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2009 Clemson Baseball Outlook

Feb. 6, 2009

Overview Twenty-one returning lettermen and a top-10 recruiting class give Head Coach Jack Leggett reason for optimism in 2009. After missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986, the Tigers are aiming for a return to postseason play with a deeper roster at every position.

“I am excited about this team,” said Leggett, who is in his 16th year at the program’s helm with 680 wins, tied for fifth-most in the nation over that span. “I think we’ll be a team with more depth at every position than we’ve had in the past. We have a lot more intra-team competition, which will help move everyone to another level. We have a good mix of athletes in the outfield, infield, and at catcher, and we have quality depth on the pitching staff.

“Offensively, it is going to be very exciting. We have speed, power, and guys who can bunt and manufacture runs. I think we’ll be a solid team on defense when we find the right combination. When everyone on the pitching staff gets adjusted to their roles, we will have a solid pitching staff.”

Clemson lost an effective leader in catcher Doug Hogan to graduation and its top pitcher in righthander D.J. Mitchell to the draft. But the other eight position starters and the other four starting pitchers from the 2008 team return.

The Tigers have added 12 newcomers to the mix, as Assistant Coaches Tom Riginos and Kyle Bunn were important reasons that Clemson signed the #9 recruiting class in the nation according to Collegiate Baseball. Six of the 12 newcomers were selected in the draft this past June.

A familiar name was added to the coaching staff, as former Tiger slugger Michael Johnson is in his first year as the volunteer assistant. He hit 58 home runs from 2000-03 as a member of two College World Series teams and brings a wealth of knowledge to the hitters and infielders.

The Tigers will open the season with a preseason top-25 ranking for the 21st consecutive year, as they are listed at #19 by Baseball America and #25 in the Sports Weekly coaches poll.

The 2009 schedule will certainly challenge Clemson. Fifteen of its 26 non-conference games will be against teams that played in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, games against South Carolina (4), Charlotte (3), UNC Wilmington (3), Elon (2), Georgia (2), and Coastal Carolina (1). The Tigers will also face five ACC teams that played in the 2008 NCAA Tourney, meaning 30 of their 56 games will be against teams that played in the 2008 tourney.

The top-eight teams in the ACC standings will play in the ACC Tournament at Durham (NC) Bulls Athletic Park from May 20-24. The tourney was originally scheduled to be played at Fenway Park in Boston, MA. But a scheduling conflict caused the move to Durham. The 2010 ACC Tournament is now scheduled to be played at Fenway Park.

Catchers With the departure of Hogan, the starting catcher spot will be filled by one of three players. Sophomore John Nester (Greer, SC) showed flashes of power in limited action in 2008 and is the only returner behind the plate who has seen significant action, as he hit .256 with three homers in 39 at-bats as a freshman.

Graduate Adam Ward (Hanahan, SC) is a well-respected former walk-on who impressed coaches with one of the team’s top batting averages in the fall. He is one of two graduate students on the team as well.

Freshman Phil Pohl (Cooperstown, NY), a 44th-round draft pick in 2008, will also compete for the starting job after exhibiting a strong work ethic during the fall. He was the #3 prospect in New York according to Perfect Game last year.

Infielders Clemson has eight full-time infielders, six of whom have the ability to play any of the non-first-base positions. Graduate Stan Widmann (Hurst, TX), who has been a starter at shortstop since 2005, has played 193 games (191 starts) and is 39-42 on stolen bases, a success rate of 93 percent, in his career. By earning a letter in 2009, he can become the first Tiger baseball player in history to earn five letters. Widmann is the only returning position player who played in Clemson’s last trip to the College World Series in 2006, when he hit .307 in his best season at the plate.

The leader of the infield is junior first-baseman Ben Paulsen (Acworth, GA). He hit .310 with 18 doubles, 13 homers, and 49 RBIs in 2008. This past summer, Paulsen was a starter in the Cape Cod League All-Star game and tied for second in the league in home runs. He is rated as the #24 college prospect in the nation for 2009 by Baseball America and is an All-America candidate who has power to all fields.

