**Story by Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe**
Carlos Cortes joined the South Carolina baseball team as one of the top high school hitters in the country. But two games into his college career, he was struggling.
He grounded out on a check swing in his first career at-bat on opening day. In his first start the next day, Cortes was 0-for-3 when head coach Chad Holbrook had some advice for the young freshman.
"I was just thinking too much," Cortes said. "Coach Holbrook called me over and just told me to swing, swing hard like you know how to. And it worked out."
In his final at-bat against UNC Greensboro, Cortes singled to drive in a run in the Gamecocks' 5-1 win.
Two days later, he entered the game for injured center fielder TJ Hopkins and ignited a Gamecock rally. The 5-7, 195-pound freshman blasted a drive off the center field wall for a double. Justin Row then doubled him home and Alex Destino followed with a two-run homer in South Carolina's 5-4 win over UNC Charlotte.
"Got a good count and good pitch to drive, and I just drove it," Cortes said. "It was a fastball right over the plate, a good pitch to hit."
In his final at-bat against Charlotte, Cortes hit another drive to center field that was caught at the warning track, another sign that he is quickly getting comfortable at the plate.
"I love the way Carlos is swinging the bat right now," Holbrook said. "He is getting his confidence and legs under him a little bit. We recruited him thinking he was one of the best hitters, and he's starting to get comfortable now. I think we are a better offensive lineup with him in there."
With Hopkins nursing a leg injury, Cortes may be in the lineup again Thursday as South Carolina hosts Kansas State at Founders Park.
Cortes, from Oviedo, Fla., came to South Carolina with impressive credentials and high expectations. He is rated the No. 1 freshman in the SEC by Baseball America and D1 Baseball and the No. 4 freshman in the country. He's already considered the No. 14 prospect in the SEC for the 2018 MLB Draft.
A soft-spoken, unassuming player, Cortes has a confident swagger when he strides to the plate. But he admits it's taken some time to get comfortable at the college level.
"I'm more relaxed now, not trying to do too much," he said after Tuesday's game. "It's more the atmosphere. It makes you jumpy. It makes you want to do more than what you should.
"I'm just going up there and relaxing and being prepared. Just relax and swing hard and everything will take care of itself."
"Carlos looks great out there and he's starting to lift balls well," junior Alex Destino said.
Holbrook has noticed, too, and he faces the challenge of trying to get Cortes and other talented young players into the lineup.
"He's a natural-born hitter," he said of Cortes. "He's gifted, so I've got to find a way to get him in there, for sure."