Editor’s Note: This was written by a new member of the STS baseball staff.
Heading into Monte Lee’s 3rd season, one of the biggest question marks is the Tigers pitching, not so much from a talent standpoint but from a roles standpoint. One of those roles is the bullpen. Like any level of baseball, Major League to little leagues, the bullpen is an ever-changing equation. Some years you can have the best in the game, and the next year be one of the worst. Bullpens are like kickers in football, usually forgotten, but highly important. Today we will highlight some of the major players who will contribute to the Tigers bullpen in 2018, and hopefully gain some insight as the Tigers prepare to make a run at another NCAA appearance, and hopefully a long-awaited return to Peyton Manning’s favorite audible “Omaha”.
I wont include Jake Higginbotham or Brooks Crawford because if healthy, and that’s a BIG if, they should make up 2 of the 3 three weekend starters, so that leads me to guys like…
Owen Griffith RHP (So.) Griffith was the best pitcher in SC by perfect game coming out of high school. He saw limited playing time until the second half of the 2017 season, and came up clutch for Tigers down the stretch,including throwing 4 1/3 shutout innings in Clemson’s regional. Expect Griffith to compete for a starting weekend/weekday starter role, or end up the Tigers closer if Ryley Gilliam moves to a starting role.
Ryley Gilliam RHP(Jr.) Gilliam was one of the Tigers’ 2016 midweek starters, but may have found his niche as the Tigers closer in 2017. Gilliam pitched to a 2.57 ERA, and lead the team in appearances, games finished, and saves. Once again because the Tigers loss of their whole starting pitching staff from last season, expect Ryley to compete for a starter’s role, but very well could end up as the Tigers closer in 2018.
Jacob Hennessy LHP(So.) Hennessy, a local lefty from Moore S.C., came out of the gate on fire for the Tigers in 2017, but like most freshmen, fatigue set in as the season wore on. Hennessy will probably compete for the weekday starter’s role, but may end up as a long reliever/setup man this season.
Ryan Miller RHP(Sr.) Miller, a junior college transfer from State College in Florida, was like many others on this list who suffered injuries and was limited in 2017. Miller has a lively fastball with plenty of experience, and will compete for one of the starter’s roles. Much like Hennessy though, he will probably serve as a swingman in the Tiger bullpen.
Alex Schnell LHP(Sr.)Schnell, a veteran lefty for the Clemson bullpen, has improved each season while at Clemson bringing his ERA down from 8.11, 6.11, to 2.51 in 2017. He only pitched 14 1/3 innings in 2017, but came through big many times for Clemson, including pitching 1 2/3 perfect innings to pick up the win against South Carolina in early March. Expect Schnell to be one of the setup men for whomever closes in 2018.
Sam Weatherly 1B/OF/LHP(Fr.) Mr. Weatherly was Michigan’s 2017 Mr. Baseball, and has a great chance to be an immediate impact for Clemson as a two-way player in 2018. When Sam isn’t backing up Seth Beer at first base, or playing in the outfield, expect to see the lefty coming out of the bullpen, or possibly start if injuries or results move him up. Sam dosen’t have the lively fastball yet, topping at 90mph, and is still working on pitching mechanics, but by the time he’s done at Clemson, he’ll be a good one.
Spencer Strider RHP(Fr.) After Sam Keating signed with the Padres in June, Strider become the Tigers top pitching commit in the 2017 class. Spencer was a first team All-American, Tennessee’s Gatorade POY, and Mr. Baseball. Sitting with a fastball already at 96-97mph, it’s hard not to get excited. It will be interesting to see if Spencer can break into the starting rotation his freshman season. Expect him to get some spot starts here or there, and if anything he can be a nice flamethrower from the bullpen.
Others To Watch
Matt Clark LHP (RS Fr.)Top 500 recruit according to perfect game, redshirted in 2017. Reportedly had a good fall camp. Has a four pitch arsenal with a fastball, cutter, curveball, and a changeup.
Mitchell Miller LHP(So.) Top 300 prospect according to Perfect Game, didn’t fare well in limited action in 2017. He played in the Cape Cod league over the summer, and made their All-Star team. He will also compete for a starter’s role, and very well may end up the weekday starter, or a long reliever.
Ryne Huggins LHP(Rs Fr.) #1 lefthander by Diamond Prospects in 2016, he is a 6’4 finesse ground ball pitcher. He throws in the 80’s with a changeup and a breaking ball, and could end up being a nice lefty out of the pen.
Bo Gobin RHP(RS Fr.)S.C. AAAA POY in 2016. He redshirted for the Tigers in 2017. He has a finesse submarine arm, and pitches in the 80’s with a sinking fastball and slider. He is expected to log innings from the bullpen, and could be a starter in the future.
Andrew Coker RHP(RS Fr.)He was the MVP of the 2015 Palmetto Games and redshirted in 2017. He will provide depth in the bullpen, and is an under the radar guy. There are a couple of other guys like this, including incoming 6’8 freshman Holt Jones, Conner O’Rear, and two-way player Bryce Bowen, but all will most likely redshirt.
Expect the Tiger bullpen to have mixed results in 2018. Some guys will step up and exceed exceptions, while others will still need to time to develop.The biggest question for the Tigers bullpen doesn’t come from the bullpen itself, but from the starting pitching, with roles not being set, and relying on Higginbothem and Crawford to stay healthy throughout. The failure of the starting staff could be the undoing of the bullpen, forcing guys from the pen to step up in roles that they may not be ready for.
The good news is the first month’s schedule is far from daunting, and will give Lee and See 3-4 weeks to put the pieces together and determine roles. The staff as a whole, is more deep and talented than years past.The Tigers should expect to make another NCAA appearance this season.