The Daily Gamecock

Roster shuffles lead to changes around infield

Pankake’s transition to 3rd base creates battle for shortstop job

Entering his second year as head coach, Chad Holbrook claims he is getting more sleep than he was before last season, his first at the helm of the team.

“My heart’s racing at a little bit of a slower pace than it was this time last year,” Holbrook said.

Perhaps one reason explaining Holbrook’s calmer demeanor is the return of Joey Pankake, who led the team in hits last season with 74, and three other returning starters across the infield.

Pankake garnered 62 starts at shortstop last season and hit .311, but will make the transition to third base after the team lost Chase Vergason to graduation. Pankake said the move will take some stress off his arm after a failed offseason pitching experience left him with a left elbow strain.

“It’s a whole new game over there,” Pankake said of his new position. “It’s more of just a reaction. I don’t have enough time to think about what I want to do, so I think that’s going to help me in the long run because thinking tends to get me in trouble.”

Among other returning infielders is junior catcher Grayson Greiner, who is coming off a season where he hit .298 for the Gamecocks in 56 games. Greiner enjoyed a productive offseason where he was named to the 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team after picking up second-team All-SEC honors at the conclusion of last season.

Greiner often fluctuated between the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the lineup last year. With L.B. Dantzler’s thunderous bat no longer in the lineup, Greiner will likely move up into the meat of the order.

The Gamecocks will miss Dantzler, a 14th-round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays who led South Carolina in batting average, runs scored, doubles, home runs, slugging percentage and RBI. The exit of the Gamecocks’ captain from a year ago leaves South Carolina with a void at first base, but they could be better off than they seem.

The emergence of Kyle Martin last spring carried over through the offseason, where he had arguably the most productive fall of any Gamecock. Holbrook noted that Martin may hit fourth or fifth in the lineup after going 4-8 with five RBI and three runs scored in the Columbia regional last season against Liberty. He will likely need to come out of the gates swinging a hot bat in order to keep freshman slugger Taylor Widener off his heels.

Widener, who is Martin’s backup at first base as of the start of the season, figures to see some at-bats at designated hitter to start the season. The 6-foot-1-inch South Aiken product will also give the team another left-handed bat, which it could use.

Sophomore Max Schrock earned 61 starts at second base in what turned out to be a solid freshman campaign. Schrock hit .282 last season, while leading the team in stolen bases with 14. According to Holbrook, Schrock will hit near the top of the lineup this year — either leadoff or second.

Schrock fits the characteristics of a typical leadoff hitter with his size and quickness. He has also shown discipline at the plate, drawing 36 walks last season, and only 23 strikeouts in 227 chances.

With Pankake moving from shortstop, there is a vacancy sign hanging on the six-hole that sophomore transfer Marcus Mooney and returning sophomore DC Arendas are currently trying to fill.

In the first series of the season, Mooney played almost every out at shortstop with Arendas shifting between third base and designated hitter.

“Marcus Mooney is a lot like his brother [Peter Mooney],” Holbrook said. “He’s a terrific defensive player, plays with some energy, plays with some bounce. DC Arendas is another polished defender who is also near the top.”

Holbrook also called freshman Jordan Gore a “pleasant surprise” and added that he will receive looks regarding playing time at shortstop.

With the season just barely underway, Holbrook seems to have adopted a trial-by-fire method for determining his next shortstop.

“It’s not necessarily important who starts the first 10 games at shortstop,” Holbrook said. “It’s important who starts the last 10 games at shortstop. We’ve got a long way to go in that competition.”