Nine big questions for Gamecock baseball

By Rixon Lane

With a little over a month to go until the start of baseball season, South Carolina is in an unfamiliar situation. 

For the first time since 2010, the Gamecocks enter camp without a trip to the Super Regional or Omaha fresh in their minds. 

As head coach Chad Holbrook enters his third season at the helm, here are the questions the Gamecocks must address if they hope to return to the College World Series. 

 

1. Who will start in the outfield?

The Gamecocks have a trio of seniors vying for the corner outfield positions. Connor Bright, Elliott Caldwell, and Patrick Harrington are all battling for starting roles. Sophomore Gene Cone is expected to start in centerfield, but freshman Clark Scolamiero may also work his way into the rotation. 

2. Can the infield live up to the hype?

On paper, South Carolina's infield defense should be one of its biggest strengths. Junior D.C. Arendas made nine starts at third base last season and is penciled in as the starter at the hot corner in 2015. Max Schrock is the second baseman, while Marcus Mooney and Jordan Gore are both capable of handling shortstop. Senior first baseman Kyle Martin turned down an offer from the Angels to return to Columbia for one more season. 

3. Who will claim the third spot in the weekend rotation?

The Gamecocks have junior Jack Wynkoop and Freshman All-American Wil Crowe as a dynamic one-two punch to open the season. The final spot in the pitching rotation is still up for grabs and a decision will likely not be made until days before the season opener against College of Charleston. Taylor Widener and Vince Fiori are the returning players with the best chance to lock down the spot. 

4. Can Cody Mincey become an SEC closer?

Mincey struggled during the second half of last season as a setup man and was suspended for part of fall practice. With Joel Seddon gone, Mincey is the most likely candidate to take over the closer role for the Gamecocks. Following in the footsteps of Matt Price, Tyler Webb and Joel Seddon won't be easy, but South Carolina needs a reliable arm to finish games. 

5. Who will replace Grayson Greiner?

The Gamecocks had one of the best catchers in college baseball for the last four years, but Greiner has moved on to the Detroit Tigers organization. The frontrunner to replace Greiner is Logan Koch, who started six games behind the plate last season. Freshman Hunter Taylor is in the mix, along with JUCO transfers Jared Martin and Thatcher Coleman. 

6. Can South Carolina score?

A big part of South Carolina's postseason woes last year was the inability to drive in runs. In six postseason games, the Gamecocks averaged just over three runs per contest. Kyle Martin's return gives the lineup some power, but replacing big bats like Griener and Joey Pankake won't be easy. Look for the Gamecocks to play a lot of small ball at times to manufacture runs. 

7. Who will be a threat on the base paths? 

Tanner English swiped 21 bags for the Gamecocks last season, but no one else on the roster stole more than four. With English gone, South Carolina must find someone who can give pitchers something to think about when he's on base. After stealing four bags in five attempts last season, Holbrook might give Gene Cone the green light more often this season.

8. What will Taylor Widener's role be?

The sophomore is the wild card in the Gamecock's roster. Widener started 16 games as a designated hitter last season, but also made two starts on the mound and came out of the bullpen 19 times. Widener could take over a weekend starting spot or become the closer. If he doesn't land one of those jobs, expect to see the Aiken native pulling more double duty in 2015.

9. Can Chad Holbrook continue his dominance of Clemson?

Holbrook has drawn criticism for his failure to get the Gamecocks back to the Super Regionals last year, but no one is questioning his results against South Carolina's arch rival. In his first two years as a head coach, South Carolina owns a 5-1 record against the Tiger, including a sweep last season.