Outfielder TJ Hopkins ‘knows he belongs’ with South Carolina baseball – SECcountry.com
COLUMBIA, S.C. – TJ Hopkins can easily rattle off the reasons he feels ready to take major steps forward in his second season with South Carolina baseball.
It starts with having the experience of having a full season under his belt and it continues into having an offseason defined by working toward an even better season as a sophomore. Rolled together, Hopkins sums it up as a feeling of confidence as opening day looms Friday and it shows.
“He’s just a much more confident player at this time than he was a year ago,” South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook said. “He knows he belongs. Last year, he hoped to belong. That’s a big difference.”
Hopkins heads into the 2017 season penciled in as an everyday player, the likely leadoff hitter for the Gamecocks as either the starting center fielder or right fielder. He played plenty last season as a freshman, starting 31 games and hitting .322. But the Summerville, S.C., native has emerged from being an outfield option to being an outfield necessity after key departures this offseason.
Hopkins has shown he’s ready for the task, with a little tinkering in the batting cage leading to great results throughout fall and spring practices.
He said the change came one day working on his swing with hitting coach Brian Buscher. They tested out getting his swing started sooner, getting his weight back to help him see the ball faster and get loaded up earlier. The result was a more comfortable plate approach and better at-bats.
“My power and my doubles have increased,” Hopkins said. “My power numbers have increased. I feel like I’ve become a more solid hitter. My strikeouts went down. I’m seeing the ball a lot better. I’m seeing 0-2 sliders in the dirt. I’m seeing all of that.”
It’s that changed offensive approach that Holbrook noted as the greatest improvement Hopkins has made, as it helps make him a more complete player for the Gamecocks.
“He is a special player, I think, and he’s a special talent,” Holbrook said. “He can run. The ball flies off his bat and he plays a great outfield. He’s a big part of our plans as we go into the season and we certainly think he’s an everyday player.
“I think he has a chance to be a high draft pick and All-SEC type performer. I just want him to do the best that he can and have fun playing. If he does those things, his talent will show. He’s an awfully gifted player.”
What comes from the offseason work will be seen starting Friday afternoon against UNC Greensboro at Founders Park. But Hopkins knows he’s feeling good heading into the season, with his skills accompanied by an increased confidence built on offseason hitting work.
“You definitely feel a lot better,” Hopkins said. “Your numbers increase, so that’s always a good thing. You give your team a better chance of winning. That’s where it hits home the most for me.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable playing.”
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