Junior Mike Freeman (Orlando, FL) started 50 games at second base in 2008 and led the team with a .332 batting average along with a solid .959 fielding percentage. He was the team’s predominant leadoff batter after transferring from Georgia, where he played as a freshman in 2007. Freeman is the leading candidate to start at second base in 2009.

Like Freeman, senior Matt Sanders (New Bern, NC) is a versatile infielder who was one of the team’s hottest hitters in the latter stages of 2008. Sanders made a team-high 26 starts at third base and hit .404 in his last 14 games of the season.

Sophomore John Hinson (Asheville, NC) played 39 games (25 starts) in 2008 and will add depth to a veteran infield. He made 20 starts at third base a season ago and is a candidate to start there again in 2009.

The coaching staff is excited about freshman infielders Brad Miller (Windermere, FL) and Jason Stolz (Marietta, GA). Both were selected in the draft and proved during fall practice that they will be factors in 2009. Miller was a 39th-round draft pick in 2008 and was the #17 prospect in the talent-laden state of Florida by Perfect Game. Stolz was a 31st-round draft pick in 2008 and attended the same high school (Kell) in Georgia as Paulsen.

Richard Mounce (Columbia, SC) is a freshman first-baseman who showed his power potential in the fall. Mounce, who also will compete for innings out of the bullpen, will back up Paulsen at first base and projects as a promising hitter in the future. He was a standout quarterback at Blythewood High School and was named Mr. Football in South Carolina as a senior.

Outfielders Six Tigers comprise Clemson’s experienced outfield. Sophomore Kyle Parker (Jacksonville, FL), a quarterback on the football team, burst on the scene in 2008 by hitting .303 with a team-high 14 homers and 50 RBIs. Parker, who has tremendous power to all fields, also earned first-team freshman All-America and First-Team All-ACC honors. He successfully juggled baseball with spring football practice last season and will do the same in 2009 when he will compete for the starting job under center. This spring, he is scheduled to practice with the football team and play a baseball game on the same day eight times.

After missing the entire 2008 season due to injury, sophomore Addison Johnson (Pfafftown, NC) is healthy in 2009. As a freshman, he was one of the team’s best hitters in the postseason. That year, he hit .286 overall, but he was 8-for-17 (.471) in five NCAA Tourney games. He is a contender to be the team’s leadoff batter and “sparkplug.”

Junior Wilson Boyd (Hickory, NC), who can play any outfield spot, hit .300 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs while being one of only two Tigers to start all 59 games in 2008. He has good power despite his 5’8″ frame. Boyd is a two-time winner of the Bob Bradley Award, given each year to the Tiger MVP of the four-game series with South Carolina.

Sophomore Jeff Schaus (Naples, FL) was also a starter during most of the 2008 season. He is a line-drive hitter who batted .315 with a team-best .415 on-base percentage thanks to more walks (33) than strikeouts (28) in 2008. His consistent swing should allow him to start in the outfield or as the designated hitter.

Sophomore Chris Epps (Stone Mountain, GA) along with freshman Will Lamb (Seaford, VA) will also compete in the outfield. Epps had a .406 on-base percentage in 2008 thanks to 30 walks in only 101 at-bats. His one walk every 3.37 at-bats was the fifth-best mark in school history. Epps will compete for a starting spot in the outfield in 2009.

Lamb is the tallest Tiger (6’4″) who has outstanding speed. That will allow him to compete for innings in the outfield in 2009.

Pitchers Senior righthander Matt Vaughn (Summerville, SC) returns as team captain and will anchor the pitching staff. He totaled 11 saves (third-most in the ACC) and a 3.15 ERA along with 43 strikeouts against 12 walks as the closer a season ago. He is also a three-time member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll.

“We have one team captain in Matt Vaughn,” said Leggett. “Matt brings to the table a competitive, loyal spirit every single day he comes out to the field. He works extremely hard. He has battled through a couple of injuries, but he will be ready when the season begins. He’s a tough, hard-nosed competitor that loves Clemson and is loyal to our program. He is a good leader and everyone looks up to him, so he is the right guy for that role.”

