With so much uncertainty in the era of COVID-19, one aspect of the Tigers in certain…their depth in 2021. And that depth is one of many reasons the Tigers are ranked as high as No. 25 by Collegiate Baseball in the preseason polls.
Head Coach Monte Lee, in his sixth season as the leader of the Clemson program whose 182 wins are tied for 13th most in the nation during that time, returns players who accounted for over 95 percent of the starts made in 2020, including every player who started a game in the batting order. Clemson also welcomes the No. 16 recruiting class in the nation according to D1Baseball.
With second-year Volunteer Assistant Coach Jared Broughton, who specializes in his ability to teach the aspect of baserunning, the rest of the staff and the players, Clemson is primed for a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2021, with its sights set on a deep run.
The Tiger pitching staff must replace three of its top pitchers in Sam Weatherly (third-round draft pick), Spencer Strider (fourth-round draft pick) and closer Carson Spiers (free-agent signee). The trio were big reasons Clemson was 14-3 overall and 6-0 in one-run games in the shortened 2020 season.
“We were poised to have a great second half of the 2020 season with the likes of Sam, Spencer and Carson as well as many other pitchers and hitters,” said Lee, whose five Tiger teams have combined for a 51-24 record in one-run games. “My biggest takeaway from the 2020 team was its toughness and the way we battled. We were excellent in close games, and our goal is to carry over that toughness and mindset into 2021.
“I’m also excited to see the continued development of our hitters and fielders. We return everyone in the field from last year, and with the work we were able to get in during the fall, I can’t wait to see the team we put on the field this season.”
The 2021 schedule features 50 regular-season games, 28 home games at Doug Kingsmore Stadium and 12 ACC series. The Tigers play South Carolina at Fluor Field in Greenville and Georgia Southern in North Augusta as well. The season begins Feb. 19 with a three-game home series against Cincinnati.
The Tigers’ lone returning catcher with college game experience is sophomore co-captain Adam Hackenberg (Palmyra, Va.). In 38 games (26 starts) over two seasons, he is a .240 hitter with three homers and 25 RBIs. Hackenberg, who received the 2020 Tiger Baseball Award as the team’s best leader, has showed his power potential as well as a strong arm to keep run games at bay.
Redshirt freshman Jonathan French (Lilburn, Ga.) was slated to be a contributor on offense in 2020, but he suffered an injury in early February that caused him to miss the season. He is rated as the No. 19 college prospect for the 2022 draft by Baseball America.
Cooper Ingle (Asheville, N.C.) is the No. 48 freshman in the ACC by Perfect Game and impressed coaches in the fall. He provides a lefthanded bat, the only among the Tiger catchers, and can also play in the outfield and infield.
Clemson features a versatile infield with many players who can play at a variety of positions. Leading the way is Elijah Henderson (Greer, S.C.), who was co-winner of the 2020 Mitchell Award as team MVP. He hit .323 with seven doubles and a .456 on-base percentage in 17 games. He led the team in doubles, on-base percentage, multiple-hit games and two-out RBIs. Henderson has the ability to compete for a starting job in the outfield as well.
Sophomore James Parker (Anderson, S.C.) is a prime candidate to start at shortstop, where he started a team-high seven games in 2020. He is a career .262 hitter with two homers and 15 RBIs in 40 games (28 starts).
Junior Sam Hall (Hampstead, N.C.) is another versatile veteran who can play any infield position as well as in the outfield with his outstanding athletic ability. His 101 games and 92 starts in his career are more than any other 2021 Tiger. He also is hitting .242 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs, 84 runs and 40 steals in three seasons.
Sophomore Bryar Hawkins (Cumming, Ga.) is one of the team’s top power hitters and is a leading candidate to start at third base. He is a career .287 hitter with eight homers and 32 RBIs in 67 games (59 starts), and he is a career .331 hitter in 33 ACC regular-season games.
The Tigers have two more returning players in the infield who are listed as freshmen. Mac Starbuck (Easley, S.C.), a candidate to start at second base, showed a steady glove and clutch bat in 11 games (eight starts) last season. Pierce Gallo (Marietta, Ga.) saw limited action in his first season in the program in 2020.
Blake Wright (Belleair, Fla.) is one of three first-year freshmen who are in the mix for playing time in the infield in 2021, joining Max Wagner (Green Bay, Wis.) and Brett Ahalt (Woodsboro, Md.). Ahalt (OF) and Lucas (RHP) will also vie for playing time at other positions.
Clemson features a deep outfield group, led by sophomore Kier Meredith (Winston-Salem, N.C.), who was co-winner of the 2020 Mitchell Award as team MVP. Meredith has overcome a plethora of injuries during his three seasons and is a career .302 hitter with nine steals in 39 games (37 starts) as one of the team’s fastest players and best leaders.
Juniors Bo Majkowski (Johns Creek, Ga.) and Bryce Teodosio (Simpsonville, S.C.) are excellent defensive outfielders who have been streaky hitters. Majkowski has a career .360 on-base percentage and 10 steals in 66 games (38 starts), while Teodosio, one of the nation’s speediest center fielders, has 13 home runs and 12 steals in 100 career games (84 starts).
Second-year freshman Dylan Brewer (Latta, S.C.) is one of the team’s top professional prospects who made an instant impact in 2020. The No. 55 college prospect for the 2022 draft by Baseball America hit .245 with a .413 on-base percentage in 16 games (15 starts) in 2020 and has the versatility to play at first base.
