Feb. 8, 2008
Clemson baseball has a storied tradition of excellence, and the 2008 squad hopes to build on that tradition with another trip deep into the NCAA Tournament. For the Tigers to realize their goals, they must do so with many new players, as several key contributors from the 2007 team departed.
“Our goals are always the same…to win the ACC Championship and put ourselves in a position to host a regional, super regional, and advance to Omaha to compete for the National Championship,” said Head Coach Jack Leggett, whose 649 wins in 14 seasons are fourth-most in the nation during his tenure. “That means we have to be consistent with everything we do during the season, including winning in the ACC and winning midweek games.”
Clemson is ranked in the top 25 of all three major preseason polls, marking its 20th straight season that the Tigers are ranked in at least one preseason poll. The highest is a #13 ranking by Collegiate Baseball.
Gone are the likes of Andy D’Alessio, Taylor Harbin, Brad Chalk, Marquez Smith, Daniel Moskos (#4 overall pick), David Kopp, Alan Farina, Stephen Clyne, and P.J. Zocchi, nine of the Tiger-record 11 players selected in the 2007 Major League draft.
“This year is going to be a very interesting one,” said Leggett. “We have an experienced catcher back, but we have to develop depth in our infield, where we lost some good players. We also have to develop some infielders to be more consistent and try to give them as much experience as we can.”
Clemson will sport almost an entirely-new lineup from last season when it takes the field against Mercer on February 22. Only one of the nine Tigers who started in the 2007 Starkville Super Regional are slated to start at the same position on opening day. Along with the changes in the infield, Leggett will shakeup the outfield.
In order for the Tigers to up their total of 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances (third-longest streak in NCAA history), the pitching staff must also replace some outstanding arms.
Nine-year Pitching Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Kevin O’Sullivan departed to become head coach at Florida, therefore Leggett turned to Kyle Bunn, formerly of Mississippi, to take over as Clemson’s pitching coach. Also moving over to the role of recruiting coordinator is Associate Head Coach Tom Riginos. Riginos, Bunn, and Volunteer Assistant Coach Toby Bicknell were big reasons the Tigers’ incoming recruiting class was ranked #15 in the nation by Baseball America.
The 2008 schedule will be one of the nation’s toughest. The Tigers’ ACC slate will include 30 regular-season games, as Clemson will not face Virginia in 2008. The Tigers will play non-conference games against South Carolina (4), Central Florida (3), and Georgia (2) as well as Presbyterian and Furman at Greenville’s Fluor Field in April.
The ACC Tourney will return to The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (FL) for the fourth year in a row in 2008. It is the site of Clemson’s last ACC Tournament title in 2006.
“The schedule again is a very tough one,” added Leggett. “In conference, we have some very tough teams that are going to have some excellent years. So each weekend in the ACC is going to be a very tough challenge.
“Our out-of-conference schedule is one that is very strong. We have four games with South Carolina and two with Georgia along with many other difficult games. So we have to be at our highest concentration levels during the week and on the weekends, from the beginning to the end of the season. It’s going to test our pitching depth, so we’re going to have to do a really good job deciding which roles our pitchers will be most effective in.”
Leggett, who owns 184 victories over top-25 ranked teams in 14 seasons at Clemson, will add to his 1,026 career victories in 2008. He reached the 1,000 mark in the Tigers’ 5-0 victory at Maryland on March 25, 2007, becoming just the 29th coach in Division I history to reach 1,000 wins. He also was the second-youngest to reach that plateau at the age of 53.
Only three schools (Florida State, Wichita State, Rice) have won more games since Leggett became Clemson’s head coach in 1994. He has averaged over 46 victories per season in Tigertown from 1994-07 and has guided the Tigers to five appearances in the College World Series.
The catchers will be led by the team’s best power threat in Doug Hogan (Columbia, SC), who hit .350 with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs in 2007. The Columbia, SC native ended last season on a 15-game hitting streak and will carry that into the 2008 season. The fifth-year senior decided to return for his final season after being selected in the 16th round of the 2007 draft by the Cleveland Indians.
Hogan was Clemson’s top hitter in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, as he set a school record by hitting .600 (12-for-20) in five NCAA Tourney games. The preseason third-team All-American according to Collegiate Baseball is one of only two seniors on the 2008 squad and is one of three team captains.
