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Feb 03, 2019

2019 Baseball Outlook

By: Brian Hennessy

Head coach Monte Lee is in his fourth season at the helm of the Clemson program with some remarkable accomplishments already on his resumé. His 133 wins in three seasons are eighth most in the nation and Clemson is one of just five programs in the country with 42+ wins each of the last three years. The program, one of just four in the nation to host a regional each of the last three seasons, is on strong footing with the 42-year old mentor.

The 2019 Tigers, ranked as high as No. 14 in the preseason by Baseball America, look to break through and advance past the regional round with Lee as well as assistant coaches Bradley LeCroy, Andrew See and Greg Starbuck leading the squad. LeCroy, the recruiting coordinator who is in his 12th year at Clemson, played a big role in the Tigers’ 2018 recruiting class (2019 newcomers) that was rated No. 7 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.

See, Clemson’s pitching coach, oversees a veteran starting rotation in 2019. Of the eight Tigers who made a start on the mound in 2018, seven return. However, the Tigers must replace two of the ACC’s best relievers in All-American Ryley Gilliam and Ryan Miller. Starbuck assists the hitters and is in his fourth season at Clemson and 18th overall.

The Tigers look to repeat as ACC regular-season champion after sharing that title in 2018. It was the first time Clemson had at least a share of that title since 2006 thanks in large part to finishing second in the nation in homers per game, setting the school record for fielding percentage (.975) and totaling a Clemson-record 16 one-run wins behind a strong bullpen and timely hitting.

“We are experienced on the front line of our staff, but we must fill key roles in the bullpen in 2019,” said Lee. “We also lost some of the most productive hitters we’ve had here, including Seth Beer and Chris Williams, two players who combined for 96 homers and 338 RBIs the last three seasons.

“We hit 98 home runs last year, but with the loss of players who combined for over half of them, we need to be more aggressive on the bases, utilize our speed and be a good situational-hitting team. We also need to replace all three starters in the outfield.

“I’m very excited about the group of newcomers that has joined the team. Our coaches have done a tremendous job in bringing in some of the most talented and hard-working players in the country. The key is getting those players ready for the ACC battles.”

The 2019 schedule features 33 home games and four neutral-site games at minor league parks, including two games in Greenville, S.C., and single games in Columbia, S.C., and Charlotte N.C. Eighteen of the Tigers’ first 21 contests are at home, then 20 of the next 32 games are away from home. The season begins Feb. 15 with a three-game home series against South Alabama. Twelve teams participate in the ACC Tournament at Durham (N.C.) Bulls Athletic Park.


CATCHERS

Junior Kyle Wilkie (Cumming, Ga.) emerged as one of Clemson’s top offensive threats and a dependable catcher in 2018. He ended the season on a 29-game hitting streak, fourth longest in school history, and batted a team-high .324 with five homers and 40 RBIs. As catcher in almost every inning last season, he allowed just 26 steals in 42 attempts.

Sophomore Drew Donathan (Charlotte, N.C.) played only 11 games as a freshman in 2018 and is slated to miss the 2019 season due to a leg injury.

Freshman Adam Hackenberg (Palmyra, Va.), brother of former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, was drafted in the 39th round by the Royals after being named state player-of-the-year and will compete for innings behind the plate with one of the top arms in the league.


INFIELDERS

The Tigers return several veterans in the infield. The leader of that group is junior shortstop Logan Davidson (Charlotte, N.C.), who was a third-team All-American in 2018. He hit .292 with 18 doubles, 15 homers, 46 RBIs, 60 runs, a .408 on-base percentage and 10 steals last season, and he also committed just eight errors, good for a stellar .971 fielding percentage. The switch-hitter, who is a preseason first-team All-American and one of two team co-captains in 2019, has started all 126 career games as well.

Senior Grayson Byrd (Milton, Ga.) has the versatility to play any infield position and will vie for the starting role at first base in 2019. The son of former major league righthander Paul Byrd is hitting .266 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 105 games in his two active seasons as a Tiger.

Another veteran infielder is graduate Jordan Greene (Fort Mill, S.C.), who was the starter at second base in 38 games in 2019. His steady play in the field and clutch hitting at the plate, including a walkoff homer against No. 13 Florida State and walkoff single in the Clemson Regional a year ago, are reasons he is in the mix to start at second base.

Sophomore Sam Hall (Hampstead, N.C.) is a leading candidate to start at third base, and he also has the athleticism to play in the outfield. He had two homers, four doubles and eight steals in 25 games in 2018. He also committed just one error in 43 chances, including none in 17 chances as an infielder.

Senior Justin Hawkins (Prosperity, S.C.) is one of the team’s strongest hitters. He totaled three doubles, two homers and eight RBIs in 21 games, and he committed just one error, good for a .968 fielding percentage. He has the versatility to play at third base and second base.

First-year freshmen Mac Starbuck (Easley, S.C.), son of Clemson’s volunteer assistant coach who showed a steady glove in the fall, Chad Fairey (Greenwood, S.C.), Bryar Hawkins (Cumming, Ga.) and James Parker (Anderson, S.C.) are four more infielders who look to contribute in 2019.

Fairey, who can also play in the outfield, was a three-time all-state selection at Ninety Six High School whose uncle, Burke, played baseball at Clemson and father, Clint, played baseball at Western Carolina. Hawkins, like Fairey, showed flashes of power in the fall after a all-state career at West Forsyth High School. Hawkins will also compete for innings on the mound. Parker is the son of former Tiger pitcher Tim Parker.


