Clemson’s baseball team will look quite different in critical areas next season. Following last week’s MLB Draft, the Tigers lost several key pieces from last year’s 40-win team.
Moving forward, Monte Lee will need to replace his starters at first base, left field, and centerfield. Perhaps his most daunting task, however, will be reconstructing a weekend rotation without Charlie Barnes, Alex Eubanks, or Pat Krall. Several opportunities for playing time will be available when the squad reconvenes for fall practice.
Here’s a look at what we might see once February 2018 arrives:
The only personnel loss from this group is first baseman Andrew Cox. At first glance, his potential replacement is difficult to spot, but Lee has a plan that might serve to kill two birds with one stone.
Chris Williams will transition from catcher to first base to fill the void. Williams has proven reliable behind the plate, but Lee says he has the ability to seamlessly take over for Cox defensively at first. Cox’s bat became quite valuable throughout the 2017 season, but his most important attribute was as a so-called “eraser” of mistakes by the rest of the infield by the way he received the ball.
Given his catching background, Williams is a prime candidate for that spot, especially if concerns about his shoulder persist following offseason surgery. That also means Kyle Wilkie will begin the fall as the incumbent behind the plate after a strong all-around finish to his freshman campaign.
The remainder of the infield returns. Logan Davidson should be even better at shortstop than he was as a freshman All-American in 2017. Jordan Greene’s defensive acumen at second base was one of the most underrated aspects of the Tigers this season, and he should be much better, as well. Grayson Byrd settled in at third base and showed no signs of slowing down late in the year.
Others like Patrick Cromwell could conceivably carve out a role, but as of right now, this figures to be the everyday lineup most of the time. The freshmen and transfers look more likely to provide depth and versatility than to fill regular roles in the starting lineup.
Two spots are open in the outfield, and the other one will probably be filled by Seth Beer. There’s a chance Beer could slot in at first base if Williams catches from time to time, but the junior will likely spend lots of time in a corner outfield spot or as the designated hitter.
The other two are completely up for grabs following the departures of Chase PInder, Reed Rohlman, and fourth outfielder Weston Jackson. Now that freshman Kier Meredith seems destined for Clemson, he could conceivably fill one of those roles. K.J. Bryant has the tools to be a solid contributor, but he has to put them together better than he did in 2017.
Robert Jolly could see time in the corner outfield (when he’s not at DH) since the catching position seems secure. Jordan Greene could also move out there in a pinch, as he did a time or two in 2017. Drew Wharton will also be back next season to contribute in the outfield if necessary.
This solution becomes much simpler if Jake Higginbotham can return healthy. After a strong start to his freshman campaign in which he looked like a contender for a weekend spot, Higginbotham has missed the past season-and-a-half due to injuries. His recovery makes things a lot easier for Lee and his staff.
Owen Griffith looked the part of a starter in Clemson’s regional when he shut down Vanderbilt out of the bullpen. He should get a shot to move into that role moving forward. Highly touted freshmen Spencer Strider and Sam Weatherly should also get their shots to impress in the fall in hopes of joining the weekend trio.
Brooks Crawford could be a candidate, but his presence has also proved quite valuable in the bullpen. Ryley Gilliam may get a chance to start, but my hunch is that he ends up back in a high-leverage bullpen role where his two-pitch combination can be more effective. The two Millers—Ryan and Mitchell—should be ready to step up, and the same could be said of Jacob Hennessy, who wore down as a freshman but should come back stronger in 2018. Jeremy Beasley should also be in the mix.
Late bloomer Carson Spiers could factor into Clemson’s plans either in the bullpen or at a corner infield spot. Several lightly-used arms and newcomers could fill some roles, as well.