All of Clemson’s pro baseball alumni have concluded their seasons, and a football bye week feels like the perfect time to recap those seasons. This will come at you in several parts, broken up by levels on the MLB organizational ladder, because there are 25 former Tigers who have played in the professional ranks. Today, we begin with a look at the guys at the top of the food chain—the handful of players who finished the season as regular contributors at the big league level…
Mike Freeman, Seattle Mariners
Freeman finally broke through after six full seasons as a minor league player, appearing in 21 games at the big league level with Arizona and Seattle. After a brief eight-game stint with the Diamondbacks, Freeman was designated for assignment in late July and picked up by the Mariners less than a week later. The majority of his season was spent in AAA in both organizations, where he slashed .314/.385/.419 in 503 plate appearances. His strong season at the dish granted him 24 plate appearances in the big leagues, and he responded with a .227/.292/.273 slash line. Freeman started twice, including a two-hit performance on the season’s final day.
Dominic Leone, Arizona Diamondbacks
The right-handed reliever was shipped back-and-forth seven different times between AAA Reno to the Diamondbacks in 2016. He still hasn’t rediscovered the form he displayed as a borderline dominant force for Seattle’s pen in 2014, but it was a slight bounceback year for Leone at the major league level. He posted a 6.33 ERA over 25 appearances with an astronomical 2.11 WHIP—not the most impressive numbers, but still improvements over what he did in 2015. Leone may be accurately described as a “AAAA” player that may struggle in the bigs and do well in AAA, as he displayed this season with a 5-2 record and a 3.34 ERA for Reno.
Brad Miller, Tampa Bay Rays
The most impressive thing about Miller’s 2016 season in Tampa is his newly discovered power stroke. His 30 homers in 601 plate appearances with the Rays is one more than he had in more than three times the plate appearances in Seattle. Miller added six triples, scored 73 runs, and posted a .243/.304/.482 slash line in a career-best 152 games. He was worth 1.6 wins above replacement for the Rays this season, even as a below-average defender at both shortstop and first base. Suffice it to say Miller experienced a mini-breakthrough this season, and if he builds on it, he could become a household name in 2017.
Richie Shaffer, Tampa Bay Rays
In the final two months of the season, Shaffer spent almost as much time with the Rays (18 games) as he did with the AAA Durham Bulls (19). His numbers with the big league club weren’t bad by any standard, as his slash line of .250/.315/.438 looks similar to many everyday players across the league. Shaffer had seven extra-base hits in 20 games with the Mariners this season and managed to slice a sliver off of his strikeout rate. In fact, Shaffer posted better numbers in the big leagues than he did in Durham—perhaps the best explanation for why it took him so long to join the Rays in 2016.
Tony Sipp, Houston Astros
There’s no better way to say it: Sipp took quite a step backwards in 2016. He had a 1-2 record—not the end of the world—with a 4.95 ERA in 60 appearances for the Astros. This is from a guy who had a sub-2.00 ERA last season when the Astros made a Cinderella run to the postseason. At one point, Sipp wasn’t even being considered in any high-leverage positions, but he did seem to reclaim that role as the late-game lefty specialist of choice down the stretch. Fielding-independent numbers suggest he actually pitched worse than his ERA, his walk and hit rates were up, and his strikeout rate dipped below double digits for the first time in four seasons.
—Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports