Changes abound for 2009 Yardcocks

The Gamecock baseball team held its first practice of 2009 Sunday morning at the new Carolina Stadium. After a brief media session, the team took batting practice and then participated in a ten inning scrimmage.

In addition to the new stadium, there are a lot of other changes in for the Gamecocks this year. They have new uniforms, switching from Russell to Under Armour. Chad Holbrook, formerly at North Carolina, has been added to the coaching staff. Lastly, almost all of the key faces from last year's squad have moved on to the professional ranks.

"Almost every stitch of our clothing is brand new, with Under Armour on board now. Coach Holbrook's in the program for the first time now," Tanner said, ticking off the changes. "I think you have some things that maybe can make a difference, the intangibles. Hopefully that will equate to a few more wins."

Still, the expectations are somewhat down this season. The turnover is mostly to blame for that. Justin Smoak, James Darnell, Reese Havens, and Phil Disher, just to name a few, are all in the professional ranks now after stellar seasons last year. Each was named All-SEC, and Havens and Smaok were All-Americans and first round draft picks.

"We don't have the resume; we don't have the credentials," admitted Tanner. "I would have been a little bit surprised had we been given too much consideration [in the rankings]. We lost a lot of people. Do I think we're going to be bad? I really don't. I think we've got a good club. I think these guys are capable, but you don't win games on potential, you win games on performance. They've got to go out and prove that they're good players. I know there are a lot of guys in uniform today that aren't expecting to have a bad year here."

Andrew Crisp, Scott Wingo, DeAngelo Mack, Kyle Enders, Whit Merrifield, and Parker Bangs were all solid performers last season, but "solid" is not the same as stellar. In particular, there is a lack of power hitting coming back. Smoak is the all-time home run leader at South Carolina, and Darnell led the Gamecocks in RBIs last year. With both gone, there is a void to fill.

"You've got to get some power from Parker Bangs. He's a guy that I think is on the cusp of being a power hitting guy," said Tanner. "D-Mack is a guy that has been good, but he has to be even better. Merrifield I thought had a freshman All-American year last year, and he's got to be a little bit better."

Bangs could be one of the most important players on the team this year. He may not be the best or most talented, but his versatility affects the entire lineup. Bangs can pitch out of the bullpen, play first base, and play left field. He will probably see most of his action as the designated hitter, because being the DH allows Tanner more flexibility with using Bangs on the mound. Wherever he plays, Bangs will be somewhere in the lineup every day.

"Right now he's probably a pitcher and DH. We worked him out in left field this fall and were pleasantly surprised that he was a little bit better defensively than we expected him to be," Tanner said. "If he's playing the field and he comes in to pitch, you lose the DH. If you feel like he's going to pitch on a certain day, you're probably going to DH him so he can go in there and still [have] the DH when he leaves the game. I've got to make sure that I know the DH rule inside and out."

Based on the Sunday scrimmage, there are several newcomers who could step into the starting lineup beginning on opening day. Junior college transfers Jeffery Jones (first base), Justin Dalles (catcher), and Bobby Haney (shortstop) all played on the first team during the scrimmage. Jones and Dalles have a fairly secure hold on each position, but Haney needs to show a little more.

"He's played pretty well defensively, but he's got to move the stick a little bit better," Tanner said.

Rounding out the first team was Bangs as DH, Wingo at second base, Crisp at third base, Mack in left field, Merrifield in center, and freshman Jackie Bradley, Jr. in right field. Crisp probably has the loosest hold on his spot, but only because he is so versatile he might be needed more elsewhere.

"Drew Crisp is probably going to open the year at third base, but he can move around," said Tanner.

Bradley was diagnosed with a blood clout in his shoulder last fall. He played in the field during the scrimmage, but he is still at least a week away from being clear to bat.

On the mound, familiar names like Blake Cooper, Craig Thomas, Sam Dyson, Jordan Costner, and Curtis Johnson all return. Most of the attention Sunday was on mammoth freshman Adam Westmoreland. At 6'6" and 280 pounds, the Cayce product towers over most of his teammates. In addition to his size, Westmoreland has ability, and Tanner likes what the young pitcher brings to the hill.

"He's a hard guy to square up," he said. "He's a big guy, he throws hard, but you can't see him real good either. The ball comes from behind his back a little bit."


- Several ex-Gamecocks worked out with the current squad. Phil Disher, Justin Smoak, Mike Cisco, and Brian Buscher were all present, and have been working out with the team during their off-season.

- Whit Merrifield hit a homerun off the first pitch he saw during the scrimmage. On the wrong end of the blast was walk-on pitcher Jordan Probst. A pharmacy major, Probst has been out of baseball for two years, but impressed coaches enough during open tryouts that he was invited back for pre-season training.

- The first team batting order was Merrifield, Crisp, Mack, Bangs, Jones, Dalles, Haney, and Wingo. Catcher Richard Royal batted ninth in place of Bradley.

- The second team in the scrimmage was Brady Thomas (catcher), Michael Roth (first), Casey Rihn (second), Nick Ebert (third), Will Callaway (short), Austin Ashmore (left), Graham Couch (center), Adam Matthews (right) and Jesse Barbaro (DH)

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