2013 Final Record: 40-22, 3rd in ACC Atlantic division. Ranked 25th by USA Today.
Major Losses: Very little in terms of quality players really, other than CF Tom Brittle and RP Scott Firth. Jonathan Meyer and JoMo are gone to graduation (Hallelujah!). An examination of the 2014 Roster shows RP/Midweek guy Mike Kent is gone, and C/INF Kevin Bradley transferred to State College of Florida. D.J. Reader is off the roster, apparently to focus on the NFL future he has.
Unfortunately Shane Kennedy (.315 with 5 HRs and 35 RBI in '13) is out until at least the first of April due to a torn ACL back in the fall. His loss for February and March is critical and probably contributes to the slightly lower ranking.
Incoming Recruits: Bradley LeCroy signed another good class, and with 3 good ones under his belt I think we're going to start seeing a real payoff. Baseball America ranked it #16 nationally. The headliner is Catcher Chris Okey, who was expected to go very high in the MLB Draft, but turned down offers and slid much later. I expect to see him playing quite a bit in 2014, and it will push Garrett Boulware to either LF or DH. SS Eli White was also drafted late and decided to enroll at Clemson, and will push for playing time. If Glenn Batson can transfer his power numbers from HS to college, I hope he ends seriously pushing Jon McGibbon.
Preseason Polls: #13 Baseball America, #14 by PerfectGame, #16 by USA Today/Coaches, #20 by Collegiate Baseball. Clemson has been picked to finish 3rd in the ACC Atlantic.
Clemson announced that 10 regular-season baseball games will be televised and 28 more will be available exclusively via live online video on TigerCast or ESPN3 in 2014. I was hoping for more regularly televised games in ACC play, at least on CSS, and the total number is actually 7 less than what was announced for 2013 in the preseason.
This year's team should be quite good. We know what we have coming back on the mound and that should carry the team this year, but we're hoping for much more offense. We have plenty of hitters who are good contact and slap guys, but the plate discipline needed to improve and we needed some power numbers to come up last year. I don't believe we're going to see a big jump this year in anything except Home Runs, and that mostly due to the movement of home plate.
|CF||Maleeke Gibson||.227||20||25||3||0||16||Really must raise his OBP, or he'll hit 9th|
|2B||Steve Wilkerson||.291||36||66||16||4||37||10 SBs|
|RF||Steven Duggar||.300||39||75||10||2||30||15 SBs, once he works BBs, watch out|
|DH||Garrett Boulware||.308||39||75||12||8||45||Poor defense may force a DH move, or 1B|
|3B/LF||Shane Kennedy||.317||47||69||5||5||35||22 SBs, 37 walks|
|1B||Jon McGibbon||.285||33||59||5||0||37||Time to produce, or he'll lose this spot. Zero HRs from a 1B with his size just doesn't cut it with a low BA.|
|LF||Tyler Slaton||.263||18||42||4||0||13||Must produce full-time now, or he'll lose it|
|C||Chris Okey||-||Projected starter by midseason|
|SS||Tyler Krieger||.257||28||56||10||0||27||BA went up a good bit after a slow start|
|-3B||Jay Baum||.228||16||31||4||0||8||Up/down year as platoon starter, will likely start out at 3B this year since Kennedy is out.|
|-DH/LF||Joe Costigan||.333||5||12||5||0||6||Still trying to figure out why only 49 ABs|
With Kennedy out, you see the problem we have with a complete lack of pop from 4th on down, so I wouldn't be surprised if Okey gets moved up sooner rather than later. McGibbon's slugging numbers really have to come up at the power position of 1B. He's had 5 HRs in two seasons, with a BA of .233 and .285 in each. If they don't come up quickly, we have some hope that a freshman or Jackson Campana will push him for serious PT.
RF Steven Duggar is going to seriously benefit from the shorter fences, and I believe he's Clemson's next high draft pick hitter. He's not quite as refined at the plate as Shaffer was, but he's solid. If he does become more selective, he's going to take off.
