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2006 Baseball Outlook

2006 Baseball Outlook

Feb. 7, 2006

Overview Omaha. It is the word that drives Head Coach Jack Leggett, who has been at the helm of the Tiger baseball program for the past 12 seasons. And with their three-year absence from Omaha and the College World Series, Leggett and the Tigers have the “promised land” in their sights in 2006.

“Our goals are always the same…we want to get to Omaha to play in the College World Series and win the national championship,” said Leggett, who has taken the Tigers to the College World Series four times after playing in Omaha while being team captain at Maine in 1976. “Obviously, along the way we have to take care of business in the conference, and try to win the regular-season and tournament titles. Every game is important, and we want to position ourselves to play host to NCAA Regionals and Super Regionals.”

Leggett’s reasons for excitement are many. Clemson returns all eight position players in the field from last year’s team that came one win away from a trip to Omaha. Ninety-six percent of the starts by position players (excluding designated hitter) a season ago were made by Tigers who are back for the 2006 season.

The pitching staff also has many veteran starters and relievers returning. For the Tigers to increase their total of 19 straight NCAA Tourney appearances, tied for the third-longest streak in NCAA history, they will need solid seasons from their veteran weekend rotation. And considering the Tigers had a 3.94 ERA a year ago, the best mark since 1996, and many of those pitchers return, the pitching staff is slated to be a strength for this year’s team.

The pollsters believe Clemson is a top-caliber team as well, as the Tigers are ranked as high as #2 by Baseball America in its preseason poll. The USA Today coaches poll has the Tigers ranked #3, while Clemson is ranked #6 by Collegiate Baseball.

“We have a strong nucleus coming back this year after a season where we finished very strong,” stated Leggett. “We will miss Kris Harvey, who had an ACC-best 25 home runs, but every other starter in the field returns a year better, and we have some great support players that fit within the team framework.”

In 2005, Clemson averaged 1.15 home runs per game, the 22nd-best figure in the country. Gone are Harvey’s 25 long balls, however Tigers who hit 49 homers return this season.

The team also works extremely hard on the bunt game, as Clemson easily set a school record with 62 sacrifice bunts in 2005.

“Offensively, we will have an exciting team,” stated Leggett. “Along with having all of our starters back in the field, the new players have a good grasp of how we want to play and how aggressive we must be on the bases.”

Although the Tigers swiped just 42 stolen bases a year ago, players who stole 38 bases return in 2006.

“Defensively, I think we will be a very sound team. The team chemistry is good, and I like how our work ethic came along during the fall season. The players worked extremely hard, and they are all very hungry and motivated to get us back to Omaha.”

Leggett has 555 victories in his 12 seasons in Tigertown. Only five other schools have more wins from 1994-05 than Leggett, as he is also the 12th-winningest active coach (while head coach at a Division I school) in the country with 932 career victories.

Associate Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Kevin O’Sullivan returns for his eighth season, while Assistant Head Coach and Hitting Instructor Tom Riginos is back for his fourth year. Russell Triplett, who was a .312 hitter in 222 career games as a Tiger from 2001-04, begins his first season as the volunteer assistant coach. A new position was also created in the offseason. Denny Oughton, a native of Washington, is Clemson’s first director of baseball operations.

Clemson’s 2006 schedule features 36 games at home and 23 games against opponents that played in the 2005 NCAA Tournament. Even though the Tigers will play seven more regular-season games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium than they did in 2005, the schedule is still ranked as the toughest in the ACC according to SEBaseball.com, a tough task for a club that is picked to finish first in the conference in the preseason by the league coaches.

Even though Boston College joins the ACC for the 2006 season, Clemson will still only play a 30-game league schedule. The Tigers will not play North Carolina in the regular season for the first time since 1950. Clemson will play home ACC series against N.C. State, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Wake Forest, while it will play road ACC series at Virginia, Miami (FL), Georgia Tech, Boston College, and Duke.

The Tigers will open the regular season with back-to-back, three-game home series against James Madison and Mercer in February. The following weekend, Clemson will play single games at College of Charleston and at South Carolina before returning home on March 5 to play host to the rival Gamecocks. From March 10-12, Clemson will welcome the Big 12’s Jayhawks from Kansas to Doug Kingsmore Stadium.

