The South Carolina baseball team has spent its fall practice searching for replacements of the players who led the Gamecocks to three straight College World Series finals and two national championships.
As the team wraps up fall scrimmages this weekend with the annual Garnet & Black World Series at Carolina Stadium, new coach Chad Holbrook believes help has arrived. He said he sees big things ahead for freshmen Max Schrock, a second baseman from Chapel Hill, N.C., and Jack Wynkoop, a left-handed pitcher from Virginia Beach, Va.
“It’s very rare for a freshman to come in and hit in the 3-hole like Christian Walker did, but Max may do that. It’s very rare for a freshman to come in and pitch on the weekend like Jordan Montgomery did, but we think Wynkoop can do that,” Holbrook said.
In the three intrasquad games – Thursday at 3 p.m., Friday at 4 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Sunday – Schrock will suit up for the Garnet team, while Wynkoop will pitch for the Black team. The left-handed-hitting Schrock, who has won the job at second base at this stage, came to USC despite being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in June, while Wynkoop was not selected in the draft after reiterating his strong commitment to play for the Gamecocks.
Both are happy with their decisions.
“It’s everything I’ve expected and more. I came here for a great program, which I’ve seen so far,” Schrock said. “It was a little bit of a transition at the beginning, but I feel a lot more comfortable than when I got here.”
The 6-foot-5 Wynkoop credited the returnees with providing guidance to the newcomers.
“The older guys around us have tried to help us out and have done whatever they can to make us comfortable,” he said. “I really like the chemistry I feel with the guys on the team even though I haven’t stepped foot on the field as a Gamecock in the spring.”
Holbrook’s confidence in Schrock has only grown over five weekends of scrimmages. The 5-9, 175-pound Schrock has led the team in hitting this fall and displayed the defensive ability to push returning senior starter Chase Vergason off second base.
“He has the utmost respect of not only our coaching staff but all of our players,” Holbrook said. “Our returning players think he’s one of the best hitters — if not the best — on the team. He’s a gifted player. He can do a lot of things — he can play defense and he can run. He’s got a chance to be a special Gamecock.”
And with ace left-hander Michael Roth no longer anchoring the pitching rotation, a number of arms are vying for the three weekend slots as well as midweek opportunities. Wynkoop’s command of his pitches, including an upper-80s fastball and solid changeup, and a strong pickoff move have impressed the coaches.
“He’s very polished for a freshman. With his mound presence, you’d think a junior or senior is out there pitching. And he has gotten a lot better really fast,” Holbrook said. “We feel like he has the stuff to be a weekend starter right out of the gate. He might have to find his way the first couple of weeks of the year, but my hunch is that he’s going to be pitching significant innings in critical games.”
Wynkoop said he “wants to get on the field and help the team wherever I fit best. We’ve got a lot of guys who can pitch really well for this team, and I would love to have any role I can.”
Schrock is ready to help provide offense for a team that lost veteran hitters such as Walker, Evan Marzilli and Adam Matthews.
“I’m hoping to carry that over to the spring and contribute any way I can,” he said. “It was the hope to come in here and play as much as I can, which I feel like I’ve put myself in a position to do.”
He said understands all of the new players have high standards to meet based on USC’s last three seasons. They want to make another deep run in the NCAA tournament.
“It’s kind of early to make any promises, but that’s obviously the goal, and we’re going to keep pushing to do that,” Schrock said.
GARNET & BLACK ROSTERS
The South Carolina baseball team concludes fall practice this weekend with the Garnet & Black World Series. First pitch for the opener is at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Managed by Patrick Sullivan
Managed by Nolan Belcher