Senior lefthander Graham Stoneburner (Richmond, VA) joined Mitchell as weekend starters in 2008. They both have been through the battles of a rigorous ACC schedule and will compete for weekend spots in 2009.

In 181.0 career innings pitched over 57 appearances (25 starts), Hinson has a 13-7 record and 3.68 ERA. He was selected in the 31st round of the 2008 draft, but he elected to return for his senior season. Like Widmann, Hinson has seen action in the College World Series when Clemson last played there in 2006. Hinson has a 3-0 record in eight career postseason appearances as well.

Stoneburner was dominant in the early stages of 2008, which included a two-hit shutout of N.C. State. He finished the season with a 6-5 record in 71.1 innings pitched. He is rated as the #58 college prospect in the nation by Baseball America and will use his hard fastball to vie for a starting spot in 2009.

Senior righthander Trey Delk (Elgin, SC) and junior righthander Justin Sarratt (Gaffney, SC) have pitched key innings as both a starter and reliever. Delk emerged in the second half of 2008 as a reliable starter, as he was 2-1 with a 4.01 ERA. He also had an outstanding fall and will compete for a starting weekend spot in 2009.

Sarratt, who started in the Coastal Plain League All-Star game this past summer, allowed just six walks in 45.2 innings pitched for the Tigers in 2008. His 1.18 walks per nine innings pitched mark was second-best in school history, while he also had a 4.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio (seventh-best in Tiger history). His quick delivery to the plate has kept baserunners at bay, as he has not allowed a stolen base in 58.2 innings pitched during his career.

Sophomore lefthanders Craig Gullickson (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) and Casey Harman (South Burlington, VT) were valuable relievers for most of 2008 and will compete for starting roles in 2009.

Gullickson had a 4-2 record in 19 outings as a freshman as both a starter and reliever. Gullickson, who changes speeds well, comes from an athletic family, as his father Bill played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues.

As a freshman in 2008, Harman had a 4.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio (sixth-best in Clemson history) in 27 appearances. He also had a 3.89 ERA and held lefthanded batters to a team-best .196 batting average.

Senior righty Clinton McKinney (Greenville, SC) and sophomore righthander Josh Thrailkill (Arden, NC) are two more Tigers with college experience.

McKinney’s sidearm delivery will be an asset out of the bullpen. The former UNC Greensboro hurler has made 70 career appearances in three seasons at the collegiate level, and that experience will be an asset out of the bullpen in 2009.

Thrailkill, who missed the entire 2008 season after suffering a hip injury, has the arm to become a force for Clemson. He was rated as the #18 freshman in the nation in 2007.

Freshman righthander Kyle Deese (Inman, SC) will also compete for innings after red-shirting in 2008. He won the Omaha Four-Lapper and shuttle run in the Omaha Challenge this past fall. The endurance he displayed should go a long way in him being a reliable long reliever in 2009.

Seven newcomers were added to the pitching staff in the offseason, including freshman righthanders Scott Weismann (Boxborough, MA) along with freshman lefty Chris Dwyer (Swampscott, MA), who were all selected in the Major League draft this past June.

Brady was a 44th-round draft pick who has the ability to contribute immediately. Weismann was an 18th-round draft pick who was the #2 prospect in Massachusetts according to Perfect Game. Dwyer was a 36th-round draft pick who was the #3 prospect in Masschusetts by the same publication.

Junior righthander Tomas Cruz (Amarillo, TX) and sophomore righty Alex Frederick (Lagrangeville, NY) are junior college transfers who will provide depth in the bullpen. Cruz joins Widmann as natives of Texas, while Frederick has three years of eligibility remaining after playing at Dutchess Community College.

Also new to the Tigers are freshman righthander David Haselden (Spartanburg, SC) and freshman lefthander Joseph Moorefield (Woodruff, SC). Haselden was a standout at Spartanburg High School and was rated as the #6 prospect in South Carolina by Impact Baseball. Moorefield also hails from the Upstate, as he starred at James F. Byrnes High School and was rated as the #4 prospect in South Carolina by Impact Baseball.