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January 27, 2012

Gamecocks reload in recruiting



After consecutive national championships, the South Carolina baseball program has reached the level where the Gamecocks reload rather than rebuild.

And the 2012-2013 recruiting class is no different. It features a healthy mix of elite prospects that rank among the best at their position in the country along with a solid group of players the coaches hope will contribute to future national championship runs.

The entire 2012-2013 signing class hasn't been signed yet and remains a work in progress, Associate Head Coach Chad Holbrook said. In fact, the school's SID office hasn't officially announced who has signed for next season. Typically, the announcement is made in November following the early signing period, but delays in the signings of several players moved it back until the spring.

PITCHERS:

RHP/1B Curt Britt (6-2, 225 pounds) from Scotland County High in Laurinburg, N.C. (same HS that produced DL Travian Robertson, DL Byron McKnight and former P Parker Bangs) is rated one of the top 100 high school players in the country.

Britt, chosen to play in the 2011 Under Armour All-America game last August at Wrigley Field, told his local newspaper when he announced his commitment to USC over a year ago that he grew up as a Gamecock fan.

"He's a legitimate two-way player for us," Holbrook told Gamecock Central in a recent one-on-one interview. "He could be a weekend starter and weekend pitcher pretty early. He is very polished as a pitcher, but he also has a power bat. His father (Tommy Britt) is a coach, so he understands the game. He is a baseball nut. He has a bright future here. His fastball has reached 93 or 94 (mph), but he usually pitches in the 90 to 92 range."

USC has enjoyed a great deal of success in recent years attracting top-shelf prospects from the Virginia Beach, Va. area, and the latest to decide to play his college baseball for the Gamecocks is 6-foot-6 LHP Jack Wynkoop from Cape Henry Collegiate School. He throws his fastball in the upper 80s

"He is very polished. I don't know if I would trade Jack for anybody," Holbrook said. "That's the kind of future he has. You won't see him in the Top 100 of some rankings, but we think he is elite. He should be ready to pitch the day he gets here."

Wynkoop's draft profile at MLBDraftGuide.com states: "Jack Wynkoop has greatly improved over the last year. He is one of the more polished prep lefthanders in the 2012 class. Wynkoop has a low 3/4 release and has shown excellent control."

The Palmetto State pitching contingent is led by RHP Jamie Callahan (Dillon), one of the most highly-coveted players in South Carolina this year. He is rated by most recruiting services as a Top 50 prospect nationally. In addition to participating in the same Under Armour All-America game as Britt, Callahan is listed as the 65th-ranked prospect in Baseball Draft Reports Top 100 prospects for the 2012 MLB Draft.

"He has a bright future in front of him, but he could be a high draft pick too, so we're going to have to keep our fingers crossed," Holbrook said.

LHP Zak Wasilewski (Tazewell, Va.) was regarded as one of the best high school pitchers in the country until he underwent Tommy John surgery. Then he tore his ACL running the bases. But the 6-foot-3, 208-pounder is healthy again and throwing 100 percent, Holbrook said.

"He has a chance to be a weekend type guy," Holbrook said.

Based on current recruiting ratings, the top four pitching prospects inked to letters of intent by the Gamecocks are Britt, Wynkoop, Callahan and Wasilewski.

"Those are four guys we think have a chance to be weekend type pitchers," Holbrook said. "They're all elite prospects. They have all pitched at a high level nationally. We're counting on them to be weekend type guys. When you lose Roth and Price, and maybe Colby Holmes, you have to have some guys coming in that you think are good enough to pitch right away. Those guys have bright futures. We're going to keep our fingers crossed and hope that we get them."

Years ago, USC signed a highly regarded first baseman from Stratford High School named Justin Smoak. The latest elite prospect from that school is lanky right-hander Brandon Hester, who stands 6-foot-6. Hester has battled injuries (including mono) during his high school career, but is very confident, Holbrook said. His fastball has the potential to reach the low 90s and serves as the perfect partner to a sharp breaking ball.

"He hasn't scratched the surface yet on how good we think he can be," Holbrook said. "But he is a highly-recruited kid."

Alex Satterfield (Laurens, S.C.) originally signed with USC last year and enrolled in school a few weeks ago for the spring semester. He underwent surgery last summer after suffering an injury during his final high school season. He spent the fall rehabbing the injury and has now joined the program after grayshirting.

"He will not pitch or play this year, but he will be a good player for us," Holbrook said. "He will be healthy and ready to go in the fall."

Another quality pitching prospect from South Carolina signed by the Gamecocks is 6-foot-5 RHP Taylor Jackson from Wren High School. His high school coach is former USC player Randy Thompson.

"He is a big, tall, rangy kid much in the same mold as Brandon Hester," Holbrook said. "He's another one of those kids that hasn't scratched the surface on how good we think he can be. He is not a highly-ranked recruit nationally, but he has a tremendous upside if he continues to develop and get better and work hard."

