South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston officially wrapped up the 2018 season with a press conference on Wednesday, reflecting on his first year at the helm for the Gamecocks — which saw an NCAA Super Regional appearance — and looking toward the future. With a school record 10 draft picks and many of those players choosing to sign, the roster will look very different next year, but Kingston was prepared to talk about it. Some highlights from his meeting with the media:
On the roster turnover
Next year’s roster will be significantly different. When you take over a program, you always have short-term and long-term vision. The short-term vision this year was to try to maximize the club that we had, but at the same time, we also tried to take a longer-term vision of what 2019 will look like, what 2020 will look like, what 2021 will be as we get there. You always try to combine the short-term and the long-term. I think we, once again, maximized the short-term and what this team was capable of. And along the way, we tried to pick up some pieces that will make next year and into the future better as well.
On his general recruiting philosophy, and how much of an impact he had on the incoming class
Recruiting in baseball is still very unique. A lot of it is still done two and three years ahead of time, so a lot of the guys coming in are still players that we will be inheriting from the previous staff. We were able to add mostly JUCO guys and a couple of high school guys along the way. ... I think the ‘20 class, the ‘21 class will be really where we start to have a full thumbprint on the impact of that class. ... We want athletic players, we want speed, we want power, we want pitchers that have good stuff but also have good command. That’s what we’ll continue to try to fill this program with. ... Every year’s a little bit different. That’s why you need to have a blueprint and and a depth chart for not only the current year, but the following three years. We go as far out as three years just to make sure we have a look at what does that team look like and what will it potentially need.
On TJ Hopkins and his plan for the offseason, after he suffered a back injury
I think his game had evolved to the point where he was becoming a very good baseball player. Now we just need to make sure that he’s spending a ton of time with the athletic trainers and with our strength trainers to give him his best chance for health moving forward.
On where Noah Campbell and Jacob Olson will fit in
Those two guys will almost work off each other. They’ll both be looked at in the infield and the outfield next year. They may get heavy infield work all fall just to get a feel for how they’re developing. It may be a case of one guy may play in the infield and one guy may play in the outfield. It’ll be an open competition and I think both of them have the ability to play in the infield and both can be very good outfielders as well. That gives us some flexibility and now it’s just a matter of how do those pieces best fit together.
On which position Chris Cullen will play
A lot of where Chris will play, because he is flexible position-wise, will have to do with the pieces around him. Who’s playing first, who’s playing third, how are the catchers doing that we’ve brought in? The great thing about him is he’s able and he’s willing to play any of those three spots. You could see him at third, first, or behind the plate. Chris didn’t have the year this year that he wanted, but our message to him is that he could still have a great senior year. I think Madison Stokes is a great example for him, and Hunter Taylor is too — guys that had sub-par junior years and were disappointed, but used it as motivation, made some adjustments, and had tremendous senior years and were drafted.
On how pitchers Logan Chapman and Carmen Mlodzinksi, who could find themselves in the starting rotation next season, can improve
I think strength and conditioning will be a big part of that. Both them can get much stronger, and as players get bigger and stronger, they get better. I think as they put on good weight and become stronger athletes, I think you’ll see that benefits them in a variety of ways. It will help their fast ball, it will help their command, it’ll help the breaking balls. You’ll see guys next year that are bigger and stronger, and because of that, they’re better.
On pitchers Graham Lawson and Ridge Chapman, who were both drafted but are returning to the Gamecocks
They’re both guys nursing some things health-wise that I think we just have to continue to evaluate. Obviously we hope both of them will be able to help us next year. ... Both of them have really good stuff, but need to make sure the consistency of command of their breaking balls continues to improve. When they’re at the top of their game, they’re both really, really good. They just need to be there more often.
On LT Tolbert’s future, as he hasn’t officially made his decision yet
He’s going to sign, it’s just a matter of time. He’s worked so hard and he had such a great impact for us. I think him moving to shortstop and having a much better offensive year than he ever has was one of our keys this year. ... He’s going into pro ball with our full support.
On his standout moments from this season
It’s hard to point out just one, but I think the comeback wins are the most impactful because I think it shows to our fanbase that this team really had a lot of fight. When you come back from down 6-0 and you win a game, to me that sends a very strong message of what our program is and what we want our culture to be. ... To win some of those series in the manner that we did, that’s what I look back on and say that was really important for us.
On his first year at South Carolina, beyond just the results
I thought I would love it and I did. I love everything about it. I love the fan passion and support. I love having to answer to the media everyday and you guys holding us accountable for the moves we make. I think that’s what the big time’s all about, and South Carolina baseball is big time. That’s what I thought it would be coming in, and there’s no doubt about it, that’s what it is. I love being here, I’m proud to be here, and myself and our staff will continue to work extremely hard to make this a program everybody can be proud of.