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November 1, 2012

Holbrook moves players to get right lineup



This is why fall practice is held.

South Carolina entered the fall session with a good idea of who would be playing where once the season started. There were openings at first base and in the two corner outfield spots, but first and left field seemed pretty sewn up. The Gamecocks had a lot of returnees from a team that had just played for a third straight national championship, and some of the freshmen that didn't play in 2012 would certainly play in 2013.

Kyle Martin would take over at first base, following the departure of Christian Walker. Chase Vergason returned at second base, with Joey Pankake at shortstop. LB Dantzler was at third. Rising sophomore T.J. Costen would take over in left and right field could be filled by committee - perhaps whoever was hitting the best at any particular time.

Six weekends worth of scrimmages later, coach Chad Holbrook heads into the winter conditioning period with some more answers.

They don't resemble the previous ones.

Holbrook began playing chess with his team during the final scrimmages, moving some around to take advantage of their hitting. The Gamecocks struggled to field a consistent hitting lineup last year - it doesn't appear that that will be a problem in 2013, as Holbrook is finding ways to play all of his top hitters at once.

Freshman Max Schrock, who Holbrook labeled the best hitter on the team, will play and is likely to stick at second base. That moves Vergason, who has tremendously improved as a hitter, to third, a position he played at Florida Atlantic.

Dantzler, who was a defensive whiz at third last season but has had trouble duplicating that in the fall, began to take reps at first and settled in nicely, until a broken hamate prematurely ended his fall. Still, it would not be a surprise for Dantzler to be at first on Opening Day.

Costen may switch to right field as another promising newcomer, Graham Saiko, takes left. Saiko, an infielder by trade, had problems all summer flashing a consistent glove but could still wallop the ball, so Holbrook taught him how to play outfield.

With returnees Tanner English (center field), Pankake and Grayson Greiner (catcher), USC is solid up the middle. The weekend pitching will be led by veterans Colby Holmes and Jordan Montgomery, the former throwing five perfect innings in the final scrimmage of the fall, before the bullpen teamed up to finish a no-hitter. After the fall, at least, the best option at closer seems to be Tyler Webb.

Holbrook likes what he sees - right now. Who knows what will happen in the three weeks of spring sessions before the Feb. 17 opener?

"I think Graham Saiko has won a position," Holbrook said. "He was a guy that was brought in to play shortstop and middle infielder but he's a way better baseball player than I thought he was. He's going to play somewhere. You could make a case he's been our position player of the fall with the type of fall he's had offensively.

"Chase Vergason deserves to play, based on what he's done in the past, so we're going to work him in at third base some. Schrock is probably our best hitter and he looks like he's going to be our second baseman."

Holbrook went on to mention that he's still taking a serious look at football players Ahmad Christian, Shon Carson and Kwinton Smith. Before the fall, Holbrook said that he greatly regretted not giving Christian a roster spot in 2012, with as well as the youngster performed in just the three weeks of preseason camp. Carson's wrist injury may knock him out of baseball as it did football (it's a wait-and-see) but Smith was regarded as enough of a raw prospect that he was a 14th-round draft selection last year.

The roster numbers have to be whittled to 35 but Holbrook has an entire winter and preseason to do that. More answers will come, but right now, he likes the ones he has.



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