CLEMSON, S.C. – The 2020 Tiger baseball team started its spring season on Friday afternoon at Doug Kingsmore Stadium with reason for optimism, but it must replace several standouts from the 2019 team. With only two players returning that have experience starting for an entire season in the field, Head Coach Monte Lee and the rest of the coaching staff have a number of decisions to make before opening day on Feb. 14 against Liberty.
Grayson Byrd, Logan Davidson and Kyle Wilkie all departed and are now in the professional ranks. The loss of those All-ACC players are an obstacle the Tigers must overcome, but Davis Sharpe said the team is being held to the same high standard.
“The bar is always the same…we have high expectations every year. Omaha is the goal every year, and that’s going to be the same now and in 10 years.”
The household names and big bats leaving the middle of the batting order have forced the Tigers to retool its offense. Speed from players like Sam Hall, Bryce Teodosio and Kier Meredith will carry the Tigers’ “pass the baton” approach.
With the loss of players who hit 48 of the 2019 team’s 82 home runs, there will be a renewed focus on executing at the plate and on the bases, and first-year Volunteer Assistant Coach Broughton has been working on baserunning and stealing with the team in the hopes the Tigers can put added pressure on opposing defenses.
The team’s offense will need to rely heavily on a talented group of freshmen, so it is important they play confidently and continue with the explosiveness they exhibited in the fall.
“They’ve been very coachable, they’re very hungry, they’re very eager and they’re ready to get started,” said Lee of his freshman class, which was signed by Recruiting Coordinator Bradley LeCroy.
Sophomore outfielder Kier Meredith is excited about taking a leadership role on the team, and he hopes to be a “spark plug” and bring energy to the dugout. Catcher Adam Hackenberg stated that the younger players are ready to step up, and “it’s our job as younger guys to be prepared to fill those roles.”
Clemson returns a strong corps of pitchers under the direction of Pitching Coach Andrew See. However, one returning pitcher has moved to a different role. Three-year letterman and senior lefthander Jacob Hennessy suffered a season-ending arm injury in the fall. He elected to retire from baseball, however, he is remaining with the team as a student assistant coach in 2020.
Junior Mat Clark believes the 2020 staff is one of the deepest the Tigers have had in recent history. Lee is excited about eight potential starting pitchers, as he explained that the staff possesses pitchers with high velocities and different looks.
Sophomore Davis Sharpe is another pitcher who has experienced success, as he was a freshman All-American and All-ACC pitcher in 2019. Redshirt freshman Carter Raffield had Tommy John surgery last year, but has impressed the coaches with his ability to retire Tiger batters in scrimmages.
Major offensive changes may prove to be beneficial, and the young players that proved themselves in the fall are confident they will do the same this spring.
Photos by Melina Alberti