Clemson opens the 2017 baseball season today when it begins its three-game series against Wright State at 4 p.m. at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in Clemson.
Q: How will an entirely new infield play out?
A: Despite several veteran returners, Clemson expects to have new faces all around the infield. Chris Williams will move behind the plate as the everyday catcher while Seth Beer makes the move from right field in to first base. Freshman Logan Davidson takes over at shortstop while junior college transfer Patrick Cromwell will play third base. Second base will be a battle between sophomore Jordan Greene and sophomore Grayson Byrd.
The Tigers will have talent all around, but there could be some hiccups in the early going as the new guys transition to ACC-level play while Beer will continue learning his new position. The recent injury to Williams will also mean that either veteran Robert Jolly or true freshman Kyle Wilkie will have to step up and fill a key role over the first 4-6 weeks of the season.
Q: Who mans the outfield?
A: Chase Pinder returns to anchor the outfield in center while K.J. Bryant is projected to be the everyday starter in right field. The left field battle between returner Reed Rohlman and graduate transfer Weston Jackson will be one to watch as both players could platoon throughout the season (with the other seeing time at DH).
Andrew Cox could be a name to watch in the outfield as well if he continues his hot hitting from the fall/early spring and the Tigers try to get his bat in the lineup.
Q: How will the Tigers protect Beer?
A: As we saw toward the end of last season, teams will pitch Beer very carefully throughout the entire season. Clemson will need the guys batting behind him in the order to step up to force teams to pitch to Beer throughout the season. Williams is a player that has shown the power potential for this, but as mentioned earlier the injury will cause an adjustment in those plans early in the season. The Tigers will need Rohlman, Cromwell, Davidson, and Weston Jackson to all come through and provide Beer with that protection.
Q: Who is the closer?
A: There are several players that could fill the role of closer this season and the situation could be fluid throughout the year. Sophomore righty Ryley Gilliam is expected to get the first chance to fill the role. Junior college transfer Ryan Miller, who is coming off Tommy John surgery about 10 months ago, is another option although it is expected to take until April until he returns to full form. Other potential options include another junior college transfer, Jeremy Beasley, as well as true freshman lefty Jacob Hennessy.
Q: What freshman will contribute?
A: The obvious answer is Logan Davidson, who will step in at shortstop to start the season and is expected to be a key contributor in the lineup. Kyle Wilkie will also have a chance to contribute early after the injury to Chris Williams. On the mound, Jacob Hennessy may have the biggest impact but righties Blake Holliday and Travis Marr along with lefty Mitchell Miller have a chance to be solid contributors out of the bullpen.
Five Keys to Making a Run at Omaha
- No key injuries. The injury to Williams was a tough start, but the Tigers hope to have him back by ACC play. Keeping key players like Beer, Pinder, Davidson, Charlie Barnes, and Pat Krall healthy will be a major factor of how far this team can go.
- No weekend sweeps. In 2016, Clemson suffered series sweeps at Miami (FL) and Louisville. This season the Tigers may face an even tougher slate with weekend series against #4 South Carolina, #16 Virginia, at #2 Florida State, at #9 North Carolina, #7 Louisville, and at #6 NC State. (rankings indicated are highest ranking from Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, D1 Baseball, and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls)
- Pick up a couple of weekend sweeps. Clemson swept weekend series from James Madison, Boston College, and at Notre Dame last season. In 2017, the Tigers will again need to sweep several weekend series to balance a tough ACC schedule.
- Win the midweek. Last season Clemson went 13-1 in midweek games, a key factor in hosting a regional and being named a national seed. The Tigers face a similar midweek slate in 2017, with home-and-home series against College of Charleston and Georgia along with a home game against defending National Champion Coastal Carolina.
- Play at home. The Tigers hosted a regional last season for the first time since 2011. Despite not advancing, Clemson’s postseason history indicates the Tigers chances are greatly improved when playing at home (45-13 all-time while advancing in 13 of 18 chances).