South Carolinas hopes of returning to the College World Series ride on putting together the right mix of recruiting classes.
For the group thats preparing to arrive this summer, USC coach Chad Holbrook likes the pieces of the puzzle these players can fill. While losing the leadership of six juniors to the MLB draft, Holbrook believes the Gamecocks will still have plenty of talent.
The expectations here arent changing, and I dont want them to change, Holbrook said. I know the names on the back of the jerseys will, but this group is going to come in, I hope, with the attitude that were not going to miss a beat.
Leading the charge in the 15-player class are left-handed-pitcher/DH Alex Destino, center fielder Clark Scolamiero, catcher Hunter Taylor, shortstop Madison Stokes, and right-handed pitcher Brandon Murray. All five were ranked in Baseball Americas Top 500 draft prospects: Destino at No. 246, Scolamiero at No. 211, Taylor at No. 248, Stokes at No. 347 and Murray at No. 385. Destino also was ranked No. 163 in MLB.coms Top 200 draft prospects.
Only Murray, who was chosen in the 30th round by the Phillies, and Stokes, who was picked by the Yankees in the 40th round, were drafted. All five likely would have gone much higher in the draft if they had not set hefty bonus demands.
When somebody turns down a heck of an opportunity to play pro ball because they want to be involved in our program, thats exciting for me, Holbrook said.
He envisions both Destino and Murray as having the ability to get a lot of innings on the mound right away.
We think theyre as talented as any high school pitchers in the country. Theyve both got great arms, Holbrook said. They can run it up there pretty good. They have everything they need from a makeup standpoint and a talent standpoint to have great careers here.
Destino also could work his way into the lineup with his powerful bat.
Destino is going to be a big-time hitter for us, too, from day one, Holbrook said. He has the potential not only to be a weekend starter (on the mound) but (hitting) in the middle of our lineup. Were going to let him attempt to do both, thats for sure.
Stokes, who helped lead A.C. Flora to three consecutive state championships, should insert himself into the starting infield mix despite returning veterans in Max Schrock, Marcus Mooney and DC Arendas. The infield is so deep that it might send Gilbert High shortstop Jared Williams to the outfield.
If our infields intact, I need to find him a place to play because I love his athleticism and I love his toughness, Holbrook said.
With last years starting catcher Grayson Greiner now property of the Detroit Tigers, both Taylor and Chattahoochee Valley (Ala.) Community Colleges Jared Martin will get long looks behind the plate. Martin, whos the superior defender of the pair, played on a team that reached the JUCO World Series. Taylor swings the bigger bat.
Hes very gifted offensively, one of the better hitters in high school baseball. We think he hit in the middle of our lineup early, like right now, Holbrook said.
One of the incoming pitchers is A.C. Flora left-hander Banks Cromer. Hes the son of former USC standout shortstop Tripp Cromer, who played parts of eight seasons in the major leagues with the Cardinals, Dodgers and Astros.
Some questions remain among the pitching recruits. Right-hander Braden Webb, who was ranked No. 495 in the Baseball America Top 500, and right-hander Dylan Rogers, who pitched at Spartanburg Methodist, both have arm issues that likely will keep them from pitching next season. And hard-throwing right-hander Junior Harding may not be admitted into school.
Junior has got some work to get done. Were trying to map out for the best plan for him to be able to enroll in August or soon thereafter, Holbrook said.
Only time will tell if this class can assist in getting the Gamecocks on the road back to Omaha after they fell short in Holbrooks first two season as coach. But he feels good about the potential of these players.
Im as excited about this recruiting class as any class since Ive been here. I hate to put those kind of expectations on them, but its a talented group, he said. Im expecting just as much from those guys as any Ive had from any recruiting class here.