The South Carolina baseball team finds itself in familiar territory entering 2014, ranked 14th in the USA TODAY Coaches Poll and climbing as high as No. 7 in Baseball America's preseason top 25. Despite losing some key rotation and bullpen pieces and middle-of-the-order power, the Gamecocks continue to attract the best talent in the country and are expected by fans and pundits alike to return to Omaha--or at least come close, as they did in 2013.
|RANK||SCHOOL (FIRST-PLACE VOTES)||2013 RECORD||POINTS||FINAL 2013 RANKING|
|1||Cal State Fullerton (18)||51-10||729||10|
|4||Mississippi State (4)||51-20||632||2|
|9||North Carolina State||50-16||533||5|
One of second-year head coach Chad Holbrook greatest challenges will be finding a way to replicate the power and on-base skill of first baseman/corner infielder L.B. Dantzler, who led last year's team in both OBP and SLG% (the latter by a full .121%). Kyle Martin steps in to replace Dantzler at first base on the heels of a strong fall but will need increase his power profile to avoid being an offensive liability. Martin plays passable defense and got on base at a decent clip in 2013 (.367%) but managed just four extra-base hits in 80 at bats. That simply won't cut it as corner infielder.
On the opposite side of the diamond, Joey Pankake slides over to third base from shortstop, which will serve to mask some of the junior's fielding struggles while keeping his powerful arm in play. As valuable as it is to have good-hitting shortstop, Pankake's glove was a big liability in 2013 and his bat will play just fine at third. JUCO transfer Marcus Mooney is expected to slide in at shortstop and solidify the Gamecocks' middle-infield defense. Rising sophomore D.C. Arendas saw the field some last year and could push Mooeny for playing time.
By far the biggest question mark for the 2014 Gamecocks will be the back end of the bullpen. With Adam Westmoreland, Tyler Webb, Forrest Koumas, and Colby Holmes all gone, Evan Beal's 32 innings pitched lead the returning relievers. How deep South Carolina ultimately makes it into the postseason could very well hinge on how quickly newcomers like JUCO transfer Cody Mincey find their niche in the Gamecocks' bullpen rotation.
South Carolina's 2014 season will begin on Feb. 14 (also known as Valentine's Day or Jadeveon Clowney Day) at 3:00 p.m. EST against Bucknell. The meeting kicks off a three-game series between the Gamecocks and the Bison (that's Bucknell's mascot) at Carolina Stadium.
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