Sophomore Chad Fairey (Greenwood, S.C.) is another power hitter who ended the 2020 season with a walkoff single in Clemson’s last game. He has four home runs in only 93 career at-bats. He can also contribute at first base.
Junior Matt Cooper (Virginia Beach, Va.) and third-year freshman Matthew Lumsden (Simpsonville, S.C.) are two more outfielders who will compete for playing time. Cooper, who can play first base and serve as a backup catcher, has played 20 games (five starts) in three years, while Lumsden, who possesses raw power, has yet to see action as a Tiger.
Redshirt freshman Regan Reid (Anderson, S.C.), who also provides depth at catcher and in the outfield, joins redshirt freshman J.D. Brock (Davidson, N.C.), who missed the 2020 season due to injury, to compete for playing time in the outfield.
Alex Urban (Lexington, S.C.) and Noah Stout (Rochester, Mich.) are two freshmen who impressed in the fall. Urban was one of the team’s top power hitters in the fall after being rated as the No. 1 high school outfielder in South Carolina by Perfect Game. Stout was the No. 2 high school outfielder in Michigan by Perfect Game.
The Tigers lost three of their most important pieces from the 2020 staff, but they return many young pitchers who made an immediate impact a season ago. Perhaps their most talented pitcher is third-year freshman righty Carter Raffield (Cochran, Ga.). Coming off a season-ending injury in 2019, Raffield showed flashes of dominance out of the bullpen in 7.2 innings pitched in 2020. He will compete for a spot in the weekend rotation in 2021.
Sophomore righthander Davis Sharpe (Dacula, Ga.) has used his pitchability to be a consistent force on the diamond the past two years. In 102.2 innings pitched over 19 appearances (18 starts), he is 8-5 with a 3.33 ERA and 104 strikeouts. He is also a leading candidate to start at first base, as he is a .276 career hitter with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 51 games (47 starts). Sharpe is a preseason first-team All-American as the utility player.
Graduate and junior lefty Mat Clark (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) did not pitch in the fall, but he is back for his fifth year in the program as a reliable and crafty starter. He is 15-3 with a 2.88 ERA and 97 strikeouts against 30 walks in 106.1 innings pitched over 37 appearances (12 starts) in his career.
Another candidate to start on the weekends is sophomore lefthander Keyshawn Askew (Powder Springs, Ga.), who uses his unorthodox delivery to be effective on the mound. In 57.2 innings pitched over 21 appearances (10 starts) in his career, he is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA and 48 strikeouts.
Several pitchers have a chance to take the next step in their roles in 2021. Second-year freshman righthander Mack Anglin (Marengo, Ohio) has one of the team’s best arms with a hard fastball and sharp breaking ball.
Second-year freshman lefthander Geoffrey Gilbert (Charleston, S.C.) is a candidate to pitch at the end of games after his freshman All-America season in 2020, when he was 1-0 with an 0.71 ERA and a .159 opponents’ batting average in 12.2 innings pitched over eight relief outings.
Second-year freshman righties Nick Clayton (York, S.C.) and Nick Hoffmann (Centerville, Ohio) were reliable relievers in 2020 and look to fill those same roles in 2021. Clayton pitched 8.2 scoreless innings and allowed just four hits, while Hoffmann was 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA.
Sophomore righties Jackson Lindley (Anderson, S.C.) and Connor O’Rear (Aiken, S.C.) will compete for innings out of the bullpen or as spot starters in 2021. Lindley is 3-0 with a 3.16 ERA in 37.0 innings pitched over 13 career appearances (seven starts), while O’Rear has a 4.50 ERA in limited action.
Graduate, junior righthander and co-captain Evan Estridge (Chapin, S.C.) and second-year freshman lefties Ryan Ammons (Easley, S.C.) and P.J. Labriola (Bradenton, Fla.) will compete for innings out of the bullpen as well. Estridge impressed in the fall with his fastball, while Ammons and Labriola saw limited action in 2020.
The Tigers welcome two righthanded transfers from Upstate programs to the staff. Sophomore Rob Hughes (Rock Hill, S.C.), who was a standout at Furman, showed one of the team’s best fastballs in the fall. He is a candidate for the closer position in 2020. Graduate and junior Rasesh Pandya (Greenville, S.C.) was 6-2 with five saves, a 2.59 ERA and 64 strikeouts against 14 walks in 55.2 innings pitched at Wofford during the 2017, 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Two first-year freshman lefthanders are on the 2021 roster, led by Caden Grice (Greer, S.C.). He showed a promising arm in the fall, and he showed off his powerful bat as well. He will compete for innings on the mound and at first base in 2021. Bryson Hammer (Stony Point, N.C.) will also compete for innings on the mound from the left side.
First-year freshman righthanders Ty Olenchuk (Irmo, S.C.), Landon Lucas (Columbia, S.C.), Alex Edmondson (Simpsonville, S.C.), Ricky Williams (Lexington, S.C.), Patrick Bott (Orlando, Fla.) and Braison Bourne (Lexington, S.C.) are in the mix to contribute in 2021. Lucas will compete for playing time in the infield as well.
Olenchuk was a decorated quarterback in high school who had football offers to play at the Division I level. Edmondson and Williams were rated as two of the best righties in the state last year, while Bott and Bourne look to develop and contribute out of the bullpen.