Coach Jack Leggett and staff have had their hands full this offseason in trying to set the infield lineup for a group that was relatively unstable last year compared to other positions on the diamond for the Tigers. The starting infield for the first half of the year consisted of Weston Wilson at third base, Tyler Krieger at shortstop, Steve Wilkerson at second base, and a platoon of Jon McGibbon/Shane Kennedy at first base.
During the second half of the year, Tyler Krieger was relegated to designated hitter duties after struggling in the field with a shoulder injury. Krieger's injury prompted the coaching staff to move Jay Baum from left field to shortstop. While the infield defense improved with Baum at shortstop, the overall infield defense for the Tigers was spotty last year. With the graduation of seniors Jon McGibbon, Shane Kennedy, and Steve Wilkerson and the early departure of Jay Baum after getting picked by the Seattle Mariners in the 21st round of the draft, Coach Leggett is also tasked with replacing four starters from last year's infield.
Here is a look at the returning players as well as the newcomers for this year's infield as well as the expected starters/contributors.
Andrew Cox (Redshirt Sophomore) - First Baseman out of Belton, South Carolina
Cox has been lauded for his energy and enthusiasm on the field by the coaching staff. That is a major reason why he is listed as a Co-Captain for the 2015 squad. He played a little bit out of left field and first base last year. This year he will be moving to first base full time and is expected to be the opening day starter at first base.
Eli White (Sophomore) - Second Baseman/Shortstop out of Easley, South Carolina
Known for his defensive abilities, Eli White is expected to be the starter at shortstop for the Tigers on Opening Day. White is expected to be primary shortstop for the Tigers until Tyler Krieger's shoulder is fully recovered from offseason surgery for a torn labrum. Whenever Krieger is ready to go, White is expected to be the primary second baseman for the Tigers. Last year was a disappointing freshman year for Eli White after he was drafted in the 26th round by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2013 MLB Draft as he only made eight starts and hit only .143. I've heard Eli White's confidence has grown this offseason and his hitting has come a long way. If he can be consistent with the bat, look for Eli White to be a key player for Jack Leggett and Co. this year.
Weston Wilson (Sophomore) - Third Baseman out of High Point, North Carolina
Weston Wilson emerged as the Tigers' full time third baseman as a freshman last year. Wilson played some solid third base during his freshman season and was hitting well early on before hitting the freshman wall. Last year, Wilson hit for a .240 batting average with 18 runs, five doubles, two homers, 23 RBI's, and a .316 OBP while hitting close to the bottom of Jack Leggett's lineup. He will again be the primary third baseman for Jack Leggett and Co. Wilson was out this fall with a toe injury but expect him to be a key contributor for the Tigers if he can improve on his hitting from last year and be consistent with it for the whole season. Wilson offers a lot of potential with his power.
Tyler Krieger (Junior) - Shortstop/Second Baseman out of Johns Creek, Georgia
Last year's leading hitter for the Tigers, Krieger returns to help anchor the top of Jack Leggett's lineup with Tyler Slaton and Steven Duggar. Last year, Krieger hit for .338 batting average with 49 runs, eighteen doubles, two homers, 32 RBI's, and a .410 OBP. Krieger is a switch hitter who can also steal bases so he is probably the Tigers' 2nd most lethal offensive weapon in the lineup behind Steven Duggar. Krieger was relegated to DH duties during the second half of last season after suffering a shoulder injury. Krieger's shoulder is not quite ready yet to play shortstop so he will likely be relegated to second base or designated hitter duties this weekend.
Glenn Batson (Redshirt Freshman) - Third Baseman/First Baseman out of Greenville, South Carolina
After redshirting last year, Glenn Batson is expected to be the primary backup at third and first base. Could also possibly get at-bats against left-handed pitchers. Has a lot of power in his bat so he could be a solid pinch-hitting option late in games.
Chase Pinder (Freshman) - Second Baseman/Outfielder out of Poquoson, Virginia
After being an under the radar commit for the Tigers, Chase Pinder has caught the eye of the coaching staff this offseason with how well he has swung the bat. Also caught the attention of PerfectGame, the only viable recruiting service for baseball prospects, as he was ranked as the No. 88 overall freshman in the nation in their preseason rankings. Coach Leggett and Coach LeCroy are very excited about Pinder's potential. I expect Pinder to get a lot of playing time early and be a regular in the lineup. He has the ability to play left field as well as second base if Tyler Krieger is DHing while his shoulder is recovering until the point he can play shortstop again. While he likely won't get much playing time at third base, Pinder has the ability to also backup Weston Wilson at third base along with Glenn Batson. Coach Bradley LeCroy has brought in another solid recruiting class and Chase Pinder looks to be the most likely one from this past recruiting to make the biggest impact early on.
Adam Renwick (Freshman) - Infielder out of Spartanburg, South Carolina
Another local product recruited by Bradley LeCroy. With the starting infield pretty much figured out, I expect Adam Renwick to provide depth across the infield. I don't expect to see him in the lineup and he might benefit from redshirting.
Jack Huggins (Freshman) - Infielder out of Newberry, South Carolina
Like Renwick, I only expect Huggins to provide depth to the Tigers' infield
Outlook: Aside from the fluid situation with Tyler Krieger and his shoulder, the starting infield is pretty much set for Jack Leggett and Co. If the Tigers expect to improve from last year and win more games, the infield defense will have to be way better than it was last year. The addition of former Tiger shortstop Taylor Harbin to the coaching staff hopefully can do at least a little bit of wonders to the Tiger infield and take pressure off of Jack Leggett coaching up the team's infielders. Harbin was a standout infielder during his time in Tigertown and hopefully the team's infielder, especially the middle infielders, can learn a lot from Coach Harbin
Catchers: Since there are only two catchers on the roster for this season, this will be very brief. After splitting time with Garrett Boulware at catcher during the first half of the season before becoming the full time catcher during the second half when Boulware was moved to left field in wake of Tyler Krieger's injury, Chris Okey will be the full time catcher for the Tigers this season. Okey has emerged as one of the leaders of this team and is possibly the best catcher in the ACC. He might be the most important player on this team with his catching abilities, hitting abilities, and ability to handle a pitching staff. I expect Okey to have a big year this year after showing his potential last year and I think he will also be key to the success of the pitching staff. The only other catcher on the roster is Robert Jolly, a left-handed hitting freshman out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Jolly will help fill the void left by Garrett Boulware and be Okey's backup at catcher. Robert Jolly hit very well this past Fall and could give Okey breathers at catcher against right handers as well as getting at-bats out of the DH spot against righties. Chris Okey is the unquestioned catcher as well as one of the main leaders of this team but Robert Jolly looks to be a capable backup to Okey as a freshman.