Today we're taking a look at South Carolina's offense this season, which we can only hope will be more productive and less putrid than last season's. The Gamecocks had an overall batting average of .257 last year, which was down from their .281 average the year before, and was the lowest team average in more than 40 years. Much like the 2015 defense, the 2015 offense was inconsistent and disappointing in way too many games. Let's hope the team learned that having one guy get a hit and the next three striking/flying/popping out is not a great strategy.
The one guy who could be counted on last year to generally at least make something happen was Kyle Martin, and someone is going to have to step up to fill the major hole left in the lineup. Two other big names that won't be in the lineup this season are Max Schrock, who came through in the clutch more than once last season, despite also missing a lot of time with injuries and ailments, and Elliott Caldwell, who put together a really great senior season last year and proved to be a key part of the offense for South Carolina. Martin ended 2015 with a batting average of .350, while Schrock and Caldwell both had an average of .328.
The list of returning players who will be looked at to drive the offense this season is led by Alex Destino, who burst onto the scene last year in a big way as a freshman. His batting average was just below the overall team average, at .251, but he'll come into the 2016 season with a lot more experience, which should benefit him. There were definitely times, especially in SEC play, where it was clear that Destino still had some room for improvement, but the talent is there. Perfect Game also named him to the 2016 preseason All-SEC team.
Other returning players who could have an impact offensively include seniors DC Arendas (2015 batting average: .215) and Marcus Mooney (2015 batting average: .213) and junior Gene Cone (2015 batting average: .257).
Among the newcomers to watch is freshman Brandon McIlwain, who was already delighting fans during the preseason scrimmagew, cranking homers and looking like he could help spark the Gamecocks offense to get it back on the right track this season. Another new name to watch is freshman LT Tolbert, who tallied two RBI in Saturday's preseason scrimmage. He's also versatile on defense, so it seems likely he'll make the starting lineup for Chad Holbrook. Dom Thompson-Williams, a junior who transferred to Carolina from Iowa Western Community College, could also help fill the role vacated by Martin. He batted better than .400 in both his seasons at Iowa Western and should be able to add power to a Gamecocks lineup that's been rather lacking in that department.
Overall, the South Carolina offense is going to have a find a way to reverse two troubling trends: strings of hitless innings and a lack of clutch hits. Those issues have plagued the Gamecocks for the past couple of seasons, and the inexplicably MIA offense was often the difference in games last year, with almost half of Carolina's losses in 2015 being by just one or two runs. The inability to make adjustments at the plate was also glaringly obvious with last year's team, so hopefully the players and coaches will have that sorted out for the 2016 campaign.