The schedule also features midweek contests against William & Mary, Gardner-Webb, Elon (2), Georgia (2), Western Carolina (2), South Carolina (2), Winthrop, Furman, Wofford, and College of Charleston. The ACC Tournament returns to the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (FL) for the second year in a row.

Catchers The catching position features one of the team leaders in senior starter Adrian Casanova (Miami, FL). He returns with his outstanding receiving and defensive capabilities, along with his late-season hitting surge in 2005, his first year at Clemson. Casanova’s value to the team goes beyond statistics. He was voted one of four team captains by his teammates for the 2006 season.

Sophomore Doug Hogan (Columbia, SC), who hit .111 in just 18 at-bats and 18 games as a freshman in 2005, is the only other returner with game experience behind the plate. He is the brother of former Tiger righthander Patrick Hogan (2001-04), who had 10 saves in 2004.

Freshmen Alex Burg (Des Moines, WA), one of five Tigers from the West coast, and Jameson Smith will also compete for the backup spot behind the plate.

Infielders All four starting infielders are back, led by Taylor Harbin (Travelers Rest, SC). The sophomore second baseman was one of Clemson’s most heralded freshmen in history when he was a Collegiate Baseball Second-Team All-American, the first Tiger freshman in history to earn All-America honors. He hit .343 with an ACC-best 28 doubles, 10 homers, and 63 RBIs to also earn First-Team All-ACC honors. His fielding was a bright spot as well, as he committed just nine errors and had a .974 fielding percentage.

Sophomore shortstop Stan Widmann (Hurst, TX) had a solid freshman season when he hit .289 and showed a strong arm in starting all 66 games. With a solid fall, Leggett believes Widmann is primed for a big 2006 season as the everyday shortstop.

Senior third-baseman Herman Demmink (Midlothian, VA) joins Widmann as starters on the left side of the infield. Demmink is a veteran of 138 starts and is a career .318 hitter. He has been a starter at both second base and third base, and is one of four team captains in 2006. He has set an example for his teammates in the weight room, as he is a four-time winner of the Omaha Challenge, the team’s offseason strength and conditioning competition.

Junior first-baseman Andy D’Alessio (Naples, FL) has the potential to post big power numbers after hitting 15 long balls in 2005. He also had 60 RBIs on only 58 hits, 30 of which went for extra bases. He was named Clemson Regional MVP thanks to going 7-for-9 with four doubles and a homer to lead the Tigers to the regional title. His defensive skills have not gone unnoticed, as he is the best defensive first baseman in the ACC according to Baseball America.

Senior Ben Hall (Ormond Beach, FL) will compete for the starting designated hitter spot after coming up with several clutch plays last year. He can play both positions on the right side of the infield, and came up with many key hits in his first season with the Tiger program in 2005.

Junior John Ingram (Alpharetta, GA) has proven he can come off the bench with pinch-hit home runs in his first two seasons at Clemson. The high school baseball teammate of former Tiger quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (2002-05) can play either corner infield spot, and is arguably the strongest player on the team.

Junior Tanner Leggett (Clemson, SC), son of Head Coach Jack Leggett, also has a chance to contribute in the middle of the infield. He was 4-for-11 (.364) in 16 games off the bench, and did not commit an error in 15 chances in 2005. Junior-college transfer Marquez Smith (Ocala, FL) is a viable candidate to be the starting designated hitter in 2006. He posted big numbers at Daytona Beach Community College and raised eyebrows during fall practice. Smith will also compete for innings at third base behind Demmink. Jameson Smith (Fresno, CA) is a versatile freshman who can play most infield spots. Tyler Colvin, the starter in left field, can also play first base for the Tigers.

Outfielders Junior Tyler Colvin (North Augusta, SC) returns as the starting leftfielder. Colvin was a doubles machine last year as the cleanup batter with 22 two-baggers. He was one of the team’s streakiest hitters, and ended the season with five homers, 53 RBIs, and a team-best 12 stolen bases. He is also a rare five-tool player with a good arm and speed to go along with his increased strength.

Sophomore Brad Chalk (Greer, SC) is the starting centerfielder after earning freshman All-America honors in 2005 thanks to his .350 batting average and .458 on-base percentage, both team bests. He became the first freshman to lead Clemson in batting average since 1991. The “table-setter” totaled a school-record 15 sacrifice bunts a season ago, and is a player who handles the bunt game extremely well. He also has great range on defense, and his arm is rated as the best in the outfield in the ACC according to Baseball America.

