Position battles narrowing as fall scrimmages continue
After a few revolving doors at some positions through baseball’s first three weekends of scrimmages, there will be a little more consistency from here on out.
Head coach Chad Holbrook said he’s been doing some “subtle” things during the first nine scrimmages, but going forward it will be ratcheted up.
“It’ll be a lot more prevalent,” he said. “You’ll see some guys stay in the same spot all scrimmage and that’s kind of a sign of what I’m thinking. That don’t mean it wont change, but we have to get guys settled and comfortable at positions.”
With Riley Hogan injured at first base, freshman Joey Polak and junior Matt Williams both played there this weekend.
Williams had a breakout weekend, hitting two home runs and racking up six RBIs. Polak also had good at-bats Friday, getting two hits, but Holbrook said he’s still swinging at pitches outside of the strike zone.
Right now Williams is making a strong push to be in the Opening Day lineup, and it’s not going unnoticed.
“I gotta find a place to play him,” Holbrook said. “Right now I’ll probably get him reps at first base and he can still play third. Right now, he’s locked in at the plate. If we played tomorrow he’d be in the opening day lineup. Where, I don’t know. But you can’t deny what he’s done to this point.”
There have also been three catchers sharing reps over the weekend: John Jones, Chris Cullen and Hunter Taylor. All three have been offensively consistent with Jones showing glimpses of a return to his old form last year.
This weekend, he went 5-for-11, including 4-for-5 with three doubles and three RBIs Sunday. Jones and Cullen started intermittently throughout the season, and Taylor delivered a season saving hit against Duke in the postseason. Holbrook said he feels good about all three of them.
“(Jones) had some good things happen to him here and some no-so-good things here. He’s going to be able to handle the situation and the stage a little bit better than most. He’s certainly a mature kid and a mature player,” Holbrook said. “We’re good behind the plate. I feel good with any one of those three guys with our season on the line.”
The middle infield is also a hot topic this fall with Madison Stokes, Justin Row, LT Tolbert and Carlos Cortes all fielding the majority of innings at second base and shortstop.
The Gamecocks are down one of those players with Row scheduled to miss the remainder of the fall after knee surgery this week.
Tolbert and Cortes combined to homer three times Saturday, driving in six total runs. Stokes has still looked impressive during scrimmages, following his three-homer opening weekend with a 4-for-9 performance this past series.
A utility player, Stokes can play every infield position and has primarily played second and third base this fall. Holbrook’s been impressed with the junior, saying he’s looked like a “frontline, all-SEC type of performer.”
“He’s gotten much more confident in himself as a defender, which has been great to see,” Holbrook said. “Right now, he’s in the thick of things to be our shortstop and being a middle of the lineup hitter. I’m not ready to say somebody’s won a position here, that’s not the case yet. But up until this point he’s played the best at shortstop.”
Position battles will continue throughout the fall and into spring practices before Opening Day in February. Right now, every scrimmage is narrowing down who will start and where that will be.
The Gamecocks continue scrimmages this weekend with Friday’s at 4 p.m., Saturday’s at 11 a.m. and Sunday’s under the lights at 7 p.m.