*This article is courtesy of The Spurs Up Show’s Chris Phillips*
The Gamecocks are now 3-0 on the season after a series sweep of Dayton.
Play Ball: #18 Gamecocks Begin Their Quest For Omaha
Folks, we made it. After a long off-season, South Carolina baseball has finally returned once again.
While things may look different at Founders Park in 2021, one thing remains the same: the same passion, the same drive and the same relentless effort to achieve one goal…Omaha.
Death, taxes and grueling South Carolina athletics schedules. This year’s baseball schedule features one of the most challenging non-conference slates in the country, with match-ups against Dayton, Clemson, Mercer and Texas.
Carolina will also renew their border rivalry with UNC when they take on the Tar Heels in Charlotte on April 6th. The midweek also features quality match-ups against preseason A10 favorite Davidson, The Citadel and North Florida.
The highlight of non-conference schedule outside of the Clemson series, which in my opinion is the undisputed best rivalry in all of college baseball, falls March 12th-14th when the Gamecocks renew an old rivalry with the Texas Longhorns.
The two teams last met in Omaha in 2002, when Texas beat South Carolina in a single winner take all game to win the College World Series.
The SEC slate, as expected, is daunting. South Carolina opens up with back to back Omaha contenders in @ Vanderbilt and vs. Florida. Intriguing cross-division series include @ LSU, vs. Arkansas, @ Ole Miss and vs. Mississippi State.
Between the challenging non-conference and daunting SEC slate, we’ll know A LOT about this 2021 club after the first month of the season.
Farr, Jordan Headline Weekend Rotation
The Gamecocks got a huge boost last offseason when two thirds of its starting rotation announced they would be returning for the 2021 season.
Both RHP Thomas Farr and RHP Brannon Jordan were highly regarded prospects last season and most likely would have been selected in the MLB Draft if not for COVID-19, which saw the draft shortened to just five rounds.
Farr is the best Friday night arm in the SEC fans have never heard of, as he features a mid to high 90s fastball with electric secondary stuff.
Jordan is a fierce competitor, sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, plus changeup and breaking ball. Brannon throws with great downward angle on his pitches and is a strike thrower for Skylar Meade.
The newcomer to the weekend rotation comes in the form of southpaw Julian Bosnic. Bosnic has made big strides over the fall and spring and looks the part of a solid #3 starter in the rotation.
His velocity has made a jump last season and he has arguably the best changeup on the Gamecocks pitching staff.
With that being said, I expect up and coming youngsters such as Will Sanders, Jack Mahoney and Mag Cotto to all push for starting innings on the weekend. All could be solid options if any one of these three guys struggles, injuries occur or COVID hits.
Overall, South Carolina features a weekend rotation that will give them the opportunity to win a series each and every single weekend they take the field.
The Gamecocks pitching staff is as deep as it has been in a while and certainly features the most depth since Mark Kingston took over as head coach.
Returners such as Cam Tringali, Danny Lloyd, Brett Kerry, Parker Coyne, Brett Thomas, Andy Peters, Josiah Sightler, John Gilreath and more provide a solid veteran presence on the back end.
Couple that with standout newcomers Will Sanders, Mag Cotto, Jack Mahoney, Travis Luensmann, Jackson Phipps, CJ Weins, Sam Swygert and more, and you have yourself a top notch bullpen with plenty of options.
Skylar Meade and company have a GREAT problem on their hands: too many quality arms and not enough innings to go around.
The biggest surprise of the offseason for me came when Mark Kingston announced earlier this week that Brett Kerry will assume the role of closer to start the season.
Kerry as been by far the most consistent bullpen piece over the past few seasons. However, RHP Danny Lloyd has the best closer “stuff”, with a fastball in the mid 90s and a wipeout slider.
With that being said, consistency and throwing strikes has been an issue for this group in the past, something that will need to be fixed this season.
Big Bashers Lead The Gamecocks
When I think of a “traditional” South Carolina lineup, one word comes to mind: POWER.
The top slugger in this Gamecocks lineup is none other than Wes Clarke, the SEC’s home run leader from a year ago.
Clarke launched eight long balls through 16 games in 2020 and looks to be one of the top power bats yet again in the conference.
He’s not the only bat with pop, though. Guys like Andrew Eyster, Brennan Milone, David Mendham and more should all push Clarke for the title of home run king in Columbia.
Junior Brady Allen returns as well and is arguably the best overall hitter in the Carolina lineup.
Allen’s plate discipline and ability to work counts are just a few reasons why he has been anointed this team’s leadoff man on Opening Day. The guy is an automatic 3-2 count every time he steps into the box, nothing short of a night for opposing pitchers.
The most intriguing battle arguably comes in centerfield, where three speed demons will be battling early in the season for the starting role.
Braylen Wimmer, Noah Myers and Brandon Field are the top three candidates, and at this point, I think Wimmer gets the nod. However, expect to see all three in the lineup at some point this weekend.
At the bottom of the lineup, returners such as Jeff Heinrich, Colin Burgess and George Callil give the Gamecocks three solid bats and are all tough outs in their own right.
Overall, the lineup features a really nix mix of power and athleticism and should circle the pillows a lot this season.
Biggest Question Surrounding This Team Is…
The one thing that concerns me about this group is simply the lack of SEC innings. As good as your weekend rotation is, those guys have combined to throw a grand total of ZERO SEC innings in their career.
The same story can be said for the lineup, as South Carolina will be depending on guys such as Brennan Milone, Braylen Wimmer, Collin Burgess, David Mendham and others who have never faced SEC pitching.
Look, if you can ball you can ball. Game is game. But we all know the jump in competition that is playing weekend in and weekend out in the best conference in all of college baseball.
While I don’t expect this to be a major issue for this team, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on, especially early in the 2021 season.
The 2021 Season Will Be Successful If…
A Return Trip To The Super Regionals
Look, we all know the expectations. It’s Omaha or bust at South Carolina and that to me is what makes this Gamecocks baseball program so great.
This team enters the season 18th in the country and will have to find a way to navigate thru a grueling non-conference schedule along with a more than challenging SEC slate.
Still, this team features one of the deepest pitching staffs in recent memory and a lineup that one through nine can beat you.
After chatting with the D1Baseball.com guys last summer, they agree this is one of the best rosters they’ve seen in Columbia in the last decade and I tend to agree.
For Mark Kingston in year four, a deep run into the postseason is much needed for a fanbase that has become restless with shortcomings in other sports on campus.
A trip back to the Super Regionals will if nothing else show this program is improving and getting closer to the elite level we once saw just a short time ago.
2021 Season Prediction
Yes, the schedule is daunting. Yes, there are question marks surrounding this club. And yes, Gamecock fans are beaten, battered and bruised due to failures in other on-campus sports, especially on the men’s side.
However, leave that negative energy elsewhere when talking about this 2021 Gamecocks baseball team.
As previously mentioned, this pitching staff is as deep as I can remember and features two big time arms in Farr and Jordan that will give USC to win every single series it plays in.
On the hitting side of things, one through nine in the lineup can beat you and two through six can take you yard on any day.
While the schedule is daunting, I see this Gamecocks team finding it’s way back to the postseason, advancing to the Super Regionals before losing in a game three, just short of the promised land.
Still, I believe fans will truly start to see the progression of this program under Mark Kingston in year four and the 2021 version of Carolina baseball will be fun to watch and a much needed breath of fresh air for a fanbase so desperately looking to cling to a winner.