Monday, February 6, 2017

Palmetto State Baseball 2017 preview: Clemson

This is an abbreviated version of the preview produced by Brian Hennessy, Clemson's media relations contact for baseball. The complete version is posted at The Tigers open their season Feb. 17 with a home game against Wright State.
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After a strong first season in 2016, head coach Monte Lee looks to take the Tigers even further in 2017. A year ago, Clemson won the ACC championship, totaled 44 victories and was a top-eight national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Clemson won its first ACC title since 2006 with a 4-0 record in the conference tournament at Durham, N.C. Many of those players return in 2017 and impressed during the fall season.

“I’ve been very, very pleased,” Lee said after fall workouts. “It’s been a ball club that shows up every day, and they punch the clock and go to work. It’s a low-maintenance group of players. They work hard and do everything that we ask them to do. I feel really good. I like our lineup, I like our defense, but we’re going to have to be ready to go when we start the season in February.”

The Tigers were one of the top power-hitting teams in the nation in 2016, as they amassed 75 home runs and a .434 slugging percentage. Players who accounted for 31 of the 75 long balls have departed, including 15 by first-team All-American Chris Okey, but slugging should be a hallmark of the 2017 squad.

“I think we’re going to be really, really good offensively,” said Lee, whose Tigers were ranked as high as No. 10 in the preseason by Baseball America. “I think we have a chance to have a special lineup this year. We’re also much improved defensively.”

The 2016 Tigers had a 4.43 ERA and .268 opponents’ batting average, but were 14-6 in one-run games. Pitchers who made 48 of the 64 starts return.

“I think we’re much deeper on the mound this season,” Lee said. “The big key for us is to stay healthy. We have to do everything we can in training, the weight room and with proper rest to do all the things we need to do to get our bodies ready for the spring, because a 56-game schedule is tough, especially against the competition we play.”

The 2017 schedule features 35 home games, 29 games against 2016 NCAA Tournament teams and three games at Fluor Field in Greenville. Twelve teams participate in the ACC Tournament at Louisville Slugger Field from May 23-28 in Louisville, Ky. The new format features four pools with three teams in each pool.

Junior Chris Williams (Garden Grove, Calif.) returns as Clemson’s most experience catcher in terms of offense. He split time at first base and third base in 2016, but he did gain valuable experience behind one of the nation’s best catchers in Okey. Before his strong fall, Williams hit .245 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in the spring. He totaled five homers and 19 RBIs in the last 15 games, including a Clemson Regional All-Tournament performance.

Clemson’s other experienced catcher is junior Robert Jolly (Myrtle Beach). The career .268 hitter with a .369 on-base percentage in 76 games is Clemson’s first lefthanded-hitting catcher since 2000. Jolly also has considerable experience as the Tigers’ designated hitter the past two seasons.

Freshman Kyle Wilkie (Cumming, Ga.) will also compete behind the plate.

The leader of the infielders is expected to be sophomore Seth Beer (Suwanee, Ga.). As a freshman outfielder last season, he won the Dick Howser Trophy as national player of the year along with ACC Player of the Year honors. He is slated to move to first base in 2017 after hitting .369 with 18 homers, 70 RBIs, a .700 slugging percentage and .535 on-base percentage in 2016. He also had a 26-game hitting streak and reached base via a hit or walk in each of his last 60 games that he had a plate appearance.

Clemson’s most seasoned infielder is graduate Andrew Cox (Belton). The first baseman, who also has experience in the outfield, has played 124 games (85 starts) in his career.

Sophomore Jordan Greene (Fort Mill) made 25 starts at third base in 2016 and will compete for the starting job at second base in 2017. He hit .235 and had a .422 on-base percentage thanks to 26 walks in 38 games in 2016. Greene will also compete for playing time in the outfield.

Junior Adam Renwick (Spartanburg) will compete for playing time at different spots in the infield.

Sophomore Grayson Byrd (Milton, Ga.) and freshman Grant Cox (Simpsonville) redshirted in their first season at Clemson in 2016, but may contribute in 2017. Byrd, son of former major leaguer Paul Byrd, transferred from Louisiana State and impressed the coaches in the fall at second base.

Cox, like Byrd, has been hampered by injuries during his career and is coming off surgery in the winter. He was rated as the No. 99 freshman in the nation in the preseason in 2016.

Four first-year infielders join the mix for 2017. Freshman Logan Davidson (Charlotte), son of former Tiger and major leaguer Mark Davidson, is an ultra-talented shortstop who is slated to start there in 2017. He was drafted in the 30th round of the 2016 draft after being named North Carolina’s Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior at Providence High School.