In right field, Travis Storrer (Mount Vernon, WA) returns as the starter for the third year in a row. The team captain is a career .331 hitter, and has been a steadying influence on the team, both on the field and in the clubhouse. He enters 2006 on a 10-game hitting streak, and hit safely in 29 of the last 30 games in 2005. He also did not commit an error in the outfield in 92 chances.

D.J. Mitchell (Rural Hall, NC) is a freshman who turned heads during fall practice and performed well in the Omaha Challenge. He is one of the fastest players on the squad and is a candidate for innings behind three veteran starters in the outfield.

Wilson Boyd (Hickory, NC) and Casey Keen (Covington, LA) are two more outfielders who will gain valuable experience as freshmen, while Ingram can also play in the outfield if needed.

Pitchers Senior righthander Josh Cribb (Lake View, SC), the only five-year Tiger on the 2006 squad, was dominant during the second half of 2005, which included back-to-back wins over Miami (FL). Cribb also has a career 3.65 ERA, while his walks per nine innings pitched mark (2.08) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.87) both rank second in Clemson history. He is the only holdover from the Tigers’ last team to play in the College World Series in 2002, however, he did not make the trip to Omaha that year.

Junior righthander Stephen Faris (Richmond, VA) was the Tigers’ predominant Friday starter in 2005 thanks to his competitiveness. The Second-Team All-ACC selection’s 2.60 ERA was sixth-best in the conference, and he added 79 strikeouts against only 25 walks in 97.0 innings pitched in 2005.

Junior righthander Jason Berken (De Pere, WI), who had a 2.90 ERA and 9-3 record from 2003-04, missed last year after rehabbing his arm after having “Tommy John” surgery. The team captain has a 9-3 record, 2.90 ERA, and .229 opponents’ batting average in 105.2 innings pitched in his career.

Sophomore righty David Kopp (Margate, FL) pitched in crucial situations as a freshman when he had a 4-3 record and 4.61 ERA in 22 outings. He was a valuable midweek starter. He also is listed as the 16th-best sophomore prospect in the nation by Baseball America.

Sophomore righthander P.J. Zocchi (Bronx, NY) pitched in both the 2004 and 2005 seasons, but has been hampered by injuries, making just seven appearances in all.

Stephen Clyne (Parkland, FL), a junior righthander, and his sharp-breaking slider will be an asset to the team, as he was the Tigers’ closer for parts of 2005.

Senior righthander Drew Fiorenza (Atlanta, GA) showed flashes of dominance in 2005, but he never posted the numbers the Tigers had hoped for. He has been taken in the draft twice, including in the 45th round in June of 2005.

Chris Howard (Fort Wayne, IN), a sophomore righthander, also returns with experience out of the bullpen. The sidearmer only appeared in five games last season, but his unorthodox delivery will be utilized by Leggett this season.

Junior righthander Sean Clark (Los Angeles, CA), who red-shirted last year due to injury, will also compete for innings out of the bullpen. He impressed coaches in the fall with his good breaking ball and solid control.

Junior righthander Steve Richard (Billerica, MA), a transfer from Maine, had a 13-3 record and 2.49 ERA in 170.0 innings pitched over two seasons. He is a leading candidate to be the Tiger closer in 2006.

Righthander Chris Allen (DuBoistown, PA) is a junior-college transfer who is an imposing presence at 6’3″. His experience will be utilized out of the bullpen in his first season in the program.

Freshman righty Matt Vaughn (Summerville, SC) showed good poise and competitiveness on the mound in fall workouts. Mitchell is another freshman who will vie for innings on the mound.

Among southpaws, sophomore Daniel Moskos (Alta Loma, CA) made 21 relief outings in 2005 and will be counted on in the bullpen as one of just a few healthy lefties on the 2006 team. He is also one of three Tigers from California.

Freshmen Alex Martin (Charlotte, NC), who red-shirted in 2005, and Ryan Hinson (Rock Hill, SC) are two other lefthanders who Leggett will use to retire lefthanded batters among other roles.

Two more lefties were slated to play key roles, but will miss the season due to arm injuries. Red-shirt freshman William Bond (Lawrenceville, GA) and sophomore Chris Fidrych (Beaufort, SC), who appeared in 10 games out of the bullpen in 2005, both had “Tommy John” surgery and hope to be back at full strength in 2007. Despite not pitching last year, Chalk is another southpaw who will be given an opportunity on the mound.

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