COLUMBIA, S.C. – A day before South Carolina football has its home opener, the Gamecocks baseball team got the scrimmage portion of its fall camp started.
Coach Chad Holbrook returns a strong starting pitching staff from a team that advanced to the Super Regionals before falling to Oklahoma State.
“We got a number of questions this fall and it’s important we get started and kind of answer them from a leadership standpoint,” Holbrook said. “With that being said, I do feel like I got a good team, a pretty talented team.”
The Gamecocks will hold another scrimmage at 10:30 a.m. Saturday before the finale at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
Two key positions will feature battles through fall camp. Holbrook has four players competing at shortstop and three catchers fighting for the starting spots.
Sophomore LT Holbert and junior Madison Stokes return to the Gamecocks, while junior college transfers Justin Row and Jacob Olson have joined the shortstop competition. Holbrook said Holbort improved over the summer and Stokes has been impressive through the early portion of fall individual workouts.
He also called Row “a candidate to play” and likened him to former USC shortstop Marcus Mooney.
“We love what he is about and how he plays,” Holbrook said. “He is a little bit like Mooney in stature. Maybe a little bit thicker. Maybe a little bit stronger. Very, very good offense player.”
All four will get opportunities at shortstop, but Holbrook likes the versatility Olson brings as a possible outfield candidate.
Junior John Jones, sophomore Chris Cullen and senior Hunter Taylor are competing at catcher.
“I love all three of them,” Holbrook said. “I’m awfully lucky to have those three guys on our team. I feel good about any one of them.”
Holbrook said Taylor “improved greatly over the summer” before calling Cullen “as talented as anybody.”
Jones, who started off last season at a blistering pace, had a couple solid weeks in the Cape Cod League.
“In many ways, from a position player standpoint, (those three) are the heart and soul of our team,” Holbrook said. “That’s a good position to have the heart and soul. Those are guys that exemplify all that our program is all about.”
The Gamecocks added a solid group of incoming players this season, highlighted by one of the top high school bats in the country, Carlos Cortes. Cortes worked at second base in the first fall scrimmage Friday, but also is working in leftfield.
At first base, Joey Polak and Riley Hogan have made a big early impression.
“They look like really legitimate first basemen,” Holbrook said. “They put the ball out of the park regularly in batting practice.”
Rian Haire, Sawyer Bridges and Jonathan Jahn have impressed Holbrook on the mount.
In his 20 minutes with the media, Holbrook touched on many more subjects. Some highlights:
- Junior Alex Destino is getting work at both leftfield and first base. He is working out daily at first base, but Holbrook believes he is plenty comfortable in leftfield after playing a lot of it last season.
- Sophomore T.J. Hopkins drew perhaps the highest praise of the day when Holbrook said he is “one of the most talented outfielders I’ve had a chance to coach.”
- Star closer Tyler Johnson will be limited in fall ball after a heavy workload in the spring and a summer with Team USA. As for Johnson’s role, whether he remains in the bullpen or moves to the starting rotation is not yet determined.
- Holbrook loves the work ethic of Johnson and junior starting pitcher Clarke Schmidt. He said both set the bar for the rest of the team. Junior starter Wil Crowe also is in that mix.
- Redshirt freshman Cody Morris started the scrimmage Friday. It was his first time throwing to a batter since he had Tommy John surgery during his senior year of high school. The Gamcocks have been staying conservative in his recovery process as well as Crowe’s.
- Sophomore starting pitcher Adam Hill has added 15-20 pounds to his frame. He also started Friday’s scrimmage.