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September 16, 2013
Jordan Montgomery has little to prove to South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook.
But plenty to lose.
So, the junior lefthander from Sumter will sit out most of fall practice except for occasional bullpen work in order to keep his arm fresh for the 2014 season, which could be his last in the Gamecock uniform depending on how next June's MLB Draft unfolds.
Montgomery will be the most experienced pitcher on the 2014 staff, compiling a sparkling 6-1 record with a 1.48 ERA in 79 innings pitched last season. He fanned 60 and walked just 18.
"The fall is important, but it's not the end all, be all," Holbrook said recently. "We're going to take it easy on some of our guys. We know what Jordan Montgomery is all about, so he might not throw a lot of innings this fall."
Montgomery missed over a month last season with arm trouble, so Holbrook plans to do everything he can to protect his top hurler, who has a career mark of 12-2 with a 2.51 ERA in 153.2 IP.
Barring a catastrophic injury, Montgomery should be the Friday night starter for the Gamecocks in 2014.
"Because of his history and how much he has thrown for us, he might not throw much this fall," Holbrook said. "We're going to take it easy with him."
The current 46-man roster features 10 freshmen pitchers, all of whom should get an opportunity to take the mound multiple times in the fall.
"We have a lot of young pitchers that are going to have to take on some pretty prominent roles this year," Holbrook said. "That's always a concern. We're anxious to see those guys compete against older guys, college hitters."
Besides Montgomery, second baseman Max Schrock (.282, six homers, 39 RBI) battled a back injury (stress fracture) during the summer months and Holbrook plans to minimize his at-bats in fall practice as a way to maximize his chances of getting 100 percent healthy soon.
"We're going to take it very slow with him," Holbrook said. "He thinks he can play today, and he probably could. But because it's the fall, we're not going to push him into service. He did take ground balls (last) week for the first time and move around a little bit. But with that back injury, they don't want him swinging the bat yet."
Sophomore righthander Curt Britt (2-0, 5.12 ERA in 19.1 IP) is recovering from thumb surgery and will likely miss the majority of fall practice, Holbrook said.
"We need Curt Britt to have a great year for us," Holbrook said.
Standouts like catcher Grayson Greiner and centerfielder Tanner English, though healthy, will sit for stretches of the fall in order to give some of the younger, less experienced players more reps.
"We're going to pick our spots with (Greiner)," Holbrook said. "We're not going to catch him to death. He has caught a lot. We know what he can do. He's one of our most important players. We have to keep him healthy, for sure.'
Dante Rosenberg's departure guarantees one of the key questions requiring an answer this fall is who will back up Greiner behind the plate. The list of candidates includes junior Patrick Harrington and true freshmen Logan Koch (Charlotte, N.C.) and Ray Murphy (Lexington).
"Logan Koch is a gifted and talented kid, especially behind the plate, but he has to get better," Holbrook said. "Ray Murphy is coming off shoulder surgery. I'm worried about his ability from an arm strength standpoint. Patrick Harrington has been here a long time. He is fighting like crazy to be Grayson's backup and get some at-bats as a DH and outfielder. He has worked extremely hard this summer.
"We want to see these new guys battle it out."
Koch, rated the No. 6 high school prospect and the No. 1 catcher in the state of North Carolina, was recruited with the 'mindset' of him learning under Greiner's tutelage for a year and then take over as the starter in 2015, Holbrook said.
"He has to grow up pretty quickly," Holbrook exclaimed. "Certainly, Grayson can't catch every inning of every game. If he has to do that, it won't be good for our team. So, we have to find a reliable backup this fall to Grayson. Logan has the ability to do it, but he also has a lot to learn as well."
In many ways, Holbrook's approach isn't dissimilar to Steve Spurrier's philosophy towards spring football practice - development of younger players tops the list of priorities.
"We certainly know what Grayson Greiner and Tanner English can do," Holbrook said. "Right from when we get out of the gate, the priority of our coaching staff will be putting our new guys out there and see what they bring to the table. We're excited about that."
Successfully making the transition from high school to major college baseball is, more often than not, determined by a player's ability to handle adversity, which is sure to come at some point.
"A lot of these young guys are going to take some lumps," Holbrook said. "They're not throwing to high school hitters anymore. They're not competing against guys they can physically dominate. They're going to be competing against guys that have had some success and are a little older, more mature and stronger.
"I'm going to look for what kind of start they get off to and can they pick themselves up off the mat and handle adversity. They have to handle themselves with a good demeanor. Jordan Montgomery got hit a lot as a freshman, but he was always under control. He was a cool cucumber."
* Holbrook said he will talk with Shon Carson and Ahmad Christian after football season regarding their interest in playing baseball in 2014. They're welcome to try out for the team, Holbrook said, but their chances of playing meaningful innings will be discussed thoroughly. "Playing college baseball is a hard deal and when you're not involved in the fall, it's awfully hard to contribute when we're playing other people, as we found out last fall," Holbrook said.
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