USC baseball coach Mark Kingston describes his pitchers for 2019
The first name was known.
The second was new but ultimately expected.
The third is someone Gamecock fans may know nothing about.
South Carolina baseball has set its starting rotation for its opening weekend against Liberty, the team announced Wednesday.
Sophomore Carmen Mlodzinski will get the start Friday night, as expected. Freshman Dylan Harley will go Saturday — coach Mark Kingston heavily hinted as such last week. And junior Reid Morgan will take the mound Sunday.
Kingston and pitching coach Skylar Meade kept observers guessing throughout the preseason, initially indicating that they were considering seven pitchers for three spots. In addition, Kingston left open the possibility of employing an “opener” or some other unconventional bullpen strategy.
In the end, Mlodzinski locked up the ace spot as the Gamecocks’ only experienced returning starter. Harley, who led the state in strikeouts in high school, came in and impressed right away with high velocity and good stuff. Morgan, a junior college transfer, initially came to USC as a likely bullpen arm but pitched well throughout the spring.
Hayden Lehman, another junior college transfer, and sophomores John Gilreath and TJ Shook, will all be considered to start in midweek games.
2019 lineup projection
Catcher: Chris Cullen
The staff really love the changes Cullen has made physically since last year and consider him the best defensive catcher on the team.
First base: Josiah Sightler
Right now, first base remains a battle between the freshman Sightler and sophomore Jordan Holladay, and Kingston hinted that Holladay is the more finished player at the moment.
“You have to make a short-term and a long-term decision. So sometimes a guy might be a little bit ahead of another guy, but the ceiling for one guy is higher, so you think with enough at-bats, one guy will pass them eventually,” Kingston said of the position.
Sightler seems likely to get the nod at first, and if he can’t improve with those early at-bats, Holladay would get a chance. Platooning remains a possibility as well.
Second base: Noah Campbell
One of the few spots where there’s been no question since the fall.
Shortstop: Nick Neville
Neville’s main competition, George Callil, missed a large portion of the preseason with injury, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered, as Neville has been swinging the bat well these past few weeks.
Kingston has all but named Neville the starter — “Right now, Nick is playing the best shortstop for us,” he said.
Third base: Jacob Olson
The outfield/third base debate for Olson seems to have tilted decisively in favor of the infield spot. He’s spent essentially the entire preseason playing the hot corner.
Left field: Brady Allen
Redshirt freshman Ian Jenkins is out for a few weeks with a tweaked knee, and Allen appears to be swinging the best bat of the remaining contenders.
However, this might be the most wide-open spot left in the lineup outside of first base, and Kingston might try platooning or trotting out different guys to start the year.
Center field: TJ Hopkins
Health was the only way Hopkins wouldn’t have this spot, and he seems fine so far (knock on wood).
Right field: Andrew Eyster
Hitters like Eyster have to be in the lineup. His mammoth 500-foot home run the other day off the Founders Park scoreboard is proof of that.
Designated hitter: Luke Berryhill
“Right now Berryhill has done enough that if he’s not catching to be our DH,” Kingston confirmed.
IF YOU GO
What: South Carolina baseball vs. Liberty
Where: Founders Park
When: Friday, 4 p.m.
Saturday, 3 p.m.
Sunday, 1:30 p.m.
Tickets: Starting at $6
Radio: 107.5 FM in Columbia area
Watch: Games 1 and 3 streaming on SEC Network Plus via WatchESPN
Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy with a chance of showers on Friday, chance of precipitation at 30 percent with a high of 68 degrees. The chance of rain rises on Saturday and Sunday to 40 percent, with the temperature dipping slightly to highs of 66 and 63, respectively.