Right-hander Dixon Llorens (5-9, 180 pounds) is a JUCO transfer from Miami-Dade Community College, and is rated among the top junior college pitchers in the country. He signed with USC instead of home state schools Florida and Miami.

"We've recruited him to come in and pitch right away for us and try to replace the experience we're losing from this year's team," Holbrook said.

RHP Kris Nelson (Florence-Darlington Tech) and RHP Hunter Rice (Spartanburg Methodist) have yet to sign with USC.

INFIELD:

Shortstop Corey Seager (Northwest Cabarrus High in Concord, N.C.) is considered by some analysts as the top prep prospect in North Carolina this year. His older brother, Kyle, played for Holbrook when he was an assistant coach at North Carolina.

USC will likely have to hold their breath this summer because the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Seager is expected to be taken in the top three or four rounds of the MLB June Draft. He has great size and athleticism for a shortstop.

"Corey is a terrific prospect. He is one of the top shortstops in the country and probably one of the top 25 high school prospects overall," Holbrook said. "He has a chance to be a starter the minute he gets here. He is a middle of the lineup type hitter. He is a special player."

Continuing USC's run of incredible recruiting success in the Tar Heel State is 5-foot-9, 180-pound middle infielder Max Schrock, who attends Cardinal Gibbons High School in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Don't let his height or weight fool you. Schrock generates plenty of power with his bat and showed off his hitting skills last summer during AAU tournaments.

"He is a middle of the lineup type hitter as soon as he gets here," Holbrook said. "We're very excited about Max. I've been recruiting for about 18 or 19 years and I've never seen a kid have the type of summer offensively that Max did. He was in an elite category the way he swung the bat this summer. He will be a very, very good left-handed hitting middle infielder."

The versatile Austin LaBounty (6-1, 190) from Gilbert (S.C.) High School is a legitimate two-way player that could pitch or play third base or centerfield.

"We're bringing him in as two-way player, let him do both, and we'll sort it out when he gets here," Holbrook said. "He can really swing the bat and he is getting better every day as a pitcher too."

Left-handed hitting D.C. Arendas (Chapel Hill, N.C.) is a slick-fielding defender that could play second, third or shortstop. He needs to spend time in the weight room getting stronger in order to compete successfully at the major college level, Holbrook said.

How good of a recruiter is Holbrook? Arendas' father works in the North Carolina baseball office. The Tar Heels recruited Arendas, but he chose the Gamecocks.

"He wanted to come to South Carolina," Holbrook smiled. "We're excited about D.C. He has a baseball aptitude and savvy about him. He is a very good baseball demeanor."

Shortstop George Iskenderian hails from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey and is another "polished" infielder signed by USC, Holbrook said. He favorably compared Iskenderian to former Vanderbilt third baseman Jason Esposito in terms of his skills and makeup.

Weber Pike (Beaufort, S.C.) will likely play third base or one of the corner outfield spots, while JUCO College transfer Zach Smith (USC-Sumter) is committed to USC but hasn't signed yet.

Ryan Ripken, son of Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., committed to USC in early November. The 6-foot-5 first baseman attends Gilman School in Baltimore, Md.

"I wanted to step out of the box," Ripken told the Baltimore Sun. "It will be a challenge on the baseball side and from the school size. Gilman is a small private school and South Carolina, there's about 20,000 kids there. You're really on your own, further away from family. But I'm up for all the challenges. South Carolina will give me the best chance to go forward in my life and I want to go forward and take on challenges head on."

OUTFIELDERS:

The small outfield group in the 2012-13 signing class is headlined by Jamie Jarmon (Indian River HS, Millsboro, Del.), who is also a gridiron star and rated one of the top football prospects in the state of Delaware. Some MLB draft analysts predict he will be selected fairly high in the June Draft, so the USC coaches will probably have to sweat out the summer months.

Local product Anthony Paulsen from Spring Valley High School has committed to USC but hasn't signed.

USC BASEBALL COMMITMENTS FOR 2012-13:
D.C. Arendas (INF)
Curt Britt (RHP/1B)
Jamie Callahan (RHP)
Brandon Hester (RHP)
George Iskenderian (SS)
Tyler Jackson (RHP)
Jamie Jarmon (OF)
Austin LaBounty (RHP/INF)
Dixon Llorens (RHP)
Kris Nelson (RHP)
Anthony Paulsen (OF)
Weber Pike (INF)
Hunter Rice (RHP)
Ryan Ripken (1B)
Corey Seager (INF)
Max Schrock (INF)
Zach Smith (INF)
Zak Wasilewski (LHP/OF)
Jack Wynkoop (LHP)

SIGNING DAY is almost here, and GamecockCentral.com will have loads of coverage leading up to and on the big day. Don't miss a thing with our 7-day FREE TRIAL.

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D. McCallum


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