Junior Adam Ward (Hanahan, SC) is the only other returning letterwinner at catcher. The walk-on saw action in only three games off the bench in 2007. He walked in his only plate appearance as well.
Freshman John Nester (Greer, SC) will vie for the backup role behind the plate. The two-time all-state selection at Riverside High School was the #2 high school prospect in South Carolina according to Perfect Game.
The Tigers also welcomed a newcomer to the roster in January. Kyle Parker (Jacksonville, FL) should be playing for the Bartram Trail High baseball team this spring, but he graduated a semester early in order to enroll at Clemson. The versatile catcher actually signed to play football at Clemson as one of the top quarterback prospects in the country.
The Tigers must replace the two corner-infield spots with the loss of D’Alessio (1B) and Smith (3B). Sophomore Ben Paulsen (Acworth, GA) is penciled in as the starter at first base after showing his power potential last year and during the fall. The son of Riginos batted .258 with five homers and 20 RBIs in 58 games (46 starts) in 2007 as Clemson’s primary designated hitter.
J.D. Burgess (Pickens, SC), a sophomore, started 44 games at second base in 2007 and hit .340 in the last 14 contests. He was also steady in the field, committing just seven errors in 224 chances, good for a .969 fielding percentage.
Burgess will compete for the starting job at second base with sophomore Mike Freeman (Orlando, FL), who hit .237 in 48 games (40 starts) as a second-baseman at Georgia in 2007. In 2006, he was selected in the 41st round of the Major League draft by the San Diego Padres.
Junior Stan Widmann (Hurst, TX) returns as the leader in the infield at shortstop. One of three team captains in 2008, Widmann missed all but six games in 2007 after suffering a serious neck injury. The .303 career hitter in 130 starts should be fully recovered by opening day.
Along with his consistent glove and bat, Widmann also brings speed to the basepaths for the Tigers. As a freshman, he was thrown out on his first career attempted steal. But since, he has successfully stolen 25 bases in a row.
The starting role at third base is up for grabs, as a newcomer will fill the void left by Smith. Freshman John Hinson (Asheville, NC) is a lefthanded batter who was a 40th-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies last summer and has the ability to step in as the starter at third base.
Junior Matt Sanders (New Bern, NC) is a first-year transfer from Young Harris (GA) College who can play either one of the corner infield positions. Parker has ability to play in the infield as well.
Although only five players deep, the outfield has talented players. Sophomore Wilson Boyd (Hickory, NC) hit .285, including .317 in his last 41 games, in a team-high 39 starts in right field in 2007, but he is slated to move over to left field in 2008. As a freshman, Boyd received the Bob Bradley Award as Clemson’s MVP of the four-game series with South Carolina.
Sophomore Addison Johnson (Pfafftown, NC), who started 52 games in left field as a freshman in 2007, will move over to centerfield in 2008. The 5’7″ speedster hit .286 and was one of the team’s most clutch hitters in the postseason, as he was 8-for-17 (.471) in five NCAA Tournament games.
Sophomore Alex Lee (Blythewood, SC) has the versatility to play any of the outfield positions. He played 37 games and started nine as a freshman in 2007, as he batted .288 with a .413 on-base percentage. His 28 games off the bench were a team-high as well.
Freshmen Chris Epps (Stone Mountain, GA) and Jeff Schaus (Naples, FL) will compete for the starting spot in right field. Epps was a 28th-round draft pick by the Chicago White Sox and #7 high school prospect in Georgia by Perfect Game after a standout career at Dunwoody High School.
Schaus attended the same high school (Barron Collier High) as former Tiger Andy D’Alessio, who tied the Clemson career record with 59 homers. Schaus was a 35th-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers before impressing the Tiger coaching staff with his ability to make consistent contact in the fall.
Bunn will turn to juniors D.J. Mitchell (Rural Hall, NC) and Ryan Hinson (Rock Hill, SC) to lead the pitching staff. Mitchell, a righthander, made his debut on the mound a year ago and had a 5-0 record with a 3.27 ERA in 15 appearances (seven starts). The Tigers had a 7-0 record in his seven starts on the mound, including a victory in the Myrtle Beach Regional Championship game. His hard fastball with movement will make him tough to hit. Mitchell also has the speed to pinch-run and play in the outfield, as he has 53 hits and 16 stolen bases in 93 career games in the field for the Tigers.
