With the Tigers sitting only a few games above .500 prior to playing either Louisville or Florida State (and avoiding Miami all together), they're not one of the four South Carolina schools projected into the NCAA tournament (4/20/2015). So why pay attention? At least on Fridays, the answer is Matthew Crownover.
Crownover is a junior lefthander who played his high school ball in Ringgold, GA and also participated in the the ultra prestigious East Cobb Baseball league in the Atlanta suburbs. Despite having Tommy John surgery in 2012, Clemson wisely recruited him and it wasn't long before he made the weekend rotation as a freshman. He'd finish that first season after TJ surgery with a tidy 2.19 ERA across 70 innings.
His innings jumped to 99.1 in his sophomore campaign while his ERA remained below 3.00 (2.90). His strikeout rate improved from 5.79 K/9 to 8.15, showing that despite being the Saturday night starter behind Daniel Gossett, he was ready to be the staff ace. Just as was the case in his freshman season, Crownover was named to the ACC All-Academic team and was a ACC Academic Honor Roll member.
After that campaign, he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 21st round. Of course, he did not sign and has thrown 74.0 innings so far this season. Although aided by avoiding the three best teams in the ACC thus far, his numbers remain extremely impressive. His ERA is down to 1.22 and his strikeout rate is up to an even 9K/9IP. With a WHIP of 1.00, he has as many strikeouts (74) as walks and hits allowed combined!
With little else to prove at the college level, we took a look at his repertoire and what he could offer at the next level, and where is a better place to start than with the man himself.
@ryan_kantor well I've always been a fastball heavy guy but my change up is best off speed. My curve has gotten better this ur though
— Matthew Crownover (@44crown) April 25, 2015
We also reached out to Rob Ozga, who scouts college players and mocks the First-Year Player Draft. Here's an excerpt of what he had to say.
"JR LHP Matthew Crownover: 87-91 FB, 93-94 peak; above-average 79-83 CU, flashes plus; 71-76 CB with upside (74-76 in 2015); TJ survivor; 6-0, 200 pounds
I recently got an Adam Morgan comp on Crownover, which I think is pretty fair. You have to account for different breaking balls (Morgan leaned on his slider), but otherwise I like it. Crownover kept runs off the board better than Morgan, but the two had very similar peripherals (7.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9 for Crownover and 7.06 K/9 and 2.85 BB/9 for Morgan). That kind of success pitching in the ACC with average or better stuff across the board is an easy top ten round pick for me with the obvious chance to go higher (top five rounds). To beat the comparison into the ground even more, Morgan went at the end of the third round (120th overall), so I don't think it would be a shock to see a team value Crownover in a similar fashion this year. I'd probably guess a couple rounds lower, but somewhere between round four and eight feels right to me."
Crownover's decision to return for his junior season will look awfully smart if Ozga is right. The recommended slot value for the bonus 10th round picks receive is round around $150,000. If he goes between the 4th and 8th rounds as Ozga suggests, the slot value should be somewhere between $165,000 and $500,000.
Crownover is easy to cheer for - a lefty who loves Glavine and Pettitte, what's not to like?
So while there are few redeemable qualities about this Clemson baseball season, and rooting for the squad to sneak into the tournament and save Coach Leggett's job just seems pitiful there is one bright spot and one reason to watch, well, at least on Fridays.