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2007 Clemson Baseball Outlook

2007 Clemson Baseball Outlook

Feb. 5, 2007

Overview Expectations are again high for Clemson baseball in 2007. Fresh off a 2006 season when the Tigers captured the ACC regular-season and tournament titles along with making their 11th trip to the College World Series, Head Coach Jack Leggett believes this team can achieve those same goals and contend for the national title.

“Our goals are to repeat some of the same accomplishments of last year,” said Leggett, who is entering his 14th season as the head coach of the Tiger program. “We’ll strive to win the regular-season and ACC Tournament titles again, host a regional and super regional, and find a way to Omaha to play for the national championship. We have a lot of things to take care of along the way.”

Those things include playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, as the ACC sent four teams to Omaha a season ago and has six teams ranked in the top 13 in Collegiate Baseball’s 2007 preseason poll. For the second straight year, the Tigers will play a 30-game league schedule, but Clemson will not face North Carolina during the regular season.

The Tigers do, however, still play a difficult non-conference slate, including games against South Carolina (4), Georgia (2), College of Charleston (1), Elon (1), and Winthrop (1), all teams that played in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

The players who will face the challenging schedule will be familiar to Tiger fans, as Clemson returns four of its eight starters in the field, including three infielders.

“We must replace some of the good players from last year’s team, but the nucleus is back,” said Leggett. “We have a strong group of infielders returning, as three starting infielders from last year’s team are back. I don’t think I have ever had as many experienced players back in the infield.

“Our centerfielder is back as well. We’ve got some great players to pick from in right field, left field, and behind the plate, and I think we’re going to find some players that do a great job.

“We could have a very exciting team. We have some experience coming back on offense. We may not have as much power as we have had in the past, but we’ll be a different type of team, and we’ll be able to execute and make things exciting. I really believe that our pitching depth is going to be as strong as last year’s as well.”

After swiping just 42 bases in 2005, Clemson refocused its efforts on being aggressive on the basepaths in 2006 when the Tigers were successful on 107 of 129 stolen-base attempts. That aggression was key to the Tigers’ 26-9 record against top-25 ranked teams and trip to Omaha.

The pollsters believe Clemson is a top-caliber ballclub in 2007, as the Tigers are ranked #2 by both Collegiate Baseball and Sports Weekly in their preseason polls. Baseball America has the Tigers ranked #3 in its preseason poll, giving Clemson a top-three ranking in all three polls for the first time in school history. The Tigers were ranked #5 in all three final polls at the conclusion of the 2006 season.

The Tigers lost 14 lettermen off the 2006 squad, but thanks to the efforts of Recruiting Coordinator and Associate Head Coach Kevin O’Sullivan along with Assistant Head Coach Tom Riginos, the 2007 recruiting class was ranked #4 in the nation by Baseball America.

Two new faces will also be present in the Tiger dugout in 2007. Toby Bicknell, formerly an assistant at North Carolina-Pembroke, joined the staff prior to the season as the volunteer assistant coach. Ben Hall, a two-year letterman at Clemson in 2005 and 2006, was added as a student assistant coach.

Clemson was picked to finish first in the ACC by the 12 league coaches in the preseason. The Tigers received nine first-place votes to win the entire ACC regular-season title, while Georgia Tech had two and Virginia had one.

The Tigers are also tabbed to win the ACC Atlantic Division title with 11 first-place votes and 71 points, ahead of Florida State (one first-place vote), N.C. State, Wake Forest, Boston College, and Maryland. North Carolina is picked to win the ACC Coastal Division with 60 points, ahead of Miami (FL), Virginia, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, and Duke.

The ACC Tournament will return to Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (FL) for the third straight year in 2007. The venue was the host of Clemson’s ninth ACC Tourney Championship in history during the 2006 season.

However, the 2007 tourney will feature a different format. The top-eight teams in the ACC regular-season standings will still participate, but each team will play the other three teams in its four-team bracket. Barring a tie, the team with the best three-game record in each bracket will play one game for the tournament title. Head-to-head result is the tiebreaker if two teams are tied with a 2-1 record in bracket play. If three teams are 2-1, then the team with the best ACC regular-season record will advance to the title game.

Leggett hopes the Tigers can repeat the same successes they had in 2006 when they won 50 games, captured the ACC regular-season and tourney titles, and advanced to Omaha, but there is another milestone on the horizon for the Tiger head coach. He has 985 career wins in 27 years as a head coach, just 15 wins shy of the 1,000 mark. He will only be the 10th active head coach at the Division I level to reach that plateau.

