Since the end of a disappointing baseball season for the Tigers, not much has been discussed about the outlook for the 2015 season that is still over six months away. To the chagrin and surprise of many, Clemson Athletic Director Dan Radakovich announced that longtime head baseball coach Jack Leggett would return for a 22nd season in Tigertown. Many believe that Leggett should’ve been let go after a disappointing 36-25 season that ended with a disastrous performance in the Nashville Regional of the NCAA Baseball tournament. The result continued a downward trend for the Tigers since appearing in the College World Series in 2010. Coach Leggett is tasked with turning around a team coming off a disappointing year that also lost key players Daniel Gossett, Jay Baum, Garrett Boulware, Matt Campbell, Steve Wilkerson, Jon McGibbon, and Shane Kennedy.
The Tigers return two starting outfielders, center fielder Tyler Slaton and right fielder Steven Duggar, arguably the best returning hitter on the team. Highly touted recruit K.J. Bryant is expected to start alongside Slaton and Duggar in left field. Bryant was regarded as the top outfield prospect in South Carolina and is known for his great speed which should be a huge asset for him in his attempt to earn the starting job. Assistant Head Coach Bradley LeCroy describes K.J. Bryant as being a, "tremendous athlete with unbelievable physical tools," and if he can put everything together he can be a very special player.
Also look out for Drew Wharton who was considered a top half draft pick by some MLB teams before deciding to attend college. Wharton has a powerful bat and is K.J. Bryant's biggest competition for a starting spot in the outfield. He is likely to see some time at DH as well. Reed Rohlman is another wild card in the battle for the starting job in left field, but it is possible he will instead debut at first base for Clemson.
The starting infield is a little more unsettled for the 2015 Tigers. Returning from the 2014 infield is Weston Wilson, who was the primary third baseman last season but also has the versatility to play shortstop and second base. Wilson is expected to remain the starting third baseman for the Tigers next year. Also returning is Tyler Krieger, the primary shortstop for the first half of the season before being relegated to designated hitter duties during the second half of the season due to a shoulder injury. The coaching staff would like Tyler Krieger to regain the starting shortstop position if his shoulder heals properly and in time for the season (all indications are that he will be ready). If Krieger isn't ready, look for him to make a position change to second base.
Players expected to compete for the starting second base job include incoming recruits Chase Pinder and Adam Renwick along with rising sophomore Eli White. Eli White, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 26th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, is considered the front runner in this position battle and he offers a lot of upside. Gaining confidence and working on hitting are key for White if he expects to earn the starting job.
Andrew Cox, Glenn Batson, and Reed Rohlman are expected to compete for the starting first base job. Cox is considered the front runner at this position due to his experience as a redshirt freshman and how well he is hitting in the Summer Leagues. Batson and Rohlman will be redshirt freshmen for the 2015 season and both are also competing for designated hitter at-bats. The coaching staff is very high on both of these players, especially Rohlman.
The Clemson coaches also have a lot to think about for next season's pitching staff. Ace Daniel Gossett was drafted in the 2nd round by the Oakland A's and decided to leave school early to sign with them. Closer Matt Campbell was drafted in the 9th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers and chose to depart as well. Starting pitchers returning from last season include Matthew Crownover, Jake Long, Zack Erwin, and Clate Schmidt. Crownover is likely to be the Friday starter next season but the other two weekend slots are still up in the air. I expect either Erwin or Schmidt to take one of the weekend slots. Right now I would give the nod to Schmidt so Erwin can pitch out of the bullpen when needed since he has proven to be a more than capable reliever. If this scenario happens, then Erwin can pitch for the Tigers during the week against lesser competition and pitch out of the bullpen against strong competition on the weekends. Schmidt had a strong finish to last season, which also works in his favor. I wouldn't rule out both starting on the weekends but I feel that the coaching staff wants one of the incoming freshmen to pitch on the weekends if possible.
Incoming recruit Charlie Barnes, who is considered the top prep left-hander in South Carolina, is likely to get an opportunity to start next season. Incoming recruits Hunter Van Horn, Coan McAlpine, and Paul Campbell are also in consideration for mid-week starts but all three can be power arms coming out of the bullpen. Jake Long, who was last year's Sunday starter, has a long way to go if he wants the coaching staff to trust him again as a starter after his disastrous season. If he shows improvement in Fall camp, then the coaching staff should consider giving him another chance to prove himself as a starter. If not, then hopefully the coaching staff can find a role for him in the bullpen. As for the who will replace Matt Campbell as the new closer, Patrick Andrews is expected to take over that role.
With quite a bit of roster turnover for the CU Baseball team, Jack Leggett will have his hands full in trying to improve a team that vastly underperformed during the 2014 season. And this team will have to improve if Coach Leggett wants to keep his job after next year. Coach Leggett has two years left on his contract and I doubt DRad would be interested in having a lame duck coach leading the team after next season. If the team improves to the point where we either host a regional (at the very least) or make it to the College World Series, look for Coach Leggett to get an extension. If this team doesn't show enough improvement, then DRad should consider moving on from Leggett and making him the Head Coach Emeritus.
Look for more updates closer to the beginning of the season.