COLUMBIA — It’s part of any sport in college. Kids come in, kids leave.
Mark Kingston’s first year at South Carolina was terrific, the coach leaning on a group of upperclassmen to reverse a sour season mid-stream and get the Gamecocks to a Super Regional. Yet the gloom was hovering all year and really settled over the past week, when the Major League Baseball Draft and the Supers coincided to bring up a lot of last-chance possibilities.
Now that the season is over, those possibilities are going to turn into reality. There are a couple of “maybes” on the list, but USC will be fielding an almost entirely new lineup in 2019.
“We have a lot to replace, no question about it,” Kingston said. “That process will begin very, very soon and it’s just a matter now of finding the new pieces and how they fit inside the equation.”
The draft nabbed a program-record 10 Gamecocks, and six more recruits. Two more seniors are gone.
Of the 10 position players (counting designated hitter) that started Monday’s final game of the season, five are definitely gone and two are almost assuredly gone.
USC’s top two pitchers this year, Adam Hill and Cody Morris, are likely gone. Closer Graham Lawson is, too.
The consolation is that Jacob Olson, who bopped two homers Monday, will be back alongside top hitter T.J. Hopkins of Summerville (who missed all of the postseason with a bad back and was not drafted) and Greenville Regional Most Outstanding Player Danny Blair. That could be the Gamecocks’ starting outfield, and Noah Campbell will also figure into that mix.
Chris Cullen, a natural catcher, will also be back and could move to a corner infield spot after playing first base during the super regional. Summerville's Sawyer Bridges returns and could take the closer role.
But there are an awful lot of statistics heading out the door. The Gamecocks are most likely out their top five hitters for next year, with juniors L.T. Tolbert and Carlos Cortes expected to follow seniors Justin Row, Madison Stokes and Jonah Bride to professional ball.
Ridge Chapman (17th round) and Eddy Demurias (27th round) have decisions to make but being junior pitchers, with no leverage for next year’s draft should they return, the understandable and safe move is to go pro. That would take away USC’s best middle reliever (Demurias) and a midweek arm who logged six starts among 38 innings this year, although Chapman said he hasn’t yet made up his mind.
“We’ll have a good number of guys coming in, we’ll have guys that will continue to improve and get better as players that return,” Kingston said. “This is where we want to get to every year.”
USC signed a bountiful recruiting class and of the six drafted signees, two (Brady Allen and Wes Clarke) will come to school. A third, Josiah Sightler, is iffy.
He slipped to the 12th round, out of the “big money,” but could still get six figures to coax him to jump from high school to the minor leagues. He won’t get the cash that signees Owen White, Blaze Alexander and Taj Bradley received (all three have already signed pro contracts), but he would get a whole lot more than he’ll get from scholarship stipends and meal money during three years of college.
All players have until July 6 to make their choices, and most should do so quickly now that the season has ended. Of course USC would love to have the draft-eligible juniors back but they’ve always prepared as if they would lose them.
Olson knew it would be tough losing pals and teammates, but understood. It’s what they all want once they arrive at USC.
He’ll be one of the leaders next year. How soon does the prep work for that role begin after Arkansas?
“Soon as we get off the plane,” he answered.