Leggett has also won 608 games in his 13 seasons in Tigertown. Only three schools (Florida State, Wichita State, Rice) have won more games from 1994-06 than Leggett, as five of those 13 teams have played in Omaha.

Catchers In the field, one of Clemson’s biggest concerns is replacing the leadership and defensive abilities of catcher Adrian Casanova. Junior Doug Hogan (Columbia, SC) is the leading candidate for the starting job, as he has seen valuable innings behind the plate in 46 games (three starts) during his first two active seasons in the program.

Sophomore Alex Burg (Des Moines, WA) will also compete for the starting job. As a freshman, he showed flashes of power and also saw some innings in the outfield. In 32 at-bats, he totaled three doubles, a homer, and eight RBIs.

Buddy Munroe (Miami, FL) is a talented freshman who will also compete for the starting role behind the plate, however, he has been slowed while recovering from a torn labrum. Sophomore walk-on Adam Ward (Hanahan, SC) will provide depth at the position as well.

Infielders Senior Marquez Smith (Ocala, FL) is not technically considered a returning starter due to the fact that Herman Demmink started one more game at third base, but his defense in the latter stages of 2006 was outstanding. Overall, he hit .291 with 20 doubles, 10 homers, and 48 RBIs with a solid .951 fielding percentage. Leggett believes the preseason first-team All-ACC third-baseman by can provide run-production in the heart of the lineup. Baseball America also named him the best defensive third-baseman in the ACC in the preseason.

Junior shortstop Stan Widmann (Hurst, TX) fills out the other spot on the left side of the infield with two years of starting experience at the position. He is a career .298 hitter with 22 steals in 23 attempts, including a perfect 15-15 in 2006. He was one of the team’s hottest hitters late last year, as he batted .417 in the last nine games and was named to the Clemson Regional All-Tournament team.

On the right side, junior Taylor Harbin (Travelers Rest, SC) brings his fielding prowess to second base for the third straight year after committing just six errors in 2006. He teams with Widmann to form one of the best double-play combinations in the country, as the two roommates have been regular starters since their freshman seasons. He also brings intangibles in terms of leadership and a strong work ethic to practice every day as one of three team co-captains in 2007. Harbin, a preseason second-team All-American by Baseball America, is a career .331 hitter with 48 doubles, 19 homers, 110 RBIs, and a .978 fielding percentage.

First-baseman Andy D’Alessio (Naples, FL) elected to return for his senior season after being selected in the 10th round of 2006 Major League Draft. The NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball Preseason First-Team All-American hit 23 homers (tied for second-most in the country) with a national-best 85 RBIs on his way to being named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and a first-team All-American in 2006. He hit two homers in a game six times last year and hopes to provide the same punch as a team co-captain in 2007.

Tom Riginos, are two tall freshmen who will compete for innings at first base as well as designated hitter. Morris will also vie for playing time in the outfield.

Freshman J.D. Burgess (Pickens, SC) and senior walk-on David Bunnell (Charlotte, NC) will compete in the middle infield. Burgess has already showed his toughness by winning the 2006 Fall Omaha Challenge, Clemson’s offseason endurance and condition competition, among position players.

Outfielders Clemson must replace first-team All-American Tyler Colvin in left field and the steady bat of Travis Storrer in right field. Colvin was the #13 overall pick of the 2006 Major League Draft, while Storrer had a .329 batting average in three seasons at Clemson.

Junior Brad Chalk (Greer, SC) will roam centerfield for the third straight year. The speedster has an excellent arm and is one of the best bunters in school history. He had 21 sacrifice bunts (second-most in the nation) in 2006, easily eclipsing the previous school record of 15 that he set in 2005. Chalk also hit .353 with 18 stolen bases and 41 walks against only 21 strikeouts, and had a .467 on-base percentage to set the table for the heart of Clemson’s lineup. The preseason first-team All-American by Baseball America enters 2007 on an active 16-game hitting streak.

Sophomore D.J. Mitchell (Rural Hall, NC) saw considerable action in the postseason in right field when Storrer went down with an injury, as he hit .311 in the 13 postseason games. He showed great speed on the bases, the ability to track balls down in the outfield, and a strong arm in 2006, as those attributes will help him garner a starting spot in 2007. His arm might also allow him see some innings on the mound. Overall, Mitchell batted .289 with eight stolen bases in 51 games (19 starts) as a freshman.

Red-shirt freshman Wilson Boyd (Hickory, NC) showed a promising bat in his first year in the program as well. Last summer, he hit .324 with four homers and 31 RBIs for Thomasville of the Coastal Plain League.

