COLUMBIA — The 2014 baseball season will mean change for University of South Carolina junior Joey Pankake.
Following two years as the Gamecocks’ starting shortstop, the former Easley High School star is moving a few feet to the left where he will debut as the team’s third baseman.
USC coach Chad Holbrook believes the move will improve the team defensively and be good for Pankake as well.
“It’s definitely a lot different being over there than shortstop,” said Pankake. “It’s a whole new world. I’m starting to settle down. I really like it over there.”
Pankake enters his junior season as one of the more highly regarded collegiate players in the country. He has been named second-team All-American along with teammate Grayson Greiner, by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Pankake came on strong at the end of the 2A0A1A3A campaign, finishing with a .A3A1A1A batting average, 11 home runs and 42 runs batted in. Holbrook opted to move him to third in order to better use his skill set while getting more range at shortstop.
“If we played today, he would be our starting third baseman,” said Holbrook. “He’s gotten a lot better, a lot more comfortable over there. (USC assistant coach) Brian Buscher has done an incredible job with him. He fits the mold of what an outstanding third baseman should be – a power hitter, a big, strong, physical kid. He’s very, very versatile and very athletic.”
In anticipation of the move, Pankake opted not to play summer baseball. Instead, he remained in Columbia and focused on his physical shape.
Coaches planned on Pankake pitching this season as he threw in the low-A to mid-As in high school, but the idea was scrapped after Pankake injured his elbow in the fall, though he’s throwing full-speed on the infield now.
Perfect Game rates him the 30th best draft-eligible collegiate player in the country while Baseball America ranks him 40th. Pankake’s teammates have been impressed with his performance in fall scrimmages and practice sessions.
“Joey, obviously, has the arm to get it anywhere he has to,” said Kyle Martin, USC first baseman and former Wade Hampton High standout. “He has been working a lot over at third every day, getting better, getting stronger and everything.”