The pitchers continue to be ahead of the hitters during spring practice, but South Carolina head coach Mark Kingston likes what he sees from his 2020 team.
The Gamecocks showcased five pitchers in a 4-1 game at Founders Park Sunday, three of them who are battling for a spot in the starting rotation.
Junior-college transfers Thomas Farr and Brannon Jordan squared off at the start of the game and both had some bright moments in their battle to make the weekend rotation.
Farr, the No. 73 college prospect in the country, according to D1 Baseball, allowed just one run on one hit with two strikeouts in two innings. He was up around 94-95 mph on his fastball and also showed an impressive repertoire of breaking pitches. He gave up a leadoff double to start the game but came back to strike out Brady Allen on a wicked changeup to get out of the inning. He retired all four batters he faced in the second, two via pop-up and one by strikeout.
Jordan, a top-150 prospect by D1 Baseball, had a shaky first inning, giving up three runs, two of them earned. He walked the first batter he faced and then gave up a double to Brennan Milone. One run scored when Bryant Bowen dropped a long fly ball to right field by Wes Clarke and two more scored on a wild pitch. Jordan then bounced back to strike out Jax Cash to end the inning.
Jordan gave up a triple and double in the second inning but bounced back to retire both batters he faced in the third, getting a double-play with a runner on first.
Farr appears to have the inside track on the third weekend rotation spot, while Jordan could start or fill a key role in the bullpen.
“I think they are still getting the rust off, but their stuff was really good,” Kingston said. “You could see the velocity and the breaking pitches. We’ve got three weeks for them to continue to get the rust off but we saw some encouraging signs.”
Juniors TJ Shook and Parker Coyne also had solid outings. Shook, who could also earn a rotation spot, walked a couple of batters but allowed no runs and no hits and struck out two. He was up to 92-93 on his fastball.
Coyne, who will likely fill a bullpen role, showed increased velocity (91-92) and allowed just two hits and no walks in two scoreless innings. He struck out three.
Another pitcher who had an encouraging outing was redshirt freshman Julian Bosnic. The left-hander, who missed the fall while recovery from Tommy John surgery, is still working on regaining his velocity but showed an impressive array of breaking pitches. He allowed no hits and no runs and walked one in two scoreless innings.
Bosnic could start or fill a valuable bullpen role as a left-handed reliever.
“First time he’s been on the mound in a game situation in a long, long time and I thought he handled himself pretty well,” Kingston said. “He looked like a lefty that would be able to help us get outs. We don’t have as many quality left-handed pitchers that are ready to pitch in big games yet, so we are looking for those lefties we have to step up. He looked like a guy that might be able to do that.”
The Gamecocks had just seven hits in the five-inning game but five of them went for extra bases and three newcomers continued to shine. Junior-college transfer Jeff Heinrich had a double and a triple on two hard-hit balls and scored two runs. The junior infielder, who missed the fall with a shoulder injury, had two triples and three extra-base hits in the first two scrimmages as he battles for playing time.
“It’s amazing. He missed all fall, didn’t have any at-bats in the fall and he’s stepped right in and is taking quality at-bats,” Kingston said. “That’s great for us, another talented kid. Sometimes it takes you a little while and he’s showing a pretty natural ability to see the ball and give us quality at-bats. Another option for us.”
Bowen, a grad transfer, and Milone, a freshman, both had RBI doubles, while senior shortstop George Callil had a good day at the plate with a single and a double.
The defense was also solid. Callil and Heinrich turned a smooth double play up the middle and center fielder Noah Myers made two diving catches on tough line drives in the outfield.
Heinrich could push Noah Campbell at second base or Milone at third, or give the Gamecocks a valuable role player. Freshman Braylen Wimmer, the backup shortstop, can also play second or third.
“We have some position flexibility with guys,” Kingston said. “Campbell can play multiple positions, Wimmer can play multiple positions and [Heinrich] can play multiple positions. We have some guys, it’s just going to be a matter of putting all the pieces together, and it might be different on different days. It might have to do with who is hot and who needs a day off. We have enough athleticism.”
Though the pitchers are ahead of the hitters right now, Kingston is encouraged by what he has seen in the first two scrimmages.
“We’re seeing good talent out there,” he said. “Yesterday the pitchers were ahead of the hitters, which is probably understandable since you had [Brett] Kerry and [Carmen] Mlodzinski out there. Today the hitters took a ton of good at-bats. I’m encouraged by the overall quality of play.”
Mlodzinski and Kerry were both sharp in their spring debuts on Saturday. Kingston continues to marvel at Kerry, who threw three scoreless innings after missing the fall with an oblique strain. He led the Gamecocks with a 2.62 ERA last season as both a starter and reliever.
“Brett Kerry was Brett Kerry. That’s the great thing about him. It’s in his DNA to throw strikes at a high level,” he said. “He missed all fall and he was out here and he didn’t skip a beat. Very encouraging.”
Kerry and Mlodzinski, one of the top 10 college prospects in the country, are expected to fill two of the three spots in the weekend rotation. The third spot is up for grabs.
“It’s pretty clear Mlodzinski will be in there. It’s pretty clear that if we feel good about the back of the bullpen that Brett Kerry has a great chance to be in there,” Kingston said. “I think that third guy is up in air with some talented guys. We just want to see who pitches best at this point.”
The Gamecocks will scrimmage again Monday, with the time to be determined.