Mark Kingston: Gamecock hitters inexperienced but have lots of raw power
In coach Mark Kingston’s first season in 2018, South Carolina baseball launched 79 home runs, tied for fourth in the SEC and the most the program has had since 2011.
Heading into 2019, Kingston believes the Gamecocks can continue that power surge. His belief, naturally, is rooted in numbers — analytics have become central to USC’s approach under Kingston.
“The general data shows that we have the same amount of raw power that we did last year, but it’s less experienced hitters,” Kingston said Sunday. “So will they be able to do it in games, will they able to pick the right pitches to get their power swings off? A lot of that is still to be determined, but from a raw data standpoint, we have the same amount of power as last year.”
The first weekend of scrimmages in the preseason seemed to indicate that inexperience won’t stop Carolina from mashing the ball this year. Across 27 half-innings of baseball, USC hitters connected for four home runs, with freshmen Brady Allen and Josiah Sightler and junior college transfers Luke Berryhill and Nick Neville accounting for the bombs.
Neville had one of hardest hits of the weekend, a blast that came off his bat at 105 miles per hour and landed in the right field bullpen. In addition, Kingston has expressed excitement about the power of senior Jacob Olson, who was second on the team in home runs last year, senior T.J. Hopkins and junior Andrew Eyster, who slugged 13 long balls in 49 games in JUCO ball.
Power won’t be the only aspect of South Carolina’s offense this spring, though. After stealing 48 bases last season compared to 36 the year before, the Gamecocks will continue to emphasize running the bases, Kingston said. Over the weekend, sophomore infielder Noah Campbell was particularly aggressive in taking off once he reached base.
Conversely, not allowing any wild pitches and holding runners on has been a focus for USC’s pitchers and defense, Kingston said.
“It’s a big part of the game,” he said. “One of the big things we talk about is not giving up free bases whether that’s walks, steals, passed balls or wild pitches, and trying to get those for our offense as well. Running the bases is one of those things is sometimes people don’t appreciate how important those extra 90 feet is throughout the course of the game.”
After the first few scrimmages of the new year, Kingston was unwilling to declare any winners or losers in the battle for the Gamecocks’ weekend rotation, where at least seven pitchers are competing for three spots.
“I think (sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski) had a good week, (freshman Dylan Harley)had a good week. I don’t think anyone had a bad week. I think it’s going to be close with a lot of guys trying to inch ahead,” Kingston said. “It’s still too early to say, but none of them hurt themselves.”
Kingston did say, however, that USC’s pitching is slightly ahead of its hitting at the moment, in large part due to the staff’s lack of walks. In 2018, South Carolina hurlers issued more free passes than any season in program history since 2002.
“There’s a lot of guys throwing strikes, our walks are way down from what they were a year ago at this time,” Kingston said.