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Still a race for second base

South Carolina enters the 2012 season needing to replace three spots in the infield. While shortstop and third base seem to be settled, the competition is beginning to heat up at second base.

Junior Chase Vergason

Junior college transfer Chase Vergason emerged as the leading candidate to replace the rather large shoes of Scott Wingo, but he’s being pushed by a pair of freshmen. Vergason still has the inside track on the position, but TJ Costen and Connor Bright have eyes on the spot.

Vergason started each of the first two games at second base during the first weekend of scrimmages. Costen started the third and final game, while Bright started at shortstop for the reserve squad.

Vergason has remained consistent in his play but Costen has elevated his game, which has caused competition.

Chase Vergason is the leader,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “Chase has been a little more consistent. TJ has narrowed the gap, but not because Chase hasn’t played well. I just think TJ has turned his game up a little bit.”

Costen has bounced around all over the field during his first semester-plus on campus. The Virginia Beach, Va. native has played both second base and short along with all three outfield positions.

During the season, Costen is sure to see time both in the dirt and in the outfield grass.

“TJ is going to get a chance to put some pressure on him out there,” Tanner said. “We plan to play TJ. He’s also going to get a chance to play some outfield. He’s a guy that needs some experience.”

Costen faces the challenge that plagues many college freshmen. Even though he’s a talent, it is hard for the younger players to maintain the consistency demanded by Tanner and the rest of the coaching staff.

Freshman TJ Costen

Consistency is the key term that Tanner has preached and it’s something that Costen has been focused on. He cited the toughest aspect in the transition from high school to college baseball as adjusting to college pitching.

He’s making the adjustment though. Costen was 2-for-3 with an RBI single in Sunday’s scrimmage hitting in the nine-hole for the starting squad. His lone out was his hardest hit ball of the day, but the line drive was snared at third base by Erik Payne.

“I just have to be consistent and play my game,” Costen said. “If I can do that, I should be right there in the mix.”

Even though it is outfielder Tanner English who receives a lot of the accolades for being the fastest player on the team, Costen isn’t far behind. Costen has been clocked as low as 6.41 in the 60 by Perfect Game.

“TJ Costen is pushing the envelope with his athleticism,” Tanner said.

While Costen is the chief competition at second base, don’t rule out Bright. The Wando High School product has certainly impressed since stepping onto campus. He’s been one of the most consistent freshmen and, like Costen, has played everywhere on the field.

It isn’t out of the question for Bright to play any of six positions during his time at South Carolina, including all three outfield spots, second base, third base, and shortstop. Based solely on scrimmage reps, it appears as though Bright has passed junior college transfer Tanner Lovick for the backup role at shortstop.

While the new players still have to take the field and perform when the lights come on and fans fill the stands on February 17, Tanner is encouraged by what he has seen thus far.

“I think it’s OK right now. It’s still early, but they’re starting to be a little more comfortable,” Tanner said. “They’re showing some athleticism, which is good. They’ll relax a little bit and play like they’re capable. They’ll be OK.”

South Carolina will continue its preseason scrimmages this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Times should be announced later this week.

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