College Sports

He was a .460 junior college hitter. Now this new Gamecock is eager to help USC

Mark Kingston: ‘A lot of impact players coming in’ for USC

South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses the incoming Gamecocks class of freshmen and JUCO players.
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South Carolina baseball coach Mark Kingston discusses the incoming Gamecocks class of freshmen and JUCO players.

In the span of the past two weeks, James Nix has become the newest member of South Carolina baseball’s 2019 recruiting class, an MLB draft choice and a junior college All-American.

It’s a path Gamecock fans have seen recently - rising junior outfielder Andrew Eyster was drafted, honored and recruited in quick succession last summer.

Now the challenge for Nix, also an outfielder, will be making as big an impact as Eyster did in his first season with USC. Over the season’s final 16 games, Eyster exploded, hitting .433 with 17 RBIs, and he wound up leading the team with a .309 average on the season.

The transition from JUCO to SEC play can be a difficult one, but Nix’s numbers this past year are still impressive: a .462 batting average, .593 on-base percentage and .739 slugging percentage with 48 RBIs in 53 games. And Nix told The State that his commitment to Carolina was based in large part on coach Mark Kingston’s faith in his ability.

“As a player he really likes my speed and size, the combination of the two, and like I said, it was more of just the belief in me,” Nix said. “He said, ‘We really, really want you to come here, we think you are a huge piece in our future success,’ and that’s something that I also saw as I went on my visit.”

Future success was a large part of Kingston’s pitch to Nix -- the Gamecocks are coming off a dismal season in which they tied the program record for losses and hit various other low points. But those struggles did not discourage Nix in the slightest.

“Short-term success and failure is not really driving a factor in my decision. I actually had this conversation with (Kingston),” Nix said. “At the end of the day, the way I see it is the people that are on the cutting edge of all this technology and have this desire to learn and improve as a coach and as a player, that’s going to bring you long-term success more than short-term success. You might fail for a year or two, but as soon as you get the success rolling, it’s not gonna stop.”

That technological advantage -- which Kingston has made a central part of his effort to rebuild and reshape the program -- was a major factor for Nix.

“I can’t imagine at any level of baseball there’s anybody above them. They seem to have a good idea, a desire to keep learning and keep improving their knowledge of baseball, because it’s such a complex sport, especially with all this new technology, new ways of thinking coming about,” Nix said. “I value that as one of the most important things, as far as a coach or player. It’s a new tool, understanding the new technology, and being prepared for games and preparing in the days, months, even years leading up to all the competition, all the games, this is really important stuff.”

Nix’s enthusiasm for the Gamecocks and his low draft choice - he went in the 35th round to the Houston Astros despite being a top-300 prospect - point to him almost certainly forgoing the pros and coming to school.

At Carolina, he’ll join an outfield with a pair of returning starters from this past season and another JUCO All-American: speedster Noah Myers, who swiped 77 bases in 59 games this year and went in the 30th round of the draft. Regardless of where he ends up, however, he has high hopes for the future of the program.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if in the next 10 years they’re at the top of not only the SEC but the whole baseball world. That’s what I saw,” Nix said.

Greg Hadley is the beat writer for South Carolina women’s basketball and baseball for GoGamecocks and The State. He also covers football and recruiting.

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