As the Gamecocks begin their season on Friday with so many questions about the pitching it’ll be important to have a strong defense backing the pitching staff up. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, there will be a good bit of experience returning on defense in 2018.
Last season the defense had a .974 fielding percentage, and was in the middle of the pack in the SEC. While that’s not bad and the defense was far from the biggest problem for last year’s team, it would be nice to see the Gamecocks improve on that and excel at defense this season. This year’s mix of experienced starters and talented newcomers should be able to do that.
South Carolina returns two experienced catchers in senior Hunter Taylor and junior Chris Cullen. Last year they split time behind the plate, and that should be the case again, as Kingston has said that neither will catch every game. Senior Jonah Bride, who started every game at third for the Gamecocks last season, is expected to be the third baseman again this year.
Things are a little less settled in the remainder of the infield. Senior Madison Stokes, who was the main starter at shortstop last year, will likely be there again for Carolina. But LT Tolbert, who could also play at first or second base, may see some playing time at short. Also in the conversation at first base are senior Matt Williams and sophomore Riley Hogan, the two players that saw the most time at first last season. Freshman Jordan Holladay is also pushing for a shot at first and fellow newcomer Noah Campbell is vying for time at second base.
In the outfield, juniors TJ Hopkins and Jacob Olsen are both expected to be starters. Talented sophomore Carlos Cortes will definitely be in the lineup for the Gamecocks, so he may be in left field if he doesn’t DH. Danny Blair and Kyle Jacobsen are also competing for an outfield spot.
There will probably be plenty of shuffling around defensive positions over the first weeks of the season as Kingston tries to find the best lineup for the Gamecocks. The infield in particular is crowded with possible starters, so it will take some time to sort out the best defensive set up for Carolina. How the position battles play out will also be influenced by how the players are hitting, so tomorrow we’ll take a look at the South Carolina offense as we continue our countdown to Opening Day!