South Carolina Baseball: What to expect from the 2024 Gamecocks; A USC preview

South Carolina baseball begins their season this Friday, and expectations for Mark Kingston's team are high.

South Carolina baseball star Ethan Petry celebrates a home run with Talmadge LeCroy in last year's SEC Tournament
South Carolina baseball star Ethan Petry celebrates a home run with Talmadge LeCroy in last year's SEC Tournament / Gary Cosby Jr.-Tuscaloosa News / USA
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South Carolina Baseball 2024 Preview and Expectations:
The Offense

Last season, the Gamecocks were one of the best offensive teams in the country. Their end-of-year statistics held up as elite despite an injury-laden end of the conference slate that cut into the numbers in a big way. For most of the year, there was an argument to be made that Carolina was hitting the ball better than any team in the nation.

While it is too early to claim the Gamecocks will be the country's best offense in 2024, the sticks should stay hot in Columbia. Ethan Petry is back. Cole Messina is back. Gavin Casas is back. Those three players combined for 59 home runs and just under 200 RBI. Solid bats like Talmadge LeCroy, Carson Hornung, and Dylan Brewer return, as well. Defensive-minded players like Will Tippett and Evan Stone are another year older and can contribute on offense if things go well.

The newcomers could things over the top, though.

Top transfer portal bat Kennedy Jones didn't have a great offseason, but he's been nothing but productive in college. He should partner nicely with veteran outfielders Blake Jackson and Austin Brinling as players looking to help out in a crowded outfield.

Tyler Causey, a versatile defender who is decent in multiple spots, might have the most raw power on the team and is challenging Casas for first base reps. Former Vanderbilt Commodore Parker Noland seems destined to start at second base and fill the void left by standout Will McGillis' graduation. If Jordan Carrion wins his eligibility battle with the NCAA, look for him to play a lot of innings all over the infield.

Some freshmen could impact the Gamecock roster, as well. The most-talked about two youngsters have been infielder Lee Ellis (who could factor into the shortstop job) and Ryan Bakes (who needs work as a catcher but has a bat that should translate to college power).

The Gamecocks have more realistic options on this year's team than they have had in a while, and that should excite fans. If a player or two start slumping, there are multiple guys at each position who could get a chance and might run with it.

Projecting a starting lineup is difficult because of all of those options, but based on the chatter around the program and the recent spring scrimmages, this weekend (which likely will include Coach Mark Kingston playing three different starting lineups) could include a group that looks like this:

LF Blake Jackson (L)
2B Parker Noland (L)
RF Ethan Petry (R)
C Cole Messina (R)
1B Gavin Casas (L)/Tyler Causey (L)
DH Tyler Causey (L)/Carson Hornung (L)/Ryan Bakes (R)
3B Talmadge LeCroy (R)
CF Dylan Brewer (L)
SS Will Tippett (S)

Other Names to watch: OF Kennedy Jones (R), OF Austin Brinling (L), OF Evan Stone (R), IF Jordan Carrion (if eligible; R), IF Lee Ellis (R), UTIL Tristan Salinas (L)

Fans shouldn't be surprised, though, if Ethan Petry doesn't find himself at third base (his natural position), either. LeCroy, Noland, and Tippett all have some versatility in the infield, so if Petry can handle his business at third, the other three guys can all still get a lot of innings of work, and an outfield spot can open up for another bat. The pro scouts also view him as a first baseman, though, that situation is a bit crowded with Casas and Causey.

Austin Brinling and Kennedy Jones were elite offensive players a year ago, so if they get over their offseason struggles, they will find their way into the crowded outfield picture to ensure their bats are in the lineup.

There are a lot of potential left-handed starters in the lineup (Jackson, Noland, Casas, Causey, Hornung, Brinling, and Brewer are all lefties, and Tippett is a switch-hitter), so if Kingston and the coaching staff want to bring in a more balanced look to the lineup, especially late in games, several righties could get extra opportunities. Jones is the obvious choice, but Ryan Bakes is a freshman right-hander who has had some good at-bats this offseason and flashed real power.