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 Prediction

South Carolina baseball has a wide variance of outcomes for the 2024 season. Because there is a fair expectation on the offense to produce at a high level, a belief that the Gamecocks will win a lot of games makes sense. However, with question marks and injuries muddying the waters of the pitching staff, it remains to be seen how well they will prevent runs. The defense wasn't great last year, and it struggled at the most inopportune times; this year's group feels very similar to that one.

For the offense, Ethan Petry repeating (or even surpassing) last year's production is a lofty goal, but it is one that the slugger is capable of achieving. The same goes for Cole Messina. Until the All-Americans have struggles, there's no reason to believe they will be anything other than excellent.

With some offseason struggles for Gavin Casas, expectations for him have dipped, but with the emergence of Tyler Causey, perhaps the duo can partner to match the big-time production the Gamecocks got at first base a year ago.

Will Tippett looks stronger, and he is healthy after dealing with a couple of nagging injuries during the season in 2023. A virtual afterthought on offense last year, he should be able to contribute much more than his sub-.200 average and 3 home runs from last season might indicate. He probably won't fill Braylen Wimmer's numbers void completely at the shortstop position, but he will be better. Parker Noland's bat (likely starting at second) could be close to Will McGillis' output from 2023.

Aside from Petry, the outfield offense should be better in 2024. Evan Stone struggled swinging the bat as a part-time starter, and Dylan Brewer and Caleb Denny were up and down. Adding Kennedy Jones, Blake Jackson, and Austin Brinling to the unit can only help things.

Talmadge LeCroy was a consistent contact bat a year ago, and there is a place for that type of guy in a lineup. His production should be pretty similar to last year, though, he will be pushed by some good players behind him.

The Verdict on Offense: Good, potentially Elite

For the defense, the Gamecocks shouldn't expect to be elite in 2024. In fact, believing that Carolina will be above average on defense is a little optimistic.

In the infield, Talmadge LeCroy (likely starter at third base), Parker Noland (likely starter at second base), and Tyler Causey (potential starter at first base) are all below-average defenders for their position. Will Tippett is good but inexperienced at shortstop. Gavin Casas is a good first baseman, but he might lose his job to Causey. Jordan Carrion could be an upgrade at third or second defensively, but he might not be eligible, and he has been an inconsistent hitter in college, perhaps limiting his opportunities.

In the outfield, Ethan Petry probably will provide average defensive production (a really positive thing considering he just learned to play right field last year). The same can be said of players like Kennedy Jones and Austin Brinling. Dylan Brewer and Blake Jackson are above-average players in left field but pretty average in center field. With the crowded picture, Evan Stone doesn't seem to be in the picture as prominently, and that will hurt the defense, as well.

Cole Messina is a good fielding catcher, and he knows how to handle the pitching staff. Those factors could be huge boons for the team defense. However, with an inexperienced pitching staff that likely won't strike out as many batters as they did a year ago, the defense likely will have more balls hit their way in 2024.

The Verdict on Defense: Average, potentially Below-Average

For the pitching staff, projecting what will happen is difficult. The Gamecocks had 5 contributors from their pitching staff last year drafted (and an incoming transfer starter was picked, as well), so a lot of new faces will be involved this season.

However, because South Carolina baseball dealt with so many injuries in 2023 (Noah Hall missed over half the season, Will Sanders missed about a third of the season, Chris Veach battled injuries, Eli Jerzembeck missed about half the year, and other players missed some time), inexperienced players became experienced ones last year.

Eli Jones showed he has the ability to be a good starter in the SEC, and Matthew Becker showed himself to be reliable a couple of times through a lineup. and players like Connor McCreary, Austin Williamson, and Sam Simpson pitched a little when they likely would not have otherwise.

The Gamecocks are better off than some realize because of that experience, the injury recovery of Roman Kimball, and the influx of talent that came in through the transfer portal and recruiting class.

There is enough talent on this team's pitching staff that a season comparable to last year's is possible. However, there are enough question marks to think a lower finish in the SEC's final pitching statistics standings is a real possibility, as well.

The Verdict with Pitching: Above-Average, potentially Good, potentially Below-Average

The Gamecocks should be viewed as a darkhorse contender in the SEC championship and College World Series hunts. USC will be a good team in 2024, and if a few things go their way, a top-4 finish in the conference can happen. If injuries or struggles strike, though, the Gamecocks will struggle to stay in the top half of the league.

The schedule, as always, is a gauntlet. Out-of-conference matchups with Clemson and North Carolina (mid-week) have a chance to hurt the OOC record, and the SEC is the SEC. Coming out of non-con games with just 3 or 4 losses on the season and a .500 or better SEC record will get the Gamecocks into the postseason, but this program has its eyes set on more.

South Carolina baseball should be a regional host almost every season, and this year's team is no different. With a few bounces (and health) going their way, the Gamecocks could flirt with hosting a Super Regional for the first time since 2016.

Record Prediction for Regular Season: 38-17 (17-13); In line for Regional Host, probably just under the Super Regional Host line

Hosting a Regional and making a Super Regional should be the minimum expectations this season, even with the pitching question marks. The Gamecocks were picked by the SEC coaches to finish just in the top half of the conference, a finish that likely would result in a top-16 seed.

Depending on how things line up for the Gamecocks in the NCAA Tournament, a return trip to Omaha (the Gamecocks' first since 2012) is not outside of the realm of possibility.

Next. South Carolina Baseball: Gamecock slugger named top outfielder in college baseball. South Carolina Baseball: Gamecock slugger named top outfielder in college baseball. dark