Veteran Infield Primed For 2007 Season
The Gamecock infield will return several familiar faces this year and will feature, count them, zero freshmen in the lineup. Led by preseason All-American Justin Smoak, this group will need to do more than continue their impressive ways in the field. Smoak's role is simple, just lead the team in hitting and provide solid defense at first base. That's not too much to ask to lead this team to Omaha, right? Well, if anyone on this squad can do it, Smoak can.
Travis Jones is the one newcomer in the group, but he will play a big role. The new second baseman will be asked to be the leadoff hitter that's been missing from the Gamecock lineup the past few seasons. Jones is the fastest base runner for the Gamecocks, which is good for a team that recently has lacked production in the stolen base department. Jones is a gap to gap hitter that should be a threat every at bat to make things happen. His fielding isn't expected to be an issue, although he won't be the next Reese Havens.
Havens will once again start at short stop and will be very impressive in the field. If he can raise his average from .259 to around .290, Havens should be the front runner for first team All-SEC. His hitting is a question mark, but as long as his on-base-percentage is right around .400, he's doing his job. Expect a big year out of Havens.
James Darnell will get the nod at third base, although you could see a couple of faces there throughout the year. Darnell is a versatile player who will move around the field when Coach Tanner needs him to. Darnell only hit .239 last year, but being an everyday player will help that number climb. Expect Darnell to hit a little over .300, and any power that he adds is a bonus.
Andrew Crisp should be the center fielder for this group once he gets healthy, but he will see time in the infield depending on how others are doing. Crisp can play second base, short stop, and third base and could potentially see time at all three spots.
Trent Kline will be the catcher for at least forty games this year. Kline's role at the plate is to once again hit over .300 and be another guy to get on base, whether hitting in the second spot, or lower in the order. Kline's job behind the plate is much more important. Kline needs to be a rock for the pitchers, especially all the newcomers. It's crucial for a catcher to have good communication with all of his pitchers, as well as his coaches. From what I've heard in the past, Kline does a solid job at this.
Expect Phil Disher to see some time behind the plate to keep his bat in the lineup if Robbie Grinestaff is hitting well. Disher will generally be the DH, but on those hot Sunday afternoon days, Kline could use a rest.
Overall, this group could be the best infield in the SEC this season. The key being if Travis Jones can become the leadoff hitter that this team needs. Smoak is the best of the group, but expect the USC infield to play well as a unit throughout the year.
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