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Tigers in the Majors: A Spring Update on Clemson Alumni in MLB

MLB: Spring Training-Miami Marlins at St. Louis Cardinals Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

MLB’s opening day is March 29th, and with Clemson’s basketball season complete I’ve turned my attention to baseball.

Surprisingly, Clemson only has a couple of Major League players. It’s vexing, given the success the program has experienced, winning 40+ games six times in the last 10 years.

The most notable players Clemson has put in the big leagues in the last two decades have been SP Kris Benson and SS Khalil Greene. Benson had two very nice seasons in his nine year career. In his age 25 season (2000) with the Pirates, he pitched 217.2 innings with a 3.85 ERA, 10 wins, and 184 strikeouts. In 2004 between the Pirates and the Mets, he won 12 games pitching 200.1 innings with a 4.31 ERA and 134 strikeouts. Khalil Greene only played five full seasons in the majors and was always a low average low OBP player, but he had one special year. In his age 27 season he blasted 27 home runs and collected 97 RBI. He never built on that though and would be out of the majors just a few years later.

So who will be the next Tiger to become a household name across the country? Well, before Seth Beer makes an impact, we have four players in the majors now with a few others likely to break in soon.

Domonic Leone (RP, St. Louis)

Leone may be the Tiger in the Majors which I’m most excited about. He broke into the Bigs in 2014 and pitched 66.1 innings to a cool 2.17 ERA. Unfortunately, he bounced around and pitched just 42 innings in 2015 and 2016 combined, posting an ERA over 6.00 in each season. Then last year he roared back for the Blue Jays posting a 2.56 ERA over 70.1 innings out of the bullpen. He racked up 81 Ks in those innings.

He is now with the St. Louis Cardinals where he is being relied on as a key cog in their bullpen. During Spring Training, he closed games while presumed closer Luke Gregerson was struggling with a strained oblique. It’s clear he is next in line to close if Gregerson gets hurt or struggles, though Gregerson appears to be getting healthy just in time for opening day.

Leone is still only 26 and is just entering his prime. He has developed a 94+ MPH fastball. His primary strikeout pitch is his cutter:

Brad Miller (2B, Tampa Bay)

Brad Miller had a career year in 2016 blasting 30 HR while hitting .243 with a .786 OPS. 2017 was a year of regression, as he battled injury and only hit .201. His walk rate jumped up, but not nearly enough to compensate for the regression in average and power. He hit just 9 home runs in 338 ABs.

He looks to bounce back this year following offseason core muscle surgery. Miller was slowed this Spring due to a broken pinky toe, but returned this week. He benefits from being on a Rays team that is entering a major rebuild. He will hold down the starting 2B job although he may be best suited for a platoon as he has a nice .756 career OPS against righties, but a paltry .616 OPS against lefties.

Daniel Gossett (P, Oakland)

Gossett got the call last season and pitched 91.1 innings, but struggled. He had a 6.11 ERA and a very low 0.8 K/9. Fortunately, he’s had a really nice Spring Training increasing his K-rate and keeping his ERA down.

Oakland has opted to send star prospect AJ Puk to the minors for a bit more seasoning which should open up a spot at the back-end of the A’s rotation or as their swing-man/long reliever for Gossett.

This may be the weakest rotation in the AL:

  1. Kendall Graveman
  2. Sean Manaea
  3. Paul Blackburn
  4. Daniel Mengden
  5. Andrew Triggs
  6. Daniel Gossett/Trevor Cahill

He is a lower upside prospect, but one that is ready to deliver for Oakland.

Tony Sipp (RP, Houston)

Tony Sipp has quietly made 526 relief appearances (just 7 saves) over his nine year career. After four years in Cleveland and one in Arizona, he joined the Astros in 2014. After two very successful years with K/9 well over 9.00 and ERAs of just 3.38 and 1.99, Sipp signed a three year $16 million contract with the Astros two years ago and won a World Series with them last year.

The last two years he has seen his ERA balloon to 4.95 and 5.79. He is having a mediocre Spring Training and he spot as the lefty in the Astros bullpen is not a guarantee. The 34-year old has made a very nice career for himself in the big leagues after his one season at Clemson (2004) where he was a reliever and outfielder for the Tigers. He looks to extend that MLB career with a bounce back in 2018.

Other Mentions

Mike Freeman (2B, Chicago Cubs)

Mike Freeman has bounced around a good bit now, and on the Cubs loaded roster will likely bounce between the minors and majors unless another team makes a move for him. His high-K rate and lack on home run power will likely relegate him to a utility player.

Ben Paulsen (Retired):

Paulsen retired with a .762 OPS, .272 batting average, and 16 career home runs across 480 career ABs. Those are solid numbers to receive so few ABs, but at 1B you really have to rake and when playing 1B in Colorado you really, really have to rake.

According to Clemson’s athletic website:

“Ben Paulsen is in his first year with the Tiger program as a student assistant coach in 2018. He returned to Clemson to finish his degree requirements through the Tiger Trust program.”

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