University of South Carolina shortstop Joey Pankake had a whale of a year for the Gamecock baseball team. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Easley, S.C. native started all 62 games for head coach Chad Holbrook – hitting .311 with 40 runs, 11 home runs and 42 runs batted in.
Those are impressive offensive numbers. Of course the rising junior did commit a team-high 17 errors – and his .927 fielding percentage was the worst of any Gamecock starter.
So … does that mean Pankake should be replaced at shortstop? Holbrook thinks so. In fact he announced his decision to do just that at a recent postseason press conference.
“He’ll still be hitting in the middle of our lineup,” Holbrook said. “He’ll still be an everyday player for us. We’ll look at a number of positions – third, left, maybe some at first. He can play every position.”
Holbrook also indicated Pankake would be pitching for the Gamecocks. In fact he’s foregoing summer baseball to work on strengthening his arm.
Gamecock baseball fans who wanted Pankake to stay at shortstop pointed out that Holbrook has an obvious motivation to free up this position – namely his nephew, DC Arendas (whose father is director of baseball operations at Holbrook’s alma mater, the University of North Carolina).
“I feel sorry for (Pankake),” one fan told us, likening his situation to that of another Gamecock utility man, former football player Syvelle Newton.
Arendas hit just .071 in limited action in 2013 – collecting one hit in fourteen at bats and scoring twice. Arendas did perform flawlessly in the field, though – committing zero errors and recording seven putouts and thirteen assists.
As much as we’re inclined to bite on a good conspiracy theory, we don’t see any reason why Holbrook would play favorites in this situation. With the level of expectations he has to manage (the Gamecocks won a pair of national titles in 2010 and 2011 – and made it to the College World Series final a year ago), we don’t see any scenario in which he would let family loyalty trump what’s best for the program.
Also it’s not like leaving the shortstop position hurt … say … Chipper Jones.
Still, people are talking … which means there will be considerable pressure on Arendas to provide offensive contributions at the shortstop position in 2014.