Anyone who has had more than a few conversations with Coastal Carolina baseball coach Gary Gilmore knows the program architect can be a little strong-worded now and then when conveying the struggles and challenges facing his team.
He can get caught up in his passion and continuing quest to guide the program to its first College World Series appearance, and the result is usually a stark assessment of whatever is of primary concern at the time.
But as the Chanticleers formally opened preseason practice this weekend with less than three weeks before the Feb. 14 season opener, it didnt seem like Gilmore was stretching much when he described this as one of the tougher obstacles hes faced in his career.
If we had to start tomorrow, Id tell you its the most indecision and the toughest team to put together and put healthy guys on the field in places theyre comfortable playing in my whole entire career, he said earlier this week.
Coastal, which has reached the NCAA tournament in 12 of the last 13 seasons, officially started practice Saturday at the Myrtle Beach Pelicans TicketReturn.com Field after being delayed a day by weather, and every opportunity to get on the field is a valuable evaluation period for the myriad position battles facing the team.
Ultimately, though, Gilmore remains encouraged by the Chants potential it just might take some clever maneuvering, hard work and a little good fortune to fully realize it.
This team can be very good. This team can be really good by the end of the year, he said. Its just, we might not start out being an Omaha-bound team day one.
The biggest issues facing the team are health- and depth-related.
Junior right-hander Patrick Corbett (2.72 ERA in 53 innings last year) and sophomore righty Alex Cunningham (3.30 in five starts and four relief outings) are not expected to pitch this season while recovering from arm injuries. Corbett had Tommy John surgery in September and Cunningham has had a series of tough breaks with his pitching arm and elbow. He has an outside chance to return late this season, but its considered unlikely.
Pitching shouldnt be the problem for this team, though.
The rest is a different story.
Promising junior newcomer Reid Mathews, who projected to be one of the teams top hitters, is also out for the season with a complicated hand injury that required the grafting of a bone.
And then theres the depth.
With standout catcher Will Remillard signing with the Chicago Cubs organization as a 19th-round draft pick last summer, one junior college addition at catcher being ruled ineligible after testing positive for an unfamiliar substance he attributes to a GNC product his team used and another battling an arm injury that has him presently sidelined, Gilmore has moved sophomore Zach Remillard from third base to behind the plate.
Remillard and sophomore Tyler Chadwick will handle the catching duties until Holden Cammack, the addition from Blinn Junior College in Texas, is healthy enough to enter the mix.
I couldnt ask more from what theyre doing, what coach [Joe] Hastings is doing, Gilmore said of the catchers. These first two or three weekends will pretty much tell us where were at.
Remillards move to catcher, though, has forced Gilmore to get creative at third base. Freshman Michael Paez, a versatile talent who figures to settle in the middle infield eventually and who the coaches feel might be the teams best option in center field right now, looks to be the favorite at the hot corner for the time being.
Sophomore Nick Oberg returns at shortstop and senior Jake Kane, who ended on a tear last season to finish with .287 batting average (second among returning players), would be a lock for second base if not for a recovering throwing arm that is still struggling after offseason rotator cuff surgery. So if hes not ready for that spot defensively, sophomore Connor Owings would move from first base to second most likely. And if that happens, freshman G.K. Young (from Conway High School), sophomore Richard Carter (a transfer from Tennessee) and junior newcomer Johnny Cole are candidates to play first.
Its kind of a tryout camp over there to be very honest with you, Gilmore said.
In the outfield, senior Colin Hering looks like the top returning hitter after batting .297 with three homers last year. Sophomore Anthony Marks is likely to see a larger role and junior Reid Moman, a transfer from Spartanburg Methodist College, could be a boost to the lineup if he wins a spot.
Our health is going to dictate where were at all year, but especially early, Gilmore said of the options available to him.
Fortunately, the pitching staff looks like a strength again. Gilmore believes junior lefty Ben Smith (5-4, 2.23 ERA last year) can be among the best collegiate pitchers in the country, and senior Tyler Herb is back at full strength after being derailed by arm woes most of last season while regressing to a 4.15 earned-run average after going 9-2 with a 2.61 mark the year before.
He looks like his old self to me, Gilmore said. He carries himself the right away. Where he babied it a little bit in the fall, this and that, now its like, Just give me the ball. Its just like the Herb of old.
Sophomore righty Seth Lamando and junior lefty Austin Kerr are back as proven options who can work out of the bullpen or be stretched out to start, and sophomore righty Tyler Poole has made the full-time switch to a relief role where Gilmore believes he can be a real asset.
All of a sudden that 87-89 [mph] is 92-94, and thats what he wants to do. Hes champing at the bit. He wants to come out of that bullpen and get after some people, Gilmore said. Were looking forward to that too. He seemed to want to pace himself as a starter and coming in as a bullpen guy for 20 pitches, he gets after it.
Add in a crop of touted freshmen including 33rd-round draft pick Dalton Moats, a lefty who will likely be one of the teams midweek starters if he doesnt win a weekend job and there should be plenty to work with on the mound.
Pitching wise, theres enough good arms here we could be very competitive with a lot of people if we can make the other things work, Gilmore said.
Indeed, though, its about how those other things come together and develop.
The Chants have a few weeks to find some answers, but while Gilmore was frank as always in discussing the question marks facing his team, he also made it clear that there is a lot he likes about this group and its potential.
At the end of the day, theres no doubt man for man even without those three [injured] guys, this is a better team man for man than the team last year and the year before, Gilmore said. Its better. Theres no doubt. Theyve just got to play. Were going to have our growing pains here and there because we havent played together.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.