The competition in the OF spots of Left and Center should be pretty serious right now in preseason practice. None of these guys has really separated himself at the plate in their time here. We really have to get some production from one of those two spots. I see it as mix & match until someone really separates himself between the group of Slaton, Gibson, Andrew Cox, Baum (who will play 3rd til Kennedy is back), Reed Rohlman, and Mike Triller. I've heard that Cox has really pushed for PT in CF.
I'm interested to see how the SS position shakes out. Eli White was highly thought of coming out of HS, and was a candidate for a high pick in the draft. I think Tyler Krieger is good defensively -- certainly way better than Brad Miller -- but if White can do the job and hit better, then he could take it away.
Overall as a group, I'm hoping for more plate discipline, better fundamentals, and at least a little bit better power throughout the lineup. Defensively we were fine; Steve Wilkerson can do better than 14 errors at 2nd though.
I think this is the most talented group we've had since the mid 90s. Some of Kevin O's teams had great pitching for college ball, but I look at this staff and I see at least 4-5 guys that I think will go within the first 10 rounds of the draft.
If we can adapt to the change of the fences, I see no reason not to think our starters should shut people down this year. Goose (10-4, 2.56) will make knees buckle all season with that curve. He made 3rd team preseason All-America and I bet he beats that. Matthew Crownover went 7-3 with a 2.19 under a strict pitch limit in 2013 following a Tommy John surgery the year before. If he's able to go more than 6, I really like our chances. Kevin Pohle was one of our best starters in 2012, and took a medical RS in 2013. If his arm is 100% thats 3 great starters that I'd put against anyone in the ACC.
Along with those main 3, we bring back Clate Schmidt, Brody Koerner and Zack Erwin, and I don't think anyone will have that ability in midweek games. Schmidt faltered last year when he lost his confidence, but he was really tough to start the season. As he fell back, Erwin picked up the slack and was impressive as the year went on.
These guys need to work on their 2nd/3rd pitches but this depth can carry us far in the postseason.
The question is who will take the middle relief spots and the setup/closer positions. Is Patrick Andrews ready? I'm fine with his #1 pitch, but does he have a #2? Campbell was the favorite last year and stunk it up as the year went on, but a successful summer followed (1.20 ERA in 15IP). Bates and Schnell seem to be destined to be situational or middle guys, but I could see Campana getting plenty of mop-up duty in middle relief along with whomever does not win the midweek starting jobs. Jake Long is another contender after a successful summer league performance (2.02 ERA in 35IP), and Wales Toney could push for PT after a good summer season as well.
Thoughts on the season to come:
Our pitching should put Clemson in the 45-50 W range, and we should make the Super Regional round at a minimum. I do believe we'll host a Regional, but Super's involve a bit of luck to host. If we're in contention to host one I think we'll get it. Honestly, I like the talent so much on this squad that I believe we can get to Omaha again. The pitching depth is there, if they pan out. It may not be this deep again in 2015. I may not like Pepicelli's coaching but with this stable of arms it should be hard not to have a top ERA nationally. What we need to have emerge is a couple of solid go-to arms in the pen, and a closer who will shut teams down. I thought it would be Campbell, but that didn't work out. Some think it will be Patrick Andrews, but I'm not sure he has the stuff. We certainly will have a wealth of arms to try in the closer spot this year.
The worry is whether we can outhit people, and the overall hitting instruction. We haven't worked walks nearly as well as we did under Riginos. We seemingly never get the bunt down properly. We love to look at strike 3 with RISP. We don't have established power hitters on this team this year just as we didn't last year. Some of these guys can fix it - Batson, Okey - but they are still freshmen.
Clemson moved home plate out by 8 feet this past summer to help alleviate the lack of scoring, but I'm more worried about it biting our pitchers than how it'll help the hitting. Pitching is our strength this year, and they'll be the ones to carry us to Omaha. The measurements are as follows 310 LL, 360 Left-Center, 390 straight Center, 365 RC and 320 to the Bus in RF.
But in the end its going to come down to how tight they play for the tightest-wound Manager in college baseball.
STS is looking for baseball enthusiasts to write about this season, as my time has become more and more limited to the point that baseball coverage will likely drop off this year. If you would be interested in joining up for baseball coverage, shoot me an email (ShakintheSouthland@gmail.com).