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 Defense

As is usually true in college baseball, barring disastours efforts with the glove, offense will be the first decider at most positions. If two players' defensive skills are fairly close to even, the better hitter will be in the lineup most days.

The Gamecocks, though, have a lot of players on their roster who could feasibly play multiple positions this spring.

Ethan Petry is the starting right fielder until we find out something different, but his background at third base and the inconsistencies at the spot a year ago could lead to him playing some at the hot corner. He won't be an elite glove in the outfield or at third, but Petry won't kill you, either. He is also viewed as a future first baseman by many at the next level.

Cole Messina, barring a disaster, won't have to fill in at first base or third base this spring like he did last year. The Gamecocks didn't have the depth to absorb injuries to Gavin Casas and Talmadge LeCroy in 2023, so Messina had to move from behind the plate, hurting the pitching staff in the process. Thanks to newcomers, that problem shouldn't be present again this year. Backup catchers Dalton Reeves and Ryan Bakes are theoretical defensive upgrades over last year's backup situation, as well, and they both have nice power if they have to play.

Gavin Casas is a pretty good defensive first baseman. However, at first base, the bat is top priority. If he performs like last season, he will be penciled into the 3-spot on defense and somewhere in the middle of the battling lineup pretty much every day. UNC transfer Tyler Causey, though, could factor in. He has enough power that he may force himself into the lineup. He is not a great defender but has gotten reps at first base, second base, third base, and the corner outfield in his career.

Talmadge LeCroy is not the best defender on the team, but he is a capable player at third base, second base, catcher, and first base. If he's hitting the ball well, his defense is solid enough that he will play somewhere. Jordan Carrion could be a guy who pushes for playing time at any infield spot if he is eligible and hitting. Parker Noland probably will start at second base, but he isn't a great defensive player. He can play first and third if needed, as well.

Will Tippett played everywhere for last year's Gamecocks, but he has the best chance at starting at shortstop in the early goings this year. If Lee Ellis, Jordan Carrion, or another player swoop in and take that spot, Tippett could still be valuable to the team helping out at just about every position on the diamond.

Evan Stone is probably the best defensive outfielder on the team, and he likely would have made the SEC's All-Defensive Team had he played more innings last year. Having a player like Stone on the roster can be invaluable in late-game defensive situations. Plus, if he figures things out with the bat this year, he becomes an easy starter thanks to the defense. He also can play on the infield in emergency situations, like when he filled in at second a time or two in 2023.

Dylan Brewer and Blake Jackson are two good defensive outfielders who could play a lot this season. Both players have also played all three outfield spots in their careers. As long as they're hitting the ball, Kennedy Jones and Austin Brinling are good enough where the coaching staff wouldn't have to worry about them in the field.

Carson Hornung was a DH-only guy last season, but he played much of the year with a fracture in his foot. He had some (brief) experience playing corner outfield early in his days in garnet and black, and he has gotten reps at first base. He has a smooth swing and a natural hitter's eye, so if he's getting the job done in the batter's box, expect him to find a way into the lineup.