Top 25 Breakdown: No. 5 South Carolina
2014 Record: 44-18. RPI: 15.
Coach (Record at school): Chad Holbrook (87-38, 2 years).
Postseason History: 29 regionals (active streak: 14), 11 CWS trips (active streak: 3), 2 national titles (last in 2011).
South Carolina's Projected Lineup
|C||Logan Koch, So.||.286/.300/.321||0||1||0|
|1B||Kyle Martin, Sr.||.336/.389/.443||5||38||2|
|2B||Max Schrock, Jr.||.299/.366/.472||5||20||4|
|3B||D.C. Arendas, Jr.||.271/.373/.373||4||29||1|
|SS||Marcus Mooney, Jr.||.274/.380/.330||0||22||2|
|LF||Elliott Caldwell, Sr.||.254/.326/.295||0||14||4|
|CF||Gene Cone, So.||.221/.371/.288||0||18||4|
|RF||Connor Bright, Sr.||.311/.349/.379||0||24||4|
|DH||Alex Destino, Fr.||HS—Weaverville, N.C.|
|RHP||Wil Crowe, So.||8-3||2.75||91.2||59||19||0|
|LHP||Jack Wynkoop, Jr.||7-6||2.86||88||58||10||0|
|RHP||Taylor Widener, So.||3-0||1.79||40.1||38||15||0|
|RP||Cody Mincey, Sr.||5-0||1.04||34.2||44||17||1|
Hitting: 60. South Carolina’s lineup lacks overwhelming star power, but it should be a deep collection of tough outs who makes pitchers work up and down the lineup, in the mold of its national title teams. Schrock, Martin and Destino should form an imposing group of lefthanded hitters who work counts and drive gaps in the heart of the order. Arendas (who led the Gamecocks in hitting during fall ball) and Cone (the Coastal Plain League MVP last summer) are two more line drive-oriented lefthanded hitters who look poised for breakouts. Cone should be a catalyst at or near the top of the order. Switch-hitters Koch and infielder Jordan Gore give the lineup additional versatility. Veterans Caldwell, Bright and Patrick Harrington give the lineup a trio of hard-nosed grinders from the right side. Mooney is a contact-oriented hitter who bunts well and has good situational hitting skills.
Power: 55. Destino has the most raw power on the team and impressed the Gamecocks with the maturity of his approach in the fall; he should hit in the heart of the order as a freshman, giving Schrock and Martin valuable protection. Schrock has surprising pop in his compact frame, and Martin is the latest in South Carolina’s long tradition of dangerous college power hitters at first base. Fr. C Hunter Taylor has above-average power and enough feel for hitting to make a difference right away—he’ll push Koch for playing time. Gore has occasional pop from the left side, and the physical Caldwell should provide a few homers as well from the right side.
Speed: 40. The Gamecocks don’t have any true burners. Cone is a slightly above-average runner whose speed plays up in the outfield and on the basepaths because he gets good jumps. Fr. OF Clark Scolamiero is an above-average runner who figures to break in as a late-innings defensive replacement. Otherwise, South Carolina lacks speed—no returning Gamecock stole more than four bases last year.
Defense: 65. Infield defense should be a major strength for South Carolina. Martin and Arendas are standout defenders on the corners, Schrock is sound at second, and Mooney is an instinctive playmaker at short, where he could be pushed by Gore, whose arm is stronger. Replacing catcher Grayson Greiner will be a challenge, but Koch is a good receiver who has rapport with the pitching staff, and Taylor’s plus arm gives him significant upside. Cone has excellent range and an accurate arm in center field, and the corners should be solid.
Starting Pitching: 60. Crowe and Wynkoop make a formidable one-two punch atop the rotation, in some order. Crowe, an aggressive, big-bodied power pitcher in the Lance Lynn mold, attacks hitters with a 91-94 fastball and three solid secondary pitches he can throw for strikes. Wynkoop is another four-pitch strike-thrower whose best pitch is a disappearing 74-75 mph changeup that makes his 83-88 fastball play up. The Gamecocks have plenty of competition for the No. 3 starter job, and depending upon whether young arms emerge in the rotation or the bullpen, Widener could start on Sundays or find himself as the closer. His mid-90s fastball and hard slider can be overpowering, and his changeup has improved to give him a solid third pitch. One strong contender for a starting role is Fr. RHP Clarke Schmidt, whose athleticism and loose arm evoke older brother Clate (a junior at Clemson). Clarke Schmidt sits at 90-92 with good sink and run, and features a swing-and-miss slider. Pitchability lefties Josh Reagan and Vince Fiori could also be in the starting mix, as could RHP Matt Vogel. Depth is a real strength for this staff.
Bullpen: 60. The Gamecocks must replace shutdown closer Joel Seddon, but they have plenty of strong candidates. Widener has wipeout stuff and could be a force at the back of the bullpen. Mincey proved he can handle tight spots last year; he attacks the zone with a lively 88-91 fastball from a three-quarters slot and a quality high-70s slider. Fiori’s high-80s heater and good breaking ball make him effective against lefties, but he also has an excellent changeup for righties. RHP Canaan Cropper is back from Tommy John surgery and could hold down a key setup role. And Fr. RHP Brandon Murray has big-time arm strength, with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and a knockout slider; if his command continues to come, he could find himself anchoring the ’pen, which would allow Widener to stick in the rotation.
Experience/Intangibles: 60. The Gamecocks lost a bit of their mystique when they lost a home regional to upstart Maryland last year, ending a remarkable streak of home dominance in the postseason. No holdovers remain from their back-to-back national title teams in 2010-11, and Martin and Bright are the only players on the roster who saw meaningful playing time for the 2012 national runner-up squad. Still, the Gamecocks continued to show a penchant for pulling out dramatic, come-from-behind wins a year ago, and it would be foolish to question their toughness. Michael Roth and Matt Price and Jackie Bradley Jr. may not be walking through that door, but this group is still very talented, and well stocked with veteran leadership. Don’t expect the Gamecocks to miss out on Omaha for a third straight year.