Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. Today’s preview features the Clemson Tigers.
As they have been since 1994, Clemson will be led by head coach Jack Leggett. The Tigers have made six College World Series appearances in that time, with an overall record of 847-404-1 and an ACC record of 320-180. In 2014, Leggett will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, but he hopes to add to his resume between now and the induction ceremony in January.
Clemson was voted to finish third in the Atlantic Division by the ACC’s coaches, behind NC State and Florida State and omitted from major college baseball preseason polls. Many pundits are turned off by what the Tigers lose, such as third baseman Richie Shaffer, catcher Spencer Kieboom, and pitcher Kevin Brady, all drafted in the first ten rounds of the 2012 MLB Draft. However, the Tigers hope to prove they can compete for an ACC title with their returnees along with one of the nation’s best recruiting classes.
“I think if we play with a little chip on our shoulder and practice with a little chip on our shoulder,” Leggett said prior to the team’s first practice, “We might be a little better team because of it.”
The Tigers return four everyday starters from last season’s squad, which was eliminated in the Columbia Regional of the NCAA Tournament. One of the departures, Richie Shaffer, was named a first-team All-American by Perfect Game and taken 25th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2012 MLB Draft.
The returnees are led by center fielder Thomas Brittle and second-baseman Steve Wilkerson. Brittle debuted as a Tiger last season after transferring from College of Charleston. He batted .298, led the team in steals (15) and tied with Virginia’s Derek Fisher for the ACC lead in triples (8). Brittle pieced together a 22-game hitting streak during the 2012 season, snapped against Florida State.
Wilkerson was named a preseason third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. The switch hitter batted .295 with 13 doubles and 10 stolen bases in 2012, good for a second-team All-ACC selection. He also put together hitting streaks of 19 and 15 games. While the Tigers may have lost some power in the lineup (36 of Clemson’s 44 home runs from last season came from players who have moved on), the Tigers could rely on speed and patient hitting to move runners and manufacture runs.
The pitching staff returns three regular starters from 2012, but only one from the regular weekend rotation in Kevin Pohle. Pohle, a junior from St. Louis, MO, started 14 games for Clemson in 2012, including their opener at the Columbia Regional against Coastal Carolina. In that game, he allowed four hits and two runs in five innings before being lifted from the game following a rain delay, and the Tigers won 11-3. Pohle finished the season 7-4 with a 3.66 ERA.
Daniel Gossett was a standout pitcher as a freshman in 2012 who worked his way into the rotation during the postseason when ace Kevin Brady suffered a late-season strained hamstring. While he had to earn it over the course of the year, Gossett established himself as the team’s ace heading into this year with his pitching. He led the team in strikeouts (87, over 77 innings) and opposing batting average (.221).
The Tigers’ recruiting class was ranked fifth in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Clemson received commitments from two of Perfect Game’s top 50 prospects in the 2012 recruiting class. Georgia’s Lucas Sims, #17 for Perfect Game, was drafted in the first round by the Atlanta Braves and signed with the hometown team. Dayton, Ohio’s Clate Schmidt was ranked 37th, but informed scouts that he had no intentions of signing with a pro team.
Schmidt’s fastball has been recorded as high as 96 mph, and is consistently in the 91-94 mph range. He adds an 80-83 mph curveball with good spin. For Allatoona (Ga.) High School, he held a 1.69 ERA, with 33 strikeouts and nine hits allowed over 29 innings. He also played shortstop for the team, batting .406 and impressing scouts with his defensive tools, so Schmidt could also contribute in the field for the Tigers on days he is not pitching.
One recruit comes in with an ACC pedigree despite roots from New Jersey. Kevin Bradley, drafted in the 36th round, batted .446 with seven home runs for Hopewell Valley (NJ) High School. Kevin’s father, Scott, had an eight-year major league baseball career in which he batted .257 and caught Randy Johnson’s first career no-hitter. Scott has been the head coach at Princeton University since 1998, and was named to the ACC’s 50th Anniversary Team in 2004 for his time at North Carolina.
Another freshman didn’t get drafted, but made his presence known during Clemson’s fall scrimmages. Maleeke Gibson, an outfielder from Sumter, SC, had a collection of big at-bats over the three-game weekend series. In the Saturday game, a one-out walk led to a five run first inning for his team. In the next inning, Gibson singled, stole second, and scored. Before the weekend was over, he added a triple and a walk-off single to his tally.
Steven Duggar, an outfielder from Byrnes Moore, SC, was courted by teams for draft selections as early as the second round, but also expressed interest in going to college before turning pro and was ultimately not drafted. An all-state center fielder, Duggar batted .444 with two home runs and 20 RBI in 2012.
Many may look at Clemson and see what is gone from last year’s team. However, this can also be seen as opportunity for a crop of young, talented players who under a hall of fame coach who hope to quiet doubters in 2013.