South Carolina begins preseason practice, along with the rest of college baseball, on January 25. As we count down the days until the start of the Chad Holbrook era, we take a look at the storylines entering the season. There are high expectations, once again, but there are also a lot of challenges. There are key components to replace and talented teams on the schedule.
Sophomore outfielder TJ Costen
Today, with six days before the start of the preseason, we take a look at the players who need to elevate their play from last year to help the team be successful this season.
This list is in alphabetical order.
1. OF TJ Costen: When Costen enrolled at South Carolina, he started his career on the infield but moved predominantly to the outfield early. With Joey Pankake distancing himself at shortstop and a few players ahead of him at second base, the hope was he could break into the lineup in the outfield a bit quicker. There was talk early in the season about putting him in left field and putting Tanner English in right field. Costen was inconsistent on and off the field last year but he’s better prepared to make an impact in 2013.
Costen brings the same type of athleticism to the table that English has but he has a little bit more pop in his bat. Now a sophomore, Costen should be penciled in as the starter in right field because of the way he closed out fall practice. He was, arguably, the team’s best hitter the last three weeks of fall scrimmages and has a nice grasp of a starting job as the preseason kicks up on January 25. He will be pushed by the two football players joining the team - Ahmad Christian and Shon Carson - but, if he performs like he did last fall, he’ll find himself as a starter.
2. RHP Forrest Koumas: The coaches tried to make Matt Price a starter and Koumas the closer last season but the move backfired and neither pitcher had the same success in their new role as their previous role. Koumas struggled as the team’s closer and also had various elbow issues throughout the campaign that bothered him, hindering his effectiveness.
This offseason, Koumas had surgery to put a screw into his right elbow. He didn’t pitch in the fall but he has been very good in bullpen sessions since November. He has tweaked his delivery a bit to allow more movement on his fastball. With the time off, he’s also rested his arm, so he’s feeling strong and healthy. Koumas has used the time away from the game to spend some time in the weight room, become stronger, and drop a few pounds.
3. 1B/DH Kyle Martin: Even though he was stuck behind Christian Walker last year, Martin had some opportunities as the team’s designated hitter. There were times he was very good, especially early in the season, but he was just inconsistent. Martin had some confidence issues and looked very unsure at times at the plate. Martin had a very poor fall and couldn’t nail down the first base job that was far and away his with Walker’s departure and Curt Britt focusing on pitching. Because of Martin’s performance, LB Dantzler has been moved to first base.
This year, Martin’s role is going to be very similar to what it was last year. He’ll be used as a designated and pinch hitter against some right-handers. He’s got to be better against power arms and he’s got to be more aggressive at the plate. Martin will have an important role on this team and, if he elevates his game, could move back into the mix to start at first base with Dantzler seeing time at third or designated hitter.
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Joel Seddon
4. Util. Erik Payne: It’s hard to ask a lot more from Payne, who started 30 games last year with most coming at second base. A rising junior, Payne is a hitter. Eleven of his 26 hits last year went for extra bases and he drove in 19 runs. Strikeouts were a problem, though, as he walked back to the dugout in close to one in every three at-bats. That’s just not going to work this year.
Payne had only three walks against 31 strikeouts a year ago and that ratio has to get much, much better for him to play a bigger role for the Gamecocks in 2013. Where will Payne fit this season? He’s the top right-handed hitting designated hitter on the team entering the fall. He’s going to play a lot, he could earn some spot starts at any of five defensive positions, but he’s going to have to provide quality at-bats on a more consistent basis to top 30 starts from a year ago.
5. RHP Joel Seddon: The freshman pitcher expected to make the biggest impact last season just didn’t do it. Seddon was the top arm in the class who made it to campus and, on face value, most of his numbers look very good. He had a 2-0 record and 2.70 earned run average in 16.1 innings pitched. There were times, though, that he struggled with his command. He only had six walks, but his hit a couple of guys, threw a couple wild pitches, and also gave up a pair of home runs.
Seddon is going to get a few more chances this season but he’s going to have to produce when given the opportunity. Other freshmen - like Jordan Montgomery and Evan Beal - had better production when given the chance. The duo performed better early in the season, which equaled more innings later in the year. Pitching coach Jerry Meyers is high on Seddon, who will be given a better chance to make an impact this year. It’s not out of the question that the St. Clair, Mich. native will end up in the weekend rotation. He certainly has that talent.
6. OF/DH Sean Sullivan: There is absolutely no doubt that Sullivan came through with some of the biggest hits of the season. He had the game-winning single against Clemson, the pinch-hit RBI single that led to the winning run against Alabama, had a key hit against Mississippi State, and more. Surely the staff won’t trade in the clutch hits, but there’s more in that right-handed bat than a .161 batting average.
Sullivan is unlikely to start a lot of games, but he certainly has a chance to start more than six and play in 18 like he did last year. He’s actually an outfield option this year with his shoulder as healthy as it can be. He’s right there with Brison Celek as the second option as the right-handed designated hitter. Sullivan has some toughness, poise, and will give a competitive at-bat each time at the plate. The bottom line is, though, that he’s going to have to bring more production to play a bigger role this year than last.
Ten day countdown
10: Why USC will make it to Omaha
9: Looking at the lineup
8: Best players USC will face
7: Why Carolina won’t make it to Omaha
6: Returnees that need to contribute more
5: Impact newcomers
4: Best series on the schedule
3: Three captains - are they the right ones?
2: What changes under No. 2 - Chad Holbrook
1: Changing of the guard