Junior Patrick Cromwell (Costa Mesa, Calif.) will compete for the starting job at third base. The lefthanded hittere arned all-conference honors at Santa Ana College.

Brock Howard (St. Cloud, Fla.) is a speedy player who can also play in the outfield. He was rated as the No. 58 freshman in the ACC in the preseason by Perfect Game. Carson Spiers (Greenville), son of former Tiger standout Michael Spiers and nephew of former Tiger and major leaguer Bill Spiers, was an all-state selection Greenville High School.

Junior Chase Pinder (Poquoson, Va.) returns in center field. He hit .294 with 11 homers, 46 RBIs and a .412 on-base percentage and was second in the ACC in runs (67) in 2016, when the was the leadoff batter for all 64 games.

Junior Reed Rohlman (Moore) led the Tigers and was tied for third in the ACC in doubles (21) in 2016. His two homers, the only two of the season, against Louisville in the ACC Tournament led the Tigers to victory on their way to the championship.

Sophomore K.J. Bryant (Taylors) made 15 starts in right field in 2016. He hit .257 with two homers and eight RBIs.

Junior Drew Wharton (Suwanee, Ga.) will compete for playing time in the outfield.

Weston Jackson (Greer) is a graduate transfer from Presbyterian College who will compete for a starting spot in the outfield. He earned All-America honors with the Blue Hose while hitting .324 with 40 doubles, 12 homers and 75 RBIs in 126 career games.

Of the Tigers’ nine returning players with experience on the mound, senior lefthander Pat Krall (Downingtown, Pa.) is the most heralded. He has seen action as both a reliever and starter, as he is slated to start on the weekend in 2017. In 2016, the first-team All-American was 10-2 with five saves, a 1.67 ERA, .203 opponents’ batting average and 65 strikeouts against 17 walks in 80.2 innings pitched. Krall led the ACC in ERA and became the first Tiger in history to lead the team outright in both wins and saves.

Junior lefthander Charlie Barnes (Sumter) became a weekend starter in 2016 and is slated to be the same in 2017. He is eighth in Tiger history in career strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.34). In 2016, he led the team in starts, innings pitched and strikeouts.

Sophomore righty Alex Eubanks (Moore) became one of the team’s most dependable pitchers in 2016, when he was 6-5 with three saves and a 4.09 ERA in 23 appearances (11 starts). He also had 70 strikeouts against 21 walks. He has the versatility to pitch in the weekend rotation or at the back end of games.

Brooks Crawford (Bishop, Ga.), another sophomore righthander, will be in the mix as a starter in 2017. As a freshman, Crawford was 3-0 with one save and a 3.66 ERA in 26 appearances.

Patrick Andrews (Hilton Head Island), a graduate in his sixth year at Clemson, is back to cap off his career in a Tiger uniform that began in 2012. He had a 2.31 ERA a season ago.

Juniors Paul Campbell (Malden, Mass.) and Alex Schnell (Milton, Ga.) are relievers who will compete for innings in 2017.

Ryley Gilliam (Kennesaw, Ga.) and Jake Higginbotham (Hoschton, Ga.) are two talented sophomores who saw limited action in 2016. Gilliam, a hard-throwing righthander, allowed only 26 hits in 31 innings pitched, while Higginbotham, a lefty whose season was cut short due to injury, had a 3-0 record and 4.59 ERA in eight appearances (seven starts). Both will compete for starting roles in 2017.

Among the newcomers to the pitching staff, graduate righthander Tyler Jackson (Piedmont) is a candidate to start for the Tigers. Jackson, who played two seasons at USC Upstate, was named Atlantic Sun Conference co-Pitcher of the Year in 2016 after registering a 4-3 record, 4.10 ERA and a school-record 86 strikeouts against 17 walks in 74.2 innings.

Jeremy Beasley (Lyons, Ga.) and Ryan Miller (Venice, Fla.) are junior college transfers and righties who will add depth to the pitching staff.

The Tigers added five freshman righthanders, Andrew Coker (Hartsville), Bo Gobin (Summerville), Owen Griffith (Aiken), Blake Holliday (Belton) and Travis Marr (Castle Rock, Colo.), and four freshman lefthanders, Mat Clark (Hilton Head Island), Jacob Hennessy (Moore), Ryne Huggins (Newberry) and Mitchell Miller (Covington, Ga.).

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