January 28, 1999
The 1999 version of Clemson Tiger Baseball features many of the same faces on the field from a year ago, but on the bench, Head Coach Jack Leggett will turn to two new faces. Kevin O’Sullivan replaces John Pawlowski as the pitching coach and former Tiger All-America third baseman Mike Hampton takes over as the volunteer coach, replacing Kevin Erminio.
“Kevin O’Sullivan is a highly respected pitching coach and already has had some great success,” says Leggett. “Our goal will always be to provide great pitching instruction for our players, and we have filled our needs in that area with one of the best young coaches in the country.”
“We are also very excited about what Mike Hampton will add to our program. He knows the system, has some great college and professional experience, and communicates very well.”
Clemson also announced the promotion of Tim Corbin, who has been Leggett’s assistant since 1994, to Assistant Head Coach. Leggett, Corbin, and the new coaches will help to continue the Tiger’s string of 49 wins per season over the last five years, which is the fifth-best figure in the country. Clemson will also look to continue its streak of 12 straight NCAA Tournament berths and 13 consecutive 40-win seasons, not to mention Clemson hosting a regional in four of the past five seasons.
“Our goals this season are to make the trip to Omaha and challenge for the national championship. Not many teams can say they’ve hosted a regional four times in the last five years, and we hope to make it five out of six. But we must do it as a team. We faded a little towards the end of last season and came up a little short in the regional.”
“Our players have worked extremely hard in the weight room to improve their speed, agility, and strength. I have already noticed the benefits physically and mentally, especially confidence-wise.”
The familiar faces on the field include veterans Kurt Bultmann, Jason Harris, Derek Borgert along with ’98 ACC Rookie-of-the-Year Patrick Boyd. In all, Clemson returns 10 of its top 12 hitters on the ’98 team that hit an ACC best .326 and had an incredible .434 on base percentage. As always, Leggett will emphasize the importance of the “little things.”
“Like recent years, to be successful we will have to run the bases extremely well, execute the bunt, situational hit, and come through in the clutch,” says Leggett. “We have a few players who can hit the ball out of the ballpark, but for the most part we won’t be a power-hitting team. We will have to recognize our strengths and work within them. We also have a lot of depth and should be very consistent on defense because we return everyone in the infield from a year ago.”
CATCHERS Red-shirt junior Brian Ellis (Columbia, SC) and Borgert (Greenwood, SC), a fifth-year senior, will share time behind the plate. Ellis was a pleasant surprise in ’98, as he hit .374 with a .535 on base percentage and 33 RBIs in just 123 at bats, while Borgert is a career .326 hitter and will be a co-captain for the ’99 season.
“Brian ledoff the last part of the ’98 season and has some speed, which is rare for catchers,” says Leggett. “Derek is one of the best leaders we’ve had in a while. He knows how to handle pitchers extremely well. It’s a tremendous advantage having two productive catchers that bat from different sides of the plate.”
Walk-on Jon Smith (Kinston, NC) is another catcher who will compete for playing time down the road.
INFIELDERS Harris (Hickory, NC), a senior, made an immediate impact in ’98 at first base after transferring from a junior college. He hit .357 with nine homers and 59 RBIs along with 14 stolen bases. Harris will also be a co-captain in the ’99 season.
“Jason is an excellent defensive first baseman and has an excellent attitude,” states Leggett. “He’s someone who will hit in the middle of our lineup and brings everyone else to a higher level with his work ethic.”
“Jesse Douglass (Westwood, NJ) has shown some pop in the fall scrimmages and will compete for the designated hitters spot. Michael Johnson (Georgetown, SC) is another freshman who with hard work will have a chance to play before it’s all over.”
Bultmann (Seminole, FL), another senior and starting second baseman, will give Clemson one of the best right sides of the infield in the country in ’99. He is one of two three-year lettermen on this year’s team. He is coming off a First-Team All-ACC season a year ago and is a career .319 hitter. He also committed just five errors in ’98 in his first season at the position.
“Kurt is coming off a sub-par year for him,” says Leggett. “He is more relaxed now and is having a lot more fun. We look for big things from Kurt at the plate and defensively.”
The left-side of the infield will have two positions up for grab. Doug Roper (Vidalia, GA) hit .298 in ’98 and showed flashes of brilliance with his glove. At third base, Justin Singleton (Sparks, MD), son of former Major Leaguer Ken Singleton, and Brian Holstad (Cameron, SC) shared time last year. Singleton hit .370 with 35 RBIs in just 108 at bats, while Holstad was one of the Tigers’ hottest hitters the last month of the season.
“There is some competition between Roper and Bradley LeCroy (Walhalla, SC) at shortstop,” says Leggett. “Bradley played exceptionally well in the fall and will push the others. At third base, Justin has great poise and finds ways to win games. He came through in the clutch many times last year and we’ll be looking for even bigger things from Justin in ’99. Holstad can play third along with second, but must work on his hitting. He works very hard and is an excellent baserunner.”
Mike Calitri (Canton, MA) hit .300 in limited playing time in ’98. His versatility will allow Leggett to fill in holes at third base, first base, and the outfield if need be. Jeff Kane (Acton, MA), freshman Mike Masiello (Wellington, FL), and walk-on Bo Charpia (Summerville, SC) are other versatile Tigers that can play a variety of infield positions.
