College Sports

Gamecock rotation, lineup spots in 2020 are ‘gonna be wide open,’ Mark Kingston says

Pitcher Brett Kerry was a freshman All-American. Outfielder Andrew Eyster exploded toward the end of the year. Catcher Luke Berryhill was a rock behind the plate.

In a mostly disastrous 2019 season, South Carolina baseball had a few bright spots — guys who could conceivably play a role for the Gamecocks as they try to move forward from the program’s worst campaign in nearly 25 years.

And coach Mark Kingston isn’t saying they won’t. But in his postseason press conference in May, he made one thing clear: Playing time this past season guarantees nothing moving forward, especially on his young pitching staff where some freshmen were pressed into unfamiliar roles by injuries.

“It’s gonna be you get what you earn and you earn what you get. There may be guys on next year’s team that get less innings than they did this year, and vice versa,” Kingston said. “It’s gonna be, how are you developing, how are you evolving, are you getting better, are you going forwards or backwards, combined with the new players coming in.

“So there’s gonna be a lot of roles up for grabs, and what happened this year will probably not earn much for next year, because truthfully we don’t have a lot of guys that just put up unbelievable numbers this year, so next year’s gonna be wide open and full of opportunities for a lot of people.”

That approach is in keeping with Kingston’s philosophy of re-evaluating just about everything in his program after a season, good or bad.

“You’re always looking to optimize the program, whether it’s personnel, whether it’s using people properly and with their best talents, you just always evaluate everything. That’s after a winning season, that’s after a tough season. You always look to make sure everything’s being run at its highest level.”

The evaluation process, Kingston said, starts with himself.

“You see what can you do better as a leader, what mistakes did you make, was it just tough luck, is it all of the above? So the first thing you do as a leader is you always look in the mirror first and ask yourself what can you do to help the program, help the group,” Kingston said.

Kingston is also banking on his incoming class of recruits to boost competition — the Gamecocks had nine signees taken in the MLB Draft, but seven are expected to make it on campus, including some highly-rated junior college transfers who could play right away.

The most intense competition is likely to take place for rotation and bullpen spots — what role Kerry, who both started and relieved this past season, might play is far from clear. Injured Friday night starter Carmen Mlodzinski isn’t a surefire pick to regain his role as staff ace. TJ Shook and Cam Tringali were serviceable when asked to take on unexpected starting roles but are far cries from locks in the rotation.

JUCO hurlers and draftees Thomas Farr, Brannon Jordan and Andy Peters, along with high schooler Brett Thomas, could all challenge for major roles, and that’s without considering the possibility of a breakout candidate like Kerry was this past season.

Add it all up and guessing what USC’s lineup and pitching staff might look like once February 2020 rolls around seems almost impossible. But at the very least, Kingston expressed optimism at the raw talent.

“When you look at what we’re losing versus what’s coming in, I think we can all safely say there’s going to be some significant improvement, just from a numbers standpoint,” Kingston said.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.