Mark Kingston made a list of goals he hoped to accomplish early in his tenure at South Carolina after being hired last month.
Near the top of that list was analyzing the Gamecocks’ roster to find out what he is inheriting. Kingston learned a lot about USC’s offense and pitching.
South Carolina was carried by its pitching staff for much of this past season, a group that featured three players selected in the first five rounds of the MLB draft. But the Gamecocks will not be able to rely on experience on the mound in 2018.
USC had six pitchers throw at least 40 innings last year. Only one , Adam Hill, will return.
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South Carolina lost two of its three weekend starters and its top four bullpen arms to either pro baseball or graduation.
“Putting the pitching staff together is going to be a major challenge,” Kingston told The State newspaper this week. “You’re only as good as your pitching. Pitching has to be the starting point for any quality team. The fact that we have one returning impact pitcher is a little bit of a concern, but it’s also a challenge. We’ll look at it as a challenge that we need to figure out a way to make it work.”
South Florida, Kingston’s previous stop, had a top 10 pitching staff in the nation in terms of ERA last season. But Kingston said that does not guarantee that USC will have similar success early in his tenure.
“I’ve seen some of our guys on video, but I need to see our guys in action to see what they’re capable of,” Kingston said. “The key is to figure out which guys are capable of being starters, middle relievers, closers. We need to figure that out throughout the fall, and then It’s up to us as coaches to put them in roles that they can be successful.”
While the pitching staff has plenty of question marks after Hill, the Gamecocks return nearly everyone from a lineup that had an up-and-down year.
The biggest piece of the puzzle is freshman All-American Carlos Cortes, who hit .286 with a team-high 12 homers and 41 RBIs in 2017, despite starting only 43 of Carolina’s 60 games.
Jacob Olson, who led the team with a .294 batting average in his first season at USC, is another player Kingston is eager to have in the lineup.
Overall, South Carolina returns 11 position players who started 24 or more games last year.
“Offensively, we return just about everybody that played for us,” Kingston said. “The key for us now is to make sure that their development continues on an upward trend, that we continue to get them stronger and smarter and kind of reach their potential and allow a lot of the guys that had good years last year to, hopefully, this year get better and have great years this year.”