“One of the best surprises in the fall was freshman Khalil Greene (Key West, FL). He can play second or third. We will have to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. He hit better and more consistently than anyone else in the fall.”
OUTFIELDERS The leader of the outfield in ’99 will be Boyd (Palm Harbor, FL), who played for the USA National Team this past summer and is a Presesason First-Team All-American by Baseball America. “Patrick has worked very hard to improve his swing from both sides of the plate,” says Leggett. “He is one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had in the outfield. He never wants a ball to fall in the outfield and has shown he can make tremendous catches.”
Casey Stone (Abbeville, SC) and Henr Stanley (Columbia, SC) will challenge for the right field spot. “Both of them are capable defensively and running the bases,” states Leggett. “Henr is a player that has some pop in his bat but needs to improve his arm. Casey is almost the exact opposite of Henr. He will scrap and scrap. We will have a hard time keeping him out of the lineup. Whoever can get hot offensively should get the nod.”
Other outfielders that have a chance to fill the two openings vacated by Peter Nystrom and fifth-round draft choice Matt Padgett include freshmen Spencer Lindsay (Columbia, SC), Joe Don Reames (Seneca, SC), and Grant Redding (Homewood, AL), along with Jeff Vessell (Simpsonville, SC). Reames holds the distinction of being the only one of the 37 players on the ’99 team that plays another sport at Clemson. He red-shirted in the ’98 season, but should make an impact as a defensive back in ’99 on the gridiron.
“Another freshman that has been impressive is Kyle Frank (Wolfeboro, NH). Kyle has a good arm and has tremendous athletic ability considering that he has a black belt in karate. He will compete for the starting right field spot. Kyle will also be given a chance on the mound and could be a factor from the left side.”
PITCHERS The sophomore-dominated pitching staff of 1998 has been the focal point in the preseason. Eighty-one percent of the starts in 1998 were by pitchers who return in ’99. But the Tigers did lose All-America closer Scott Clackum and reliable lefthander Matt White, who both signed professional contracts.
“Our main focus in the fall has been to establish our pitching staff,” stresses Leggett. “We must find a third and fourth starter, and a closer to replace Clackum. If we can develop pitchers in those areas, we can have a successful pitching staff.”
“Coach O’Sullivan has already established himself with our pitchers as someone they can relate to and learn from. ‘Sully’ came to Clemson from the minors, where he coached a year ago. He graduated from Virginia and was the pitching coach on their ACC Championship team in 1996. He certainly knows how to develop young talent.”
Preseason Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Third-Team All-America righthander Ryan Mottl (Florissant, MO) looks to be the ace of the staff in ’99. He has 19 wins in two seasons and a career strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.05. Lefthander Brian Adams (Bishopville, SC) is slotted to be the number-two starter. He is coming off a 6-2 season with Clemson and a 10-1 season with a 2.11 ERA to win Most Valuable Pitcher honors in the Coastal Plain League this past summer.
“Ryan and Brian have established themselves as solid starters for us,” says Leggett. “Mottl did not pitch this fall because he played all summer for the USA National Team. Adams worked hard in the fall and has really come into his own. We look for Brian to be outstanding in ’99.”
“Skip Browning (Fort Oglethorpe, GA) and Mike Paradis (Auburn, MA) are two other junior righthanders who must come through in ’99. Inconsistency was the biggest problem with our number three and four starters last year. If we can solidify those spots, we have a chance to have an excellent staff.”
“Other pitchers who will compete to start include freshmen Steve Reba (Fort Wayne, IN), a righthander, and lefthander Thomas Boozer (Columbia, SC). Reba was a ninth round draft pick a year ago and has a live arm. If he can put on a few pounds he has a chance to be one of the better pitchers we’ve had in a while.”
“Righthander Matt Additon (Turner, ME) and lefty Mike Proto (Peabody, MA) are two other returnees that have been solid for us in the past and will be called upon out of the bullpen. Lefthander Chris Heck (Philadelphia, PA) is a senior transfer from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia who has a chance to be our closer.”
Proto took advantage of his 14 appearances a year ago when he allowed just 14 hits in 18.2 innings and had a 1.45 ERA. Additon retired all 13 Georgia batters he faced last year to earn the victory in his best game as a Tiger. He also had a 2-0 record and 3.81 ERA in 54.1 innings pitched in ’98. Additon’s sharp-breaking sliders is one of the best one Clemson has seen in years.
“Freshmen Brandt Cook (Mauldin, SC) and Matt Henrie (Jupiter, FL) along with Justin Lombardi (Taunton, MA) and Mike Rhue (Gainesville, FL) have all worked extremely hard in the weight room.”
Lombardi transferred from Alabama where he played one season. He was a highly touted prospect out of high school in Massachusetts and should bolster a righthanded-dominated starting rotation for the Tigers.
Clemson’s schedule features 31 games at Beautiful Tiger Field, highlighted by a 14-game homestand starting in mid-April. But the Tigers have to open the ACC schedule with three road trips sandwiched around a three-game series with powerhouse Miami (FL) at the Knights Castle in Fort Mill, SC and a two-game set at East Carolina. Therefore, the Tigers will play just five (weekday) games in a span of a month. The Tigers also return to Las Vegas to play in the 19th annual UNLV/Coors Desert Classic on February 25-28, where Clemson will play games against Washington, UNLV, and Nevada, and two games versus Creighton in the round-robin tourney.
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