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Former Clemson Tigers Begin Baseball Season

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With Major League Baseball season just begun and the spring game finished we at STS have taken the liberty to look into how these former Clemson baseball players are doing. To date three former Tigers have played in 2016, with 7 players having gotten onto the field in 2015. Of the four players who played in 2015 but not in 2016 two have been cut while two have been demoted to AAA. At 34 years old and out of work since July we can likely declare Jeff Baker's career dead. Baker bounced around quite a bit over an 11 year career as a role player on the Rockies, Cubs, Tigers, Braves and Dolphins. Meanwhile, 2010 first round (#26) pick Kyle Parker, a former football and baseball player, was unceremoniously dropped by the Rockies. After hitting just .182/.217/.295 over 132 MLB at bats he will have a long road back to the majors, if his career will continue at all. That leaves 5 Clemson players with major league experience since 2015 left in the league, with two serving in AAA. In addition to those 5, 2011 draft pick Will Lamb is pitching for the Rangers AAA affiliate. Past that there are a few players in AA with plenty of recent draft picks scattered across the various A and rookie leagues. This year is unlikely to see many Clemson players breaking into the big leagues.

After staring at Clemson, Brad Miller played mostly SS for the Mariners from 2013 (a mere two years after being drafter) through 2015 before being traded to the Rays. As a super utility player he started 46 games in the outfield and second base in addition to 89 games at shortstop over the 2015 season. While Miller is not a great hitter, averaging slightly under .250 with a .700 OPS, he is young, cheap, and versatile. Despite offensive limitations Miller has been good for around 1-2 WAR the last three years as a major league player. He's not a star, but he will be able to find a home on most major league rosters with that type of production.

28 year old Rockies first baseman/left fielder Ben Paulsen became a starter in 2015 after breaking into the majors in 2014. Despite starting 115 games in 2015, Paulsen opened the 2015 season in AAA. As you may expect with a 28 year old in his second year as a full time starter few expect much from Paulsen. He projects as a barely average starter, capable with the bat but giving back about as much every time he is asked to field.

Left handed pitcher Tony Sipp is the third and last ex-Tiger to appear in the majors so far. He's pitched 40-65 innings every year since 2009 out of the bullpen, closing out a game here or there. In 2015 he had a sub 2.00 ERA, though advanced stats (and his career 3.50 baseline) would suggest that was an aberration. At 32 years old and signed through 2018 Sipp is likely on his last major contract. I'm sure the eighteen million dollars he is scheduled to make will help soften the blow.

Dominic Leone had a disappointing 2015 to say the least. After debuting with an 8-2 record and 2.17 ERA in 2014 (his FIP, or fielding independent pitching, was around 3.00 but that is still quality for a rookie). 2015 was not nearly as kind, with Leone struggling with command issues and only getting 11 innings before being traded to the Diamondbacks. His luck did not turn around in Arizona, and he ended the season with an 0-5 record and 8.40 ERA. Leone is opening the season in AAA, hoping to regain his command with the Reno Aces. At just 24 Leone has time to make it back to the professional level as a reliever if he can regain the form he flashed in 2014.

24 year old Rays first baseman/designated hitter Richie Shaffer reached the majors in 2015, appearing in 31 games over the course of August and September. Shaffer struggled in his admittedly short (and thus small sample sized) professional debut, coming in with a horrific slash line of .189/.307/.392. Those aren't acceptable numbers from a defensively excellent catcher, much less an average 1B/DH. Shaffer did show some versatility by moonlighting at third base (his listed position on the AAA roster, but locked down by Evan Longoria in the majors), but it was not enough to keep him from starting the 2016 season in Durham. Shaffer remains a highly touted prospect, and his raw power is major league quality today. The question is if he can reduce his whiff rates from horrific to just unseemly after blowing through the minor leagues in 2015.

Will Lamb is the Clemson player most likely, in my eyes, to make a professional debut in 2016.  The twenty five year old southpaw begins the season in Charlotte, pitching for the White Sox AAA affiliate after spending the last two years working his way through AA/AAA as a pure reliever. He's not a particularly great player by AAA standards yet, averaging a 5.45 era in AAA play over two seasons, but he flashed potential in AA by posting a sub 2.0 ERA. His position as the strongest candidate to debut in 2016 shows both the weakness of the White Sox vs lefties (a 4.54 ERA in 2015) and the dearth of alternate candidates. No other Clemson player I could find was on a contract with AAA experience who had yet to appear in the majors. I could find no standout candidates in AA, and players almost never jump from any level of A ball to the majors in one season. Clemson baseball may not be a professional factory, but we should enjoy the handful of decent starters and elite prospects we've put into the majors or AAA so far.