform my high school algebra teacher!

Our outfield situation is less stable. The Gamecocks lost RF Adam Matthews to graduation and CF Evan Marzilli to the draft (8th round, Arizona). LF Tanner English, a part of that #1 overall recruiting class from 2011, will slide over to center field, which means the outfield corners will be up for grabs. Returning position players include Connor Bright, Brison Celek, T.J. Costen, Erik Payne, Dante Rosenberg, and Sean Sullivan.

So that means we’ve got 3 starting spots to fill among position players: 2B, LF, and RF. All signs point to true freshman Max Schrock taking over at 2B. Schrock was rated the 151st best high school prospect by Perfect Game USA. He was drafted in the 28th round by the Diamondbacks but elected to spend at least three seasons in Columbia—not his native Chapel Hill, by the way. (I can’t confirm that he was recruited by UNC, but it’s always nice to sneak a player out from under a power program’s nose.)

At least one of the outfield corners could be patrolled by one Ahmad Christian, the two-sport star who’s had a fiercely impressive winter. Still, Gamecock Central’s David Cloninger seems to think TJ Costen and junior college transfer Graham Saiko will comprise the rest of your outfield:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Saiko left, Costen right. RT @<a href="https://twitter.com/jorge_stevens">jorge_stevens</a> Necessity forces you to fill out the opening day lineup, right now. Who do you have at LF and RF</p>&mdash; David Cloninger (@DCAtGCKCentral) <a href="https://twitter.com/DCAtGCKCentral/status/301040890347155456">February 11, 2013</a></blockquote>
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(Yes, I’m mining twitter's Gamecock baseball gurus for information. Shaddup.)

Unfortunately, the hearty information pertaining to potential freshman roleplayers is almost exclusively found behind paywalls and I’d be remiss to divulge any of their coverage. So if you’re willing to dole out a few sheckles, head over to The Big Spur and John Whittle will get you up to speed. But a few names to know: George Iskendarian, infielder out of New Jersey who should get a good look at 3B. As mentioned, you should see plenty of Schrock and Saiko. You might be curious about Ryan Ripken, 6’5" 1B recruit and son of Cal. He’s had a few good scrimmages of late, but Scott Hood doesn’t think its enough for him to see any significant playing time this season.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Ryan Ripken K's v. Thomason to start T6. The son of the Hall of Famer has a long way to go before he sees the field in a game.</p>&mdash; Scott Hood (@ScottHood63) <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottHood63/status/298534917099380737">February 4, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Let’s hope Scott Hood’s scouting is as iffy as his talent for doling out nicknames.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>I've given Dillon OL Bryce King and D.J. Park a nickname: Dandy Dillon Duo.</p>&mdash; Scott Hood (@ScottHood63) <a href="https://twitter.com/ScottHood63/status/299171239925276672">February 6, 2013</a></blockquote>
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Oof. But I digress...

Pitching:

The Cocks only lose three pitchers from last year’s staff, but it smarts when two of them spent the past few seasons dominating college baseball. A pair of unlikely legends, Michael Roth and Matt Price leave yawning gaps in the starting rotation and bullpen respectively.

But able replacements have presented themselves, although Friday starter is up for some debate. Will it be rising junior Colby Holmes (7-2, 3.05 ERA, 65 K in 2012) or sophomore Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 3.62 ERA, 57 K in 2012). Tyler Webb (6-1, 1.56 ERA, 58 K) is your new closer, and was recently named to the NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List, which is a list that apparently exists.

While we return plenty of pitching depth including Forrest Koumas, Nolan Belcher, Joel Seddon and Evan Beal, one freshman who’s received plenty of buzz from the USC baseball actuaries is Jack Wynkoop, who ESPN rated the 6th-best lefthander in the class of 2012. Based on what reports from scrimmages, it wouldn’t be surprising if the 6’6" freshman is the eventual (if not immediate) Sunday starter. UPDATE: opening weekend starters have been announced and they are Montgomery, Holmes, and Belcher. Wynkoop will have to wait his turn.

Coaching:

Oh yeah, and there’s a new coach, which should feel stranger than it does. Maybe it’s because Ray Tanner tossed the keys to Chad Holbrook, who’s held the associate head coach title since 2009, thus ensuring one of the more unradical regime changes one could imagine. He's supported by familiar faces Jerry Meyers and Sammy Esposito and joined by Brian Buscher, a former Gamecock and Major Leaguer who'll serve as a volunteer assistant coach.

Preseason Rankings:

Poll South Carolina Rank SEC Rank
NCBWA 6 3
Baseball America 7 4
Collegiate Baseball 7 4
USA Today Coaches 5 3


As the chart indicates, South Carolina's considered one of the country's best teams going in, but take the rightmost column as a reminder that the SEC is arguably just as competitive in baseball as it is in football. The Collegiate Baseball poll, for instance, places Arkansas on top, Vanderbilt at 3, LSU at 4, Kentucky at 8, Mississippi State at 13, Florida at 24, Ole Miss at 25 and Georgia at 29. (Clemson's 27, if you're curious.) It's worth noting that Florida's relatively low ranking didn't stop coaches from selecting the Gators to finish ahead of the Gamecocks in the SEC East. They chose Vanderbilt to win the East and Arkansas to take the conference.

Oil up your glove and head out to the Ray on Friday for the opener against Liberty, and check Garnet and Black Attack for Gamecock baseball coverage throughout the season.

See you in Omaha!