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June 13, 2014

USC won't lack infield depth in 2015



By spurning a 20th round signing bonus from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, South Carolina first baseman Kyle Martin assured the Gamecocks of possessing one of the deepest and most experienced infields in the SEC next season.

Among the seven different players - Martin, DC Arendas, Max Schrock, Jordan Gore, Joey Pankake, Elliott Caldwell (one game at third base) and Marcus Mooney - that started at least one game at one of the four infield positions for USC during the 2014 season, six should return in 2015.

Pankake, who started 51 games at third base this past season, is expected to sign a pro contract in the wake of his seventh-round selection by the Detroit Tigers in last week's MLB Draft.

Martin started all 62 games at first base in 2014 and led USC in batting average (.336), at-bats (244), hits (82) and multi-hit games (24), while Schrock's nagging back issues led to three players (Schrock, Arendas, Gore) sharing second base duties.

The backup job behind Martin could boil down to a battle between rising sophomore Taylor Widener - who also pitches - and incoming JUCO transfer Collin Steagall from Spartanburg Methodist College. Connor Bright could get a look there, as well.

However, as long as Martin stays healthy, opportunities for playing time at first base could be scarce.

Mooney started 57 games at shortstop, meaning three-quarters of the starting 2015 infield should be accounted for when fall camp begins in September and players start jockeying for starting spots.

Right now, only third base is a question mark. Arendas started nine games there with USC posting an undefeated record (9-0) in those contests, so he should be considered the early favorite.

All in all, USC could enjoy an embarrassment of riches in terms of infield depth in 2015.

"It's going to be interesting to see. I can only play four infielders," USC coach Chad Holbrook said earlier this week. "We have a number of infielders that are talented enough to play. But a couple of guys might have to go to left field if they want to play.

"We're certainly not going to be lacking depth in the infield, that's for sure."

Three incoming freshmen could upset the apple cart, though, and steal a starting job: shortstops Jared Williams (Gilbert) and Madison Stokes (AC Flora in Columbia), and second baseman Everett Eynon (AC Flora).

"Jared Williams is a very good infielder, he can run like a deer and he's a lead-off type guy, but he's not on a lot of recruiting lists," Holbrook said. "He stands in the way of balls. He's cut out of the same mold as (Scott) Wingo, but maybe a little more talented from an athletic standpoint.

"If our infield is intact, I need to find him a place to play because I love his athleticism and toughness. I like the intangibles Jared Williams and some of our freshmen bring. I have to find a place for them to play if they're one of our nine best players. We lose Pankake, but you replace him with a Madison Stokes, who is a talented kid in his own right. Some of these young guys are going to push our upperclassmen."

Stokes was picked in the 40th round of the MLB Draft, but quickly tweeted he was headed to USC after his selection was announced.

"It will be exciting to see some new faces, but I'm also going to be comforted by the fact we'll have (outfielder) Connor Bright back and Marcus Mooney back and DC Arendas back and Max Schrock back. So, it's not like it's going to be a whole new team. We're going to have some experience back."

PROJECTED 2015 INFIELD ROSTER:
DC Arendas - 2B/SS/3B (Jr.)
Everett Eynon - 2B (Fr.)
Jordan Gore - 2B/SS (So.)
Kyle Martin - 1B (Sr.)
Marcus Mooney - SS (Jr.)
Weber Pike - INF (RSo.)
Max Schrock - 2B (Jr.)
Collin Steagall - 1B (Fr.)
Madison Stokes - SS/3B (Fr.)
Taylor Widener - 1B/P (So.)
Jared Williams - SS (Fr.)



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