After the departures of second baseman Weston Wilson and shortstop Eli White to the major leagues, the Clemson baseball team has some openings in the infield heading into the 2016 season.
Clemson second-year head coach Monte Lee met with the media on Friday, when the Tigers began fall practice season inside Doug Kingsmore Stadium, and rattled off several names of players who could fill those voids.
Sophomore infielder Grayson Byrd — the son of former major league pitcher Paul Byrd, who played 14 seasons with seven different teams — would have been a player Lee mentioned.
However, Lee said that Byrd injured his back in summer ball and hasn’t been able to practice since the school year started.
“We’re going to have to take some time with him,” Lee said. “We don’t know when we’re going to get Grayson (back).”
Grayson transferred to Clemson after his freshman season at LSU and sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules. At LSU, Grayson batted .212 (7-for-33) with one double and nine RBI in 24 games, including two starts at second base, two starts at third and one as the designated hitter.
“Grayson’s a great kid, and another kid that has some ability — a left-handed hitter, can play second base or shortstop — but Grayson has been injured for the whole fall so far,” Lee said. “Hasn’t really been able to do anything, so right now our main goal is just trying to get him healthy before we can see where he’s at.”
Replacing Okey. As much as Clemson will miss the production of catcher Chris Okey, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the second round of last June’s MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Tigers may miss his intangibles even more.
In his three seasons at Clemson from 2014-16, Okey hit .301 with 31 home runs, 172 RBI and 138 runs. Okey, who started 143 consecutive games behind the plate to end his career, was a two-time, first-team All-American.
But what made him even more special was the leadership he brought to the team.
“Chris Okey is a tremendous talent and was a tremendous player for us here at Clemson, one of the best catchers in the country,” Lee said. “He was also an unbelievable leader for us.
“In my first year, I was very fortunate to inherit what I thought was the best catcher in the country. He set that standard of excellence, that standard of leadership that we’re looking for in that position.”
Lee said juniors Chris Williams Robert Jolly will share the catching duties this season, and that the coaching staff is trying to instill in them the expectations of leadership they’re looking for from the catcher position.
“The guys that are here this year have very little experience at catching,” Lee said, “and we’re working as hard as we possibly can with that position to try to develop them as catchers and develop them as leaders. Hopefully we can turn one of them into the right type of player that we’re looking for to lead us in the spring.”
Krall plan. Clemson caught a big break in June when left-handed pitcher Pat Krall announced that he would return for his senior season in 2016.
Last season, Krall earned third-team All-America honors after recording a 1.67 ERA, .203 opponents’ batting average and 65 strikeouts against 17 walks in 80.2 innings pitched across 29 appearances.
Krall pitched out of the bullpen for most of the season, but also started three games.
This year, Clemson’s plan is to use Krall as a starter.
“We’re going to develop him this fall as a starter,” Lee said. “Our whole intention is to start him and to develop him as a starter, to build his pitch count and give him the proper rest.”
Lee said Krall will be utilized in the role that allows both him and the team to be the most successful. Right now, they think that role is being a starter.
“It’s something that obviously once we get into the spring, we’ll look at our personnel, we’ll talk to Pat and we’ll put him in the best position that we can put him in to be successful to help our team win,” Lee said. “But our plan is to start him, so I would anticipate when we get to opening weekend, he’s going to be starting for us.”
Position change. Last season, freshman sensation Seth Beer was penciled into the lineup as an outfielder or designated hitter. This year, Seth Beer could see a lot of time at first base.
“We’re going to work Seth at first base,” Lee said. “We’ve been working with Seth ever since the school year started at first base — every single day, hitting him ground balls and teaching him how to work around the bag.”
Lee believes the position change gives Clemson more flexibility and is in the best interest of Beer’s career.
“We feel like it’s best for him, individually, and in his career moving forward,” Lee said. “We also feel like it’s best for us. We feel like it gives us some options to get some other guys into the outfield if he can make that adjustment.”
Like any position change, it’s going to take time for Beer to adjust to first base and become comfortable there. But Lee said he has been very receptive to the move and is working hard to make it happen.
“It’s going to be a process, but he’s getting better and better,” Lee said. “Now we’re starting team practice, so we can see how he does at game speed. It’s going to take some time, and we’re going to very patient with him and spend a lot of time. (Assistant coach) Bradley LeCroy is going to work with him and try to do everything we can to get him ready.”