Access the best in college baseball coverage.



South Carolina Season Preview – Highway To Hoover

SEC Extra


On this episode of the Highway To Hoover podcast, join Joe Healy and Mark Etheridge as they preview the South Carolina Gamecocks before the 2023 College Baseball Season! In this preview, they’ll discuss South Carolina’s strengths as a team, potential areas of concern, and what the Cocks need to do in 2023 to be the best versions of themselves.

The Highway To Hoover Podcast is brought to you by Brock’s Gap Brewing Company (Hoover, AL).

Learn more about SEC Extra:
Follow SEC Extra on Twitter:

Joe Healy 

Today, we’re going to talk about the South Carolina Gamecocks. It’s a program that feels like it’s ridden a little bit of a roller coaster through the years. It kind of alternates. It seems like it was there for a while, alternating super regional appearances with missing the postseason. And then somewhat similarly, they hosted as a one seed in 2021, just because 2021 was a weird year with hosting and Old Dominion was a traveling one seed – which was a throwback to the old days of the field of 64 with traveling one seeds. It was a unique set of circumstances there, but they lost in that regional. And then last year they missed the postseason. 

So a little bit of a roller coaster for South Carolina. Maybe there are other examples, but for me, it is the program lately that year to year you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get.

Mark Etheridge

It’s either been right around the bubble, where they were last year, or right around a bubble host. It’s really where they are as a program at this point. And this year, it looks like a bubble host. Certainly we’ll get into that more, but they have a very talented team coming back. A lot of optimism heading into the season in Columbia. 

Joe Healy

That’s a good segue to jumping into talking about this team. There is a lot of optimism here. We have them ranked, and I think there were some eyebrows raised about that. And I think that’s less because people are dubious about South Carolina’s talent – although I’m sure there are some people who fall into that category. I think it’s less of that, and I think it’s more that there are so many teams in the SEC that could conceivably be ranked. We heard it from Auburn fans after the Top 25 came out about not having Auburn ranked and not giving them the benefit of the doubt. And I get it. Mississippi State fans, because last year went so poorly, were a little bit less vocal about it, but they were disappointed to not be given the benefit of the doubt that they would bounce back.

And I I think that’s where a lot of it’s coming from. People were surprised to see South Carolina rank, but as we get into it here, I think we’ll be able to enumerate a little bit the reasons why we have some confidence in them.

South Carolina last season went 27-28, 13-17 in SEC play, which, as Mark alluded to, that’s going to put your right square on the bubble every time. That’s the magic number – 13 – to be right on the bubble. So no postseason as it turned out. And this preseason we have them ranked 23rd in the nation. I talked about Auburn and Mississippi State fans, if we’d ranked to 30, those two teams are probably involved. And with Alabama being at 20, South Carolina at 23, Auburn and Mississippi State in the top 30, that just tells you how bunched up that middle class of the SEC is.

Mark, you’ve mentioned time and again on these podcasts the margin being really thin in the SEC, and that’s kind of what we’re talking about there with those four teams. And when we talk about the host bubble or what have you, that’s going to be where a lot of that bumping up into each other happens.

So, let’s jump into what we like about this team. Mark, you’re going to go ahead and bat leadoff for us.


Mark Etheridge 

It all starts with starting pitching. With (Will) Sanders, you have a legit ace. You have a guy who can match up with all these other aces in the SEC, and that’s so important every Thursday/Friday night. (Noah) Hall and (Jack) Mahoney, those are high-level guys who can match up with the other top rotations that they’re going to see. And then you have the freshman, (Eli) Jerzembeck. He’s an elite talent, maybe one of the best freshmen in the conference – certainly one of the most talented. When you have that kind of guy and you don’t have to rush him because you’ve got those other three who are somewhat established in front of him, if he’s good enough, he pushes one of them out, or you stack ’em or whatever Mark Kingston decides to do.

But it’s a really great situation when you have four high-level rotation candidates to kick off the season. And in this conference, odds are you’re going to have a guy miss a start. And to have that fourth guy to step into that, it all starts with South Carolina on the mound and with the starting pitching.

Joe Healy 

I think it’s 100% right, and I would build on that and say one other thing I like about it is that it feels like they have some versatility there. Part of that is with Jerzembeck, you’re always going to feel good about it if you have a freshman who’s talented like and who you don’t necessarily just have to throw in the rotation because he’s one of our three most talented arms and we have to use him in a high-leverage spot. The fact that they don’t have to do that speaks volumes to the talent they have, and I think it’s good for him to be able to maybe get his feet wet in a midweek role or whatever it is and then maybe work his way up into being a weekend guy. I wouldn’t be shocked if by the time we get to May, if he is a weekend guy ultimately. But I also wouldn’t be shocked if he doesn’t get there, just because the talent is so good elsewhere. 

But it’s a versatile group, too, where you’ve got, Matthew Becker is a guy who can swing as a starter if you need him. He’s also a guy you could use in long relief. His stuff is good enough he could be a back-end guy. Jack Mahoney is coming off of injury, but two years ago, he was excellent as a reliever and his stuff is really good and maybe is even better than before his injury. He’s a guy who could maybe do a lot of different things. Cade Austin at the backend, his numbers were pretty doggone good last year. They brought in Nick Proctor from Cal, a reliever who’s a slider specialist. He’s a funky guy who is just going to throw a ton of sliders at you. He’s a classic back-end bullpen type that you can use in certain spots. 

