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2009 Clemson Baseball Preview

Dec. 4, 2008

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 really good mix of athletes in the outfield, infield, and at catcher, and we have depth on the pitching staff.

“Offensively, it is going to be exciting. We have some 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.

Senior righty Matt Vaughn returns as team captain and will anchor the pitching staff. He totaled 11 saves and a 3.15 ERA along with 43 strikeouts against 12 walks as the closer a season ago.

Senior lefthander Graham Stoneburner 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, Hinson has a 13-7 record and 3.68 ERA. Stoneburner was dominant in the early stages of 2008 and finished with a 6-5 record in 71.1 innings pitched. He is rated as the #58 college prospect in the nation by Baseball America.

Senior righty Trey Delk and junior righty Justin Sarratt 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. 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.

Sophomore lefties Craig Gullickson and Casey Harman were valuable relievers for most of 2008 and will compete for starting roles in 2009. Gullickson had a 4-2 record in 19 outings and Harman had a 4.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 27 appearances in 2008.

Senior righty Clinton McKinney and sophomore righthander Josh Thrailkill are two more Tigers with college experience. McKinney’s sidearm delivery will be an asset out of the bullpen. Thrailkill, who missed the entire 2008 season after suffering a hip injury, has the arm to become a force for Clemson. Freshman righty Kyle Deese will also compete for innings after red-shirting in 2008.

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

Junior righty Tomas Cruz and sophomore righty Alex Frederick are junior college transfers who will provide depth in the bullpen. Also new to the Tigers are freshman righthander David Haselden and freshman lefty Joseph Moorefield.

With the departure of Hogan, the starting catcher spot will be filled by one of three players. Sophomore John Nester showed flashes of power in limited action in 2008. Graduate Adam Ward is a well-respected former walk-on who impressed coaches with one of the team’s top batting averages in the fall. Freshman Phil Pohl, a 44th-round draft pick, will also compete for the starting job after exhibiting a strong work ethic during the fall.

Clemson has seven infielders, six of whom have the ability to play any of the non-first-base positions. Graduate Stan Widmann, 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.

Junior Mike Freeman started 50 games at second base in 2008 and led the team with a .332 batting average along with a solid .959 fielding percentage. Like Freeman, senior John Hinson played 39 games (25 starts) in 2008 and will add depth to a veteran infield.

The coaching staff is excited about freshman infielders Brad Miller and Jason Stolz. Both were selected in the draft and proved during fall practice that they will be factors for the Tigers in 2009.

The leader of the infield is junior first-baseman Ben Paulsen. 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.

Seven Tigers comprise Clemson’s experienced outfield. Sophomore Kyle Parker, 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 also earned first-team freshman All-America and First-Team All-ACC honors.

Junior Wilson Boyd and sophomore Jeff Schaus were starters most of 2008. Boyd, who can play any outfield position, hit .300 with 11 homers and 44 RBIs while being one of only two Tigers to start all 59 games. Schaus is a line-drive hitter who batted .315 with a .415 on-base percentage thanks to more walks (33) than strikeouts (28) in 2008.

Sophomore Chris Epps along with freshmen Will Lamb and Richard Mounce will also compete in the outfield. Epps had a .406 on-base percentage in 2008. Lamb is the tallest Tiger (6’4″) and Mounce showed his power potential in the fall. Mounce will also back up Paulsen at first base and projects as a dangerous hitter in the future.

After missing the entire 2008 season due to injury, sophomore Addison Johnson is healthy. As a freshman, he was one of the team’s hottest hitters late in 2007. He is a contender to be the team’s leadoff batter and “spark plug.”

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, including games against South Carolina (4), Charlotte (3), UNC Wilmington (3), and Georgia (2). The top-eight teams in the ACC standings will play in the ACC Tournament at Durham (NC) Bulls Athletic Park from May 20-24.