2012 Clemson Baseball Season Preview

2011 Final Record: 43-20, 17-13 ACC, 2nd in ACC Atlantic Division and 6th overall. RPI #8. Despite being one of the hottest teams in the country – going 27-6 before Regionals – the Tigers lost two straight to UConn to end their season at home in the Regionals.

Final Rankings: Clemson finished as high as #16 in the USA TODAY/ESPN Coaches poll. We were ranked #21 by Baseball America and #21 by Collegiate Baseball.

Incoming Recruits: Clemson signed a class that was raided by MLB as usual. Top signee LHP Daniel Norris signed with the Toronto Blue Jays after being drafted in the 2nd rd. 1B Jackson Whitley also signed with the Angels after being drafted in the 13th. However, LHP Daniel Gossett didn't sign his MLB offer and a few other infielders and pitchers were signed for depth. We'll need at least a couple of them to come on this year.

Preseason Polls: Baseball America picks Clemson 16th and to win the Atlantic, with FSU just behind. They predict UNC atop the ACC. Collegiate Baseball has the Tigers at 25th and USA Today 23rd, while the Collegiate Writers have us 17th.

2012 CUAD Official Notes and Schedule. All games are on radio somewhere, without the best PBP guy Dan Scott, and nearly every game will be on TigerCast this season. Multiple others will be on ESPN3 and TV. The 2012 schedule features 35 home games, 27 games against 2011 NCAA Tournament teams, and two games at Fluor Field in Greenville, SC. Beginning with Maine, a 10 game stretch will begin with 9 squads that played in the NCAAs.

2012 Outlook

Its going to be a very different team. We're going to end up with a few newcomers playing as regular positions and we're going to play even more small-ball. The Tigers ranked sixth in the nation in both batting (.318) and walks (304) a year ago, but we have to replace most of that this season. We succeeded last year midway-forward due in part to a new BBCOR bat design, and again the team is using a new bat in 2012. So far, I've heard only good things about the new bat.

"In order for us to score some runs, we're going to have to be very good at execution," Leggett said. "We're going to have to be able to move runners around, get our bunts down, hit behind runners when we can, and everyone is going to have to be very unselfish. We have a few guys who have some power, but at the same time, we don't want to build our game totally around that. If you're sitting around waiting for that to happen with these bats, it's not going to happen."

We have a few guys who are going to take care of some home runs for us, but it's important for us to stick to our game this year," Leggett said. "We're going to have to do what we've been working on in the batting cages and take our fundamentals out to the baseball field. If we do that, we'll have a chance to be a very good offensive team."

Spencer Kieboom (.282, 10 doubles, 31 RBIs) will return as the Catcher and it will likely be his last year as a Tiger. He's great on defense, calls a good game, and swings the bat well. He took off last year and struggled a bit in the 2nd half. We'll take on his brother as a signee and they'll get a shot to play at least one year together, perhaps with Trevor Kieboom on the mound. Pohl will be the 2nd catcher in a pinch, until Garrett Boulware is ready.

2nd team All-ACC DH Phil Pohl (.333, 22 doubles, 4 homers, 33 RBIs) will hopefully be an everyday player, but to be drafted he needs to find a field position. He won't start at Catcher with Kieboom healthy more than once a weekend. He'll start as the DH, but really must move. Seems to me that it'll have to be 1B/LF for Pohl to get himself drafted.

Preseason All-American and Cape Cod HR Derby winner Richie Shaffer (.315-15-55) has been a 1B for us the last two years but was a 3B in HS, and will be again. His move to 3rd has been expected for some time now, and with freshman 1B Jon McGibbon (.339, 4 doubles, 1 homer, 14 RBIs, 14 walks in 81 plate appearances) stepping up later last year and Hinson leaving, the door is open to make the switch.

The other infield spots are the cause for my worry. Jason Stolz (.285, 10 doubles, 27 RBIs) isn't exactly a defensive superstar, and is never 100% healthy, but will be asked to switch back to SS with error-machine Brad Miller gone. He did get much better on defense last year when we got hot. At 2nd, I think we'll see switch-hitter Steve Wilkerson take over, but Wilkerson is out for this weekend. Wilkerson was clearly not ready at the plate last year. Baum and Dunster are two other young guys who will challenge him for PT over the year. Right now though I'd say we're thin up the middle on defense.

The OF spots are all up in the air with the loss of Epps, Schaus and Will Lamb. The door is open for Dominic Attanasio (.367 in 60 at-bats) to take one spot, along with possibly Pohl in LF and Joe Costigan and Boulware or freshman Tyler Slaton getting some extra PT in Right. Thomas Brittle is a CofC transfer (.265 with 16SB in 2010)who will start in CF, and Citadel transfer Brad Felder will get some PT as well. Felder and Brittle are pretty quick and you know how much Jack likes to steal bases. Felder has performed well in offseason work so far, but is also a senior. Given the need to develop youth, he'll need to come out blazing or play really good defense to keep playing.

Theres youth everywhere here, so if this team is going to make the Regionals, it'll be on pitching and small ball execution.

Pitching

Leggett often found himself in a need of another Lefty out of the pen last year, and having to use Joseph Moorefield really bit us. Unfortunately with Norris signing his MLB deal, we don't have but one extra LHP on the roster, Kyle Bailey. Still, Clemson's primary strength in 2012 should be on the mound. A staff that put up a 3.32 ERA in 2011 mostly returns.

"I like our pitching," Leggett said. "I think our pitching is going to be one of our strong points. Kevin Brady is back, which is a huge plus. We also have some experience with Dominic Leone, Scott Firth, David Haselden, and Joseph Moorefield. We have some young guys coming in that are going to help us out. I'm excited about what we have a chance to do on the mound."

Our first 4 may be this group:

Throws Player Rec ERA IP H R ER BB Ks
RHP Kevin Brady 2-0 3.86 23.1 19 10 10 1 33
RHP Dominic Leone 6-2 3.70 65.2 53 26 25 30 72
RHP David Haselden 6-1 2.23 76.2 65 30 19 14 49
RHP Scott Firth 5-1 3.06 50.0 42 24 17 27 38

Weismann and Frederick are gone, so the closer spot is up for grabs. Right now it could go to any number of guys in the pen. Gossett will probably get a shot, as could Campbell, but its probably going to belong to Jonathan Meyer at the moment.

Brady carved up his opponents last year as our hottest starter, but an arm/elbow injury basically cost him the season. He has the best combo of stuff on the staff: a lights-out fastball with a good change and biting curve. If he has a solid season he's a high draft pick. Leone can be either lights out or horrid, and i'm hoping his command of his pitches has improved. When his 90ish fastball and curve are working, he's tough. Firth had a very strong summer in the Cape Cod league and Haselden has probably been the most consistent of the bunch but doesnt have the greatest stuff. In the last two years he's bounced from midweek starter to long relief, and I think he'll get the Sunday spot initially.

I'm still as high as ever on Kevin Pohle (5-2, 1.93), so look for him to break in midweek or get a shot at closer.

Outlook:

I don't know that we have the experience in the middle infield and all 3 OF spots to say we're CWS or even Super Regional caliber. The home schedule is favorable with NC, Miami, and FSU all coming to Tiger Field so if we win a couple of those series we're right back in the Regionals again without a problem. I think we'll get to the Regionals at least, but going further is not something I'd project this year.

As an aside, we're also looking for baseball writers to help out this year and give a different perspective, especially if you can make it to many games in person. If you would like to write or help out with baseball contact us.

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