It’s a very talented pitching staff that I think has a lot of versatility, and it’s the kind of deal where the lineup doesn’t have to be excellent, I think, to be good enough, I think this is a case where as long as South Carolina’s pitching stays healthy – and they’ve already taken a little bit of a din; this team was gonna have Roman Kimball, a Notre Dame transfer who’s really talented and was a big recruit for Notre Dame going into last year, but he’s out for the year. This stuff is just coincidental, but South Carolina has been snakebit in the past by pitcher injuries. That has been a thing they’ve dealt with at times. So staying healthy for every team is going to be key on the mound. But if this group stays healthy and just pitches up to its potential, it has a chance to be one of the best pitching staffs in the SEC, which by extension means the country. So, I’m excited to see what they have there.

Mark, what questions do you have?


Mark Etheridge

Will they hit enough? That’s the first thing. They added some veteran transfers in Will McGillis, Caleb Denny, Dylan Brewer and Jacob Compton. Can these guys who are coming in who were successful at other places adjust to the SEC and perform at this elite level? Sometimes you bring in older guys, and maybe they’re older means they’re less talented because if they were more talented, they would’ve gone pro. Other times you bring in older guys and it’s tougher at-bats, because they understand, they’ve been through it, they have that experience to lean on. Which are we getting here?

From a lineup standpoint, that’s what I want to see from South Carolina, because I do think with their pitching, if their offense is SEC average – which is pretty darn good, usually – they’re an Omaha type of team.

Joe Healy

That’s where my questions go, too, is that part of the lineup. It’s probably Gavin Casas at first base, a Vanderbilt transfer who didn’t see a lot of time the last two years, but he’s got big-time power. Will McGillis, a second baseman from Southern Miss who played a lot of games at Southern Miss and has a lot of pop in his bat. Caleb Denny from Oral Roberts, who might be the best all-around hitter in that group. He started his career at Arkansas, transferred to Oral Roberts and had a lot of success there. Dylan Brewer from Clemson, another guy with some pop in his bat. He’ll play in the outfield. Jacob Compton from Memphis, a first base/outfield type with big power. Jonathan French, former Clemson catcher who is in the mix at catcher. He is not necessarily expected to be the full-time starter. They might rotate a few guys in and out at that position. But again, another guy with some pop in his bat. 

The thing that you mentioned is right there. Some of those guys aren’t necessarily transferring up, like Casas coming from Vanderbilt, but the challenge there is he’s not played a ton. Most of those guys are transferring up, or at least a good number of them. We know the hit rate on those is not 100%, so statistically speaking, some portion of those guys just aren’t necessarily going to work out because it would be a statistical anomaly if they did. And if they did, that’d be great for South Carolina. But chances are with one or more of them, it’s not going to go as well as they would hope. And so it really just comes down to, are we talking about half of those guys? Just one of them? The difference in that lineup being the best version of itself, a mediocre version of itself or struggling, is just how many of those guys pick up where left off at their last stop or, in the case of a guy like Casas, pick up on their immense talent and really get going.

That’s where the differences lie for what this South Carolina lineup will be. I have a feeling that kind of walks us up to our next thing, Mark. So go ahead and tell me a little bit about what you think needs to happen for this team to be as good as it could possibly.

What does South Carolina have to do to be the best version of itself in 2023?

Mark Etheridge

It starts with the offense. The offense has to produce and give the pitching a chance, because I really think if the pitching stays healthy and effective all year with the upper level talent, they don’t really have a ceiling? This can be one of those clubs on the mound. They need to come through offensively. Like Ole Miss did last year, when you’re trying to figure it out and take that next step and take your program to a height that it hasn’t been in recent years, you need those breaks and you need some good things to happen for you and you need to stay healthy and you need some guys who maybe have not done it before or haven’t done it at this level to elevate. And I think for South Carolina to get where it wants to go, that’s the recipe.

Joe Healy

In classic improv fashion, I will take your point, agree with it and build on it. I remember the lineup a couple of years ago, the one that was led by Wes Clark, who people remember as the big slugger in the middle of the order. At its best, it was a pretty fearsome lineup, but it could get a little stagnant and it felt like they got very home-run dependent. With so many of these transfers, you’re talking about a lot of guys who if they’re going to be the most effective, it’s going to be by hitting the ball out of the ballpark. And South Carolina does have a ballpark where you can win that way. But that also can lead to situations where the offense does get stagnant if the ball just isn’t leaving. And especially if those guys do struggle with the move to SEC pitching or playing full time or whatever their transition is, I do think there needs to be a little bit of a happy medium achieved where this lineup needs to find a way to be able to score some runs other ways. 

A name we haven’t mentioned is Braylen Wimmer, who is moving to shortstop. He can also hit with power, but he’s a guy who is a little more athletic and can run a little bit. So is it a guy like him who can be a catalyst in a little different way and help them? It’s going to have to be more than just him, but he stands out as a guy who maybe can provide a little bit of a different dynamic in this offense. Yes, the offense only needs to be about average, but it can be really frustrating if the offense is average but it’s entirely based on, how many fastballs are we going to run into tonight that we can run out of the ballpark? Those are going to come and go. I would like to see some dynamism in the South Carolina lineup and not them standing around, waiting until the next guy connects and finds the barrel. 

There’s the most variance with this team, more so than others, in terms of expectations, because I am so very confident in the pitching as long as it stays healthy and have a lot of questions about the offense. A team like that can go either way. So, there really feels like there are a wide range of outcomes here for South Carolina. And obviously, we will see how that plays out on the field.¨