Chad Holbrook and the South Carolina baseball team got excellent news on Wednesday morning when first baseman Kyle Martin announced that he intends to return for his senior season. The Los Angeles Angels drafted Martin in the 20th round of the MLB Draft on Saturday with the No. 599 overall pick. Slot money for draftees taken in round 11 or later is $100,000.
With Martin returning, South Carolina gets back one of its most potent bats from the 2014 season. Martin hit .336/.389/.483 during his junior campaign -- achieving career bests in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage -- and was one of only two Gamecocks to start all 62 games.
Last week, when Martin appeared likely to sign a professional contract, John Whittle of The Big Spur projected Connor Bright as South Caroilna's starting first baseman in 2015. Martin's decision to exhaust his collegiate eligibility before moving on from Carolina frees up Coach Holbrook to use the versatile Bright at one of the corner outfield positions. That, in turn, minimizes the Gamecocks' need to rely upon useful but mostly unproven talents such as Elliott Caldwell and Gene Cone.
For both the sake of his 2015 draft stock and the Gamecocks' hopes of returning to the College World Series, the biggest area where Martin could stand to improve is in power production. In 2014, 19.5 percent of Martin's hits went for extra bases, which is pretty consistent with his career average of 20.3. His career-best slugging percentage was almost entirely attributable to his career-best batting average, which was mostly fueled by his 66 singles (as compares to 16 extra-base hits).
There's nothing wrong with having that kind of success at the plate, but with both Grayson Greiner and Joey Pankake likely moving on to the professional ranks, South Carolina has a few outgoing power bats that need to be replaced. Additionally, trading a few singles for doubles and homeruns will make him much more attractive as a corner infield bat at the next level.
If Martin can take a step forward at the plate, he, Bright, and Max Schrock could represent a formidable power threat at the heart of the Gamecocks' lineup. If not, USC could once again struggle to score enough runs to support what will likely be another strong pitching staff.