Hinson, a lefthander, had a 6-2 record and 2.74 ERA (fifth-best in the ACC) in 82.0 innings pitched during the 2007 season. In his career, the 2008 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List member has allowed more than two earned runs in just two of his 38 career appearances and one of his 15 starts.
“Two of our guys are established as weekend starters…D.J. Mitchell and Ryan Hinson,” stated Leggett. “We worked this fall to see who’s going to be best suited to be our third and fourth starters. Then we have several other pitches that could work in the roles of middle relief as well as at the end of games. We have to establish a pitcher that can end the game as well.”
Red-shirt freshman Graham Stoneburner (Richmond, VA) has the repetoire to join Mitchell and Hinson in the weekend rotation in 2008, as evidenced by his status as the #38 freshman prospect in the nation by Baseball America during the 2007 preseason. However, the righthander suffered a knee injury prior to the season that forced him to miss the entire year. Stoneburner can also play in the middle infield for the Tigers.
Junior righthander Matt Vaughn (Summerville, SC), who sported a 2.75 ERA and allowed just one homer in 2007, will vie for a weekend spot, but he might also work into the closer role. The team co-captain and former quarterback standout under the legendary John McKissick, shows his competitive demeanor every time he takes the mound.
Sophomore lefty Matt Zoltak (Philadelphia, PA) struggled in 2007, but he showed flashes of a promising future in many of his relief appearances. According to Leggett, he has the ability to grow into a starting role in the future.
Sophomore righties Justin Sarratt (Gaffney, SC) and Josh Thrailkill (Arden, NC) both have spent a full season in the program and have the ability to serve many different roles. Sarratt, who had a 4.85 ERA in 13.0 innings pitched, was a middle reliever in 2007 who allowed just one of eight inherited runners to score.
Thrailkill was hampered by injuries after appearing in just three games in 2007. He has one of the best arms on the staff, however his status for the 2008 season is up in the air due to injury.
Juniors William Bond (Lawrenceville, GA) and Alex Martin (Charlotte, NC) are valuable lefthanders who have been used to get lefthanded batters out. Bond, who has an outstanding breaking ball, had a 2.25 ERA in limited action in 2007.
Martin has been a dependable lefty out of the bullpen the past two seasons. In 24.1 innings pitched over 23 relief appearances, he has allowed just 24 hits, good for a .253 opponents’ batting average.
Like Mitchell, Johnson did not appear on the mound as a freshman. But like Mitchell, the lefthander will have the opportunity to pitch during his sophomore season.
Senior righthander Brock Schnabel (Winter Haven, FL) is another veteran who will provide innings out of the bullpen in 2008. Schnabel, who at 6’4″ is the tallest player on the team, only made five relief appearances in his first season at Clemson in 2007.
Six new hurlers were added to the staff in the offseason, including two lefthanders and four righthanders.
Submarine righthander Clinton McKinney (Greenville, SC) played the last two years at North Carolina-Greensboro, where he had a 3.97 ERA and two saves in 90.2 innings pitched in 2006 and 2007. The junior should be effective against righthanded batters with his unorthodox delivery.
Trey Delk (Elgin, SC) is a junior transfer from Spartanburg Methodist College who was the #3 junior college prospect in South Carolina according to Perfect Game. The righthander spent the 2005 season at South Carolina, but he did not appear in a game for the Gamecocks.
Freshman righthanders Kyle Deese (Inman, SC) and Trent Rothlin (Hickory, NC) will add depth to the Tiger bullpen in 2008. Deese was an all-state selection as a senior at Chapman High School.
Rothlin was the #5 high school prospect in North Carolina according to Perfect Game and was a 35th-round draft pick by the Seattle Mariners in 2007.
Freshmen Craig Gullickson (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) and Casey Harman (South Burlington, VT) are talented lefthanders who are expected to make an immediate impact during the 2008 season.
Gullickson, son of former Major Leaguer Bill Gullickson, was the #106 high school prospect in the nation by Perfect Game at Cardinal Newman High School.
Harman hails from the same hometown and attended the same high school as Leggett. The 6’2″ freshman led South Burlington High School to two state titles and was named Gatorade Player-of-the-Year in Vermont as a senior.
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