Sophie Winnick/The Daily Gamecock

Justin Row begins transition from player to coach

After the Gamecock baseball was eliminated by the Arkansas Razorbacks, batting average leader Justin Row was uncertain about the future. But more eight months later, Row found clarity — and a job.

Last month, head coach Mark Kingston announced that Row will join the coaching staff as a student assistant coach.

When South Carolina baseball's 2018 season ended following a loss to Arkansas in the NCAA Super Regionals, not all of the team’s players knew what their next step would be. 

Ten of the team’s players were selected in last year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, presenting them with the decision to go pro or return to school for another year. Despite leading South Carolina in hitting with a .347 batting average, second baseman Justin Row was not among those chosen by a Major League team during the draft’s 40 rounds. 

Even though Row wasn't selected, he congratulated his teammates on their accomplishment. He tweeted, “Congrats to everyone who got drafted but especially the South Carolina boys! Couldn’t be happier and excited for all of your bright futures!”

After the loss to the Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Row was one of five Gamecocks to have exhausted their collegiate eligibility in 2018. 

But as a coach, Row has the potential to support the professional careers of those he once played alongside in Columbia and the potential to foster the careers of current and future players, albeit in a different way than before.

Following two seasons at Fullerton College, Row ascended to the top of South Carolina’s second base depth chart in 2018. After getting the opening day start at the keystone against the Virginia Military Institute, Row gave the Gamecocks a consistent bat and steady defensive starter when injuries hit some of the players around him. He started 47 games for the Gamecocks last season, and finished seventh in the SEC in hitting.

This year, Row has a chance to aid in the development of the team’s players, namely the infielders. Row’s presence on the coaching staff could pay dividends for the likes of sophomore Noah Campbell, senior Jacob Olson and the team’s infielders who might see an increase in playing time this year. 

Campbell, who was named to the Preseason All-SEC First Team and Baseball America Preseason All-America second team, can supersede Row as the Gamecocks' starting second baseman in 2019. With Row on staff, Campbell has someone with experience and a strong baseball background to learn from and lean on for advice throughout the season. 

Jacob Olson, who spent time at third base during South Carolina’s preseason scrimmages, is another player Row can mentor. With last year’s third baseman Jonah Bride now with the Oakland Athletics organization, Olson and a few other players might be called on to absorb the available starts at the hot corner. 

Two other infielders from last year’s team who have begun their professional careers are LT Tolbert and Madison Stokes. Tolbert, now with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, and Stokes, now with the Philadelphia Phillies organization, started a combined 112 games for the Gamecocks throughout the 2018 season. With many of Tolbert’s and Stokes’ starts coming at shortstop and first base, there will be many infield starts available for the taking in 2019.

Whoever draws the starts at third base, first base and shortstop for Kingston’s team in 2019 has the chance to benefit from having Row on staff. Like Campbell, those players will also be able to lean on Row if needed, given his first-hand experience in the infield.

Row will look to help the Gamecocks improve upon their 2018 season as he transitions from player to coach in 2019. 

After being just one game away from getting to Omaha as a player last season, Row will focus on contributing towards helping to bring South Carolina to the College World Series for the first time since 2012 in his initial season as an assistant coach. He also is working on earning a degree in sociology from the University of South Carolina this spring. 

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