English, Bright return to center, right while starting job in left field remains up for grabs
Gamecock fans should expect a variety of names to contribute in the outfield this season on the South Carolina baseball team.
Some familiar faces will remain a mainstay at their positions, while the left field spot seems to still be up for grabs.
“I feel good about our outfield,” coach Chad Holbrook said. “Obviously, Tanner (English) will manage centerfield and we think he’s as good as there is out there defensively.”
English, a junior, hit .283 last season, dipping a bit from his freshman year, but he also managed to score 30 runs to go along with 25 RBI. English was among the team’s best in on-base percentage with .381 and played well in the postseason while managing various injuries throughout the season. His speed is well-known and helped pace the bottom of the order last season, batting in the nine-spot of the lineup often.
Junior Elliott Caldwell got the start in left field on opening day with junior Connor Bright occupying right field.
Bright had 49 starts in right field last year and batted .288 with 27 runs scored and 22 RBI.
“I love Connor Bright,” Holbrook said. “He’s a tough nut and plays hard.”
Holbrook added that opposing teams focus on power hitters like infielders Joey Pankake, Max Schrock and Kyle Martin, but tend to forget about Bright at the seventh spot in the batting order.
“He’s not chopped liver, he’s a tough out,” Holbrook said. “I call him our ‘silent assassin’ because he doesn’t say boo, many people forget about him and he’s a good player.”
Caldwell is in his first year as a Gamecock after being one of the top junior college prospects. At Spartanburg Methodist last season, he batted .371 with 44 RBI and 63 runs scored.
Holbrook said there is still competition in left field, but Caldwell is the front-runner at the moment.
Shon Carson and Ahmad Christian, members of coach Steve Spurrier’s football team as well as the baseball team in 2013, will both be absent from the diamond this year with Christian transferring and Carson focusing on football for the spring. Holbrook did say that Carson may try to return to baseball for the 2015 season.
With Carson and Christian’s absence, freshmen Zack Madden, Gene Cone and Jae Roberts could all see some time in the outfield.
After making the transition to third base in the offseason, Pankake also received a good bit of time in left field in the opening series. Holbrook said it could help the Gamecocks be more versatile if the junior could contribute in left field, since Caldwell can also play in the infield.
There will be several players switching around positions in the early part of the season, according to Holbrook. The coach also mentioned the experience that players like English and Pankake have, playing in a 2011 College World Series final, but just coming up short.
If the opportunity comes again for South Carolina to compete for a championship, Holbrook thinks his veteran players can take the team there.
“They’re a big part of what we’re trying to get done here,” Holbrook said. “I guarantee if we’re playing in the College World Series or playing for a National Championship, it will be because they’ve had terrific years.”