June 20, 2018

Way too early Clemson Baseball thoughts

With two weeks until opening day, I thought I would share some thoughts on the 2017 Clemson baseball team as we look forward to the season.  The information below has been gleaned from interviews with Monte Lee, both written and oral and my thoughts on the team.

Behind the plate Chris Williams (.245 AVG/8 HR/38 RBI) will take over as catcher and has huge shoes to fill with the departure of Chris Okey.  Head Coach Monte Lee had nothing but good things to say about him and Williams did come on late after a slow start to 2016.  On the other hand, here’s suggesting replacing Okey is going to be a bigger deal than some expect.  Seth Beer (.369/18/70) rightfully gets most of the ink (or internet space) for his power, but Okey hit .339/15/74.  That’s a ton of production to replace at the plate, not to mention what Okey provided behind it and with his leadership. Williams has his work cut out for him.

At first base Lee indicated Beer is “getting better and better”, but learning to play first is a “process”.  It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, effect learning to play first has on Beer’s offensive production, because let’s face it – there’s nothing more beautiful in baseball than a Monster Beer Moon Shot.

Second base appears to be the one infield position that hasn’t been solidified. Jordan Greene (81 ABs/.235/1/7) has improved drastically per Lee and is in a battle with LSU transfer Grayson Byrd, who homered in a scrimmage last weekend.  2nd is Greene’s natural position and, despite the average, has a knack for getting on base, which is important at the bottom of the order when Chase Pinder comes to the plate, because Pinder is no ordinary leadoff hitter power-wise.  It remains to be seen if Greene is an everyday second baseman.

Third base belongs to Patrick Cromwell a JC transfer from California whom Lee described as a good defender.  Third was a mishmash of players and styles last year and had to be considered one of the weaker areas of the squad.  It took Williams a while to adjust at the plate last season upon the step up in competition from JC, so you wonder if Cromwell will face similar struggles, especially in the early part of the season (see first 10 games below).

Shortstop will be manned by true freshman Logan Davidson, a switch hitter and good defender.  This means that the entire infield, with the exception of the part time player Greene, who will be playing a new position, will be new (Beer played right and DH in 2016).

Left field is perhaps the most interesting spot on the field in terms of intrigue. Presbyterian graduate transfer Weston Jackson (.341/10/55 at PC in 2016 as 3rd team All-American by Collegiate Baseball) is attempting to unseat Reed Rohlman (.274/2/43).  Jackson, a good fielder who can throw and has some power, may have the inside track.  Lee indicated Rohlman needed to be more productive at the plate, but was a better fielder than most think.  These two could alternate between left and DH. Rohlman’s batting average dropped almost 80 points from his freshman season and now he’s having to fight off a 3rd team All-American just to see the field.

Chase Pinder (.294/11/46) will man center field and Lee described him as the most underrated player in the ACC. I agree, as the college game doesn’t see a lot of leadoff men with Pinder’s power.

It appears K.J. Bryant (74 ABs/.257/2/8) will get the first shot in right field with Beer’s move to 1st.  As with Greene, it remains to be seen if he’s an everyday player at this point in his career, though we have seen flashes.

Charlie Barnes (.256 BA/1.28 WHIP), Pat Krall (.203/0.93), Tyler Jackson and Alex Eubanks (.283/1.40) were named as likely starters by Lee.  We’re familiar with 3 of those names, but the one that sticks out is Jackson, a graduate transfer from USC-Upstate (via Wren HS and South Carolina).  Lee mentioned Jackson was the best pitcher in the fall with a .170 opponent batting average and is in the mix to be a weekend starter.  This is surprising given his numbers at Upstate (4-8, 5.62 ERA in 115.1 innings over 2 seasons).  That said, coming out of Wren the 6’6 Jackson was rated the #16 player in the state by Perfect Game.

This should be a deep and talented staff as I haven’t even mentioned names like Brooks Crawford (.254/1.37), Ryley Gilliam (.230/1.42), Jake Higginbotham (.300/1.80) and Patrick Andrews (.250/1.24), among others.  The one thing that gnaws at me a bit sitting here in early February is with Krall starting there is no established closer.  Krall was nails in that role in 2016 (prior to moving to rotation) and it’s difficult to underestimate the importance of that piece of the pitching staff puzzle.

The early schedule looks to be brutal as the first 10 games include 3 with a Wright State team that was in a Regional last year, Western Carolina which was in the Clemson Regional (single game), 3 games with Elon, a game with Wofford and 3 with top 5 South Carolina.  Not many automatic Ws in that bunch.

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