OUTFIELDERS

Clemson’s inexperienced outfield is led by two speedy sophomores, Kier Meredith (Winston-Salem, N.C.) and Bryce Teodosio (Simpsonville, S.C.). Both showed flashes of their potential in limited action in 2018, and both have the ability to be everyday outfielders in 2019.

Meredith battled two injuries as a freshman and had a .411 on-base percentage and four steals in 13 games. He reached base via a hit, walk or hit-by-pitch in all 12 of his starts. Teodosio was Clemson’s best defensive outfielder in 2018, but he suffered an injury in early May and missed the rest of the season. He hit four homers and led the team in games off the bench (13).

Matt Cooper (Virginia Beach, Va.) played only seven games in his primary role as a catcher in 2018. The sophomore will compete for playing time in the outfield as well as at first base and catcher.

Sophomore Bo Majkowski (Johns Creek, Ga.), son of former NFL quarterback Don Majkowski, played only two games in 2018 as a member of the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Freshman Elijah Henderson (Greer, S.C.) redshirted as a member of the developmental squad, then was named to the Coastal Plain League Select Team in the summer.

First-year Tiger Michael Green (Edgefield, S.C.) is an athletic sophomore who will vie for a starting outfield spot. He showed flashes of an all-around game in the fall.

Freshman Matthew Lumsden (Simpsonville, S.C.) was a first-team all-state selection at J.L. Mann High School. He was limited due to injury in the fall, but has the size and ability to make an impact in 2019.


PITCHERS

A total of 20 pitchers, including 11 who have pitched in a game for the Tigers, are on the 2019 roster. Returning pitchers have combined for 49 career starts, 47 of which came in the 2018 season.

Senior righty Brooks Crawford (Bishop, Ga.) became a dependable weekend starter in 2018 and had an 8-2 record with a 3.24 ERA and 58 strikeouts against 18 walks in 80.2 innings pitched. He tied for the ACC lead in wins, and Clemson had a 14-2 record in his 16 starts. In his career, he is 15-2 with a 3.07 ERA in 149.1 innings pitched.

Junior lefty Jacob Hennessy (Moore, S.C.) is a steady Tiger who started on Fridays in 2018. He had a 3.91 ERA and 54 strikeouts against 14 walks in 71.1 innings pitched. His command and breaking ball are big reasons he has 91 strikeouts against 25 walks in his career.

Sophomore righthander Spencer Strider (Knoxville, Tenn.) is one of the team’s top professional prospects. He was 5-2 with a team-high 70 strikeouts and a .215 opponents’ batting in 22 appearances, but will miss the 2019 season due to an arm injury.

Junior righty Carson Spiers (Greenville, S.C.) returns as the team’s top reliever. In 2018, he made a team-high 29 appearances, all out of the bullpen, and had four saves. He was 2-2 with a 2.08 ERA and .149 opponents’ batting average thanks to his unorthodox delivery and command. In 2019, he is one of the team’s two co-captains.

Sophomore Mat Clark (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) emerged as a valuable lefthander out of the bullpen in 2018. He had a 4-0 record, 1.69 ERA and .217 opponents’ batting average in 19 appearances. He also had 23 strikeouts against only four walks.

Sophomore righthander Travis Marr (Castle Rock, Colo.) filled a need as a long reliever a season ago, as he had a 6-2 record in 44.2 innings pitched. He will be counted on in the same role in 2019.

Junior righty Owen Griffith (Aiken, S.C.) had a save and 18 strikeouts in 14.2 innings pitched over 12 relief appearances in 2018. He will vie for innings out of the bullpen in 2019.

Like Griffith, sophomore lefty Sam Weatherly (Howell, Mich.) looks to contribute out of the bullpen in 2019. He showed flashes of dominance in the fall after making eight appearances in 2018.

Sophomore righties Holt Jones (Santa Monica, Calif.) and Bo Gobin (Summerville, S.C.) are two more righty relievers who will vie for innings out of the bullpen. Jones, who was 2-0 with a 4.41 ERA in 2018, has a big upside with his 6’8” frame. Gobin’s sidearm delivery makes him an asset against righthanded batters.

Sophomore Ryne Huggins (Newberry, S.C.) was a matchup lefty who made 10 relief appearances in 2018 and looks to provide the same role in 2019.

Sophomore Andrew Coker (Hartsville, S.C.), freshman Connor O’Rear (Aiken, S.C.) and junior Sheldon Reed (Bradley, S.C.) are three righties who were a part of the program in 2018 but did not appear in a game. All three, including the hard-throwing Reed, who was a hitter on last year’s team, will compete for innings out of the bullpen in 2019.

Righthander Luke Sommerfeld (Elm Grove, Wis.) is a graduate transfer from Saint Louis, where he played four seasons. He was 4-2 with four saves, a 4.13 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 104.2 innings pitched.

Righties Jackson Lindley (Anderson, S.C.), Carter Raffield (Cochran, Ga.) and Davis Sharpe (Dacula, Ga.) are freshmen who have the coaches excited. Lindley was a North-South All-Star Game selection after a standout career T.L. Hanna High School, respectively. Raffield is a hard thrower who is slated to miss the 2019 season due to an arm injury. Sharpe, also an outfielder, showed coaches in the fall why he could make an instant impact in 2019 after being drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates.

The Tigers also signed lefties Keyshawn Askew (Powder Springs, Ga.) and Justin Wrobleski (Canton, Ga.), freshmen who are slated to contribute out of the bullpen in 2019. Askew and his delivery will challenge lefthanded batters. Wrobleski, who was drafted in the 36th round by the Mariners, is also an outfielder who showed off his athletic ability in the fall.

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