Leggett is also excited about the prospects of freshman outfielders Addison Johnson (Pfafftown, NC) and Alex Lee (Blythewood, SC). Johnson, one of the most highly-rated high school players in North Carolina, is a candidate to start in either left or right field and lead off in 2007. He will also give Clemson depth as a lefthander out of the bullpen. Lee will compete for playing time at all three outfield spots.

Pitchers In order for Clemson to up its total of 20 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, the pitching staff must rise to the challenge. And since all three weekend starters (Jason Berken, Josh Cribb, Stephen Faris) departed campus last year and Sean Clark, the Tigers’ best pitcher in the 2006 postseason, opted not return for his final season, several returnees from the 2006 team must fill the void.

David Kopp (Margate, FL) is a junior righty who has shown flashes of dominance with his outstanding changeup and is a candidate for a spot in the weekend rotation. As a long reliever and spot starter during the 2005 and 2006 seasons, he had a combined 10-5 record and 4.48 ERA in 128.2 innings pitched.

Junior righthander P.J. Zocchi (Bronx, NY) came on in the 2006 season to be a clutch performer in postseason play and will vie for a spot in the weekend rotation in 2007. One of three team co-captains, Zocchi and his outstanding breaking ball will be important to Clemson’s success in 2007. In his last eight appearances of 2006, he had a 3-0 record with a 1.24 ERA and a save in 36.1 innings pitched. In his career, he has a 7-0 record and 3.14 ERA.

Sophomore Ryan Hinson (Rock Hill, SC) is a power pitcher from the left side who is another strong candidate for a spot in the weekend rotation. He pitched mainly as a middle reliever in 2006 when he had a 4-0 record along with a 3.82 ERA and .216 opponents’ batting average in 30.2 innings pitched.

Junior lefthander Daniel Moskos (Alta Loma, CA), a preseason second-team All-American by Baseball America, returns as the closer. In 2006, he was unhittable at times when he totaled 10 saves and a 2.52 ERA in school-record-tying 33 relief appearances. He also spent this past summer as the closer for Team USA, as he helped the team to the gold medal at the World Championships in Cuba.

Senior righty Stephen Clyne (Parkland, FL) is the only 2007 Tiger who is in his fifth year. His sharp-breaking curveball will give the team a stopper out of the bullpen. In 35 career appearances, Clyne has a 3.06 ERA, .231 opponents’ batting average, and 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Sophomore righty Matt Vaughn (Summerville, SC) appeared in just 13 games (one start) in 2006, but his role on this year’s team should increase. The coaches like his mental makeup and competitiveness on the mound.

Sophomore lefty Alex Martin (Charlotte, NC) was used primarily as a situational pitcher in 2006. He had a 2-0 record and 4.42 ERA overall, and had a .211 opponents’ batting average in ACC games.

Two Tiger lefthanders return after missing the 2006 season with arm injuries. Sophomore Chris Fidrych (Beaufort, SC) red-shirted in 2006 while recovering from “Tommy John” surgery. As a freshman in 2005, Fidrych had a 4.50 ERA in 10 relief appearances (14.0 innings pitched). He also won the 2006 Fall Omaha Challenge among all players.

Sophomore William Bond (Lawrenceville, GA) is the other Tiger recovering from “Tommy John” surgery. In his third year in the program, Bond has yet to see action on the mound, but is a strong candidate to give the Tigers innings out of the bullpen.

Four righthanded newcomers will also be in the mix in O’Sullivan’s pitching staff. Junior Alan Farina (Chuluota, FL) was rated as the #14 transfer in the nation in the preseason by Baseball America and is a candidate for a starting role after playing two seasons at Daytona Beach Community College.

Freshman righthander Josh Thrailkill (Arden, NC) will also vie for innings right away. He was an AFLAC All-American as a senior and was selected in the 34th round of the 2006 draft by the Phillies. He is also rated as the #18 freshman in the nation in the preseason by Baseball America.

Junior Brock Schnabel (Winter Haven, FL) is an experienced righthander will be counted on to provide innings out of the bullpen in 2007. A Polk Community College transfer, Schnabel also received Atlantic Sun Conference All-Freshman honors while at Jacksonville in 2005.

Righthander Justin Sarratt (Gaffney, SC) and lefthander Matt Zoltak (Philadelphia, PA) are two freshmen who will provide depth in the bullpen after both earned all-state honors during their respective high school careers.

Freshman righty Graham Stoneburner (Richmond, VA) figured to make an impact in 2007, but he suffered a torn ACL in January and is out for the season. He was rated as the #38 freshman in the nation in the preseason by Baseball America.