By Trey McCurry.
By Trey McCurry
The Tigers officially begin baseball practice on Friday. TheClemsonInsider.com takes a look a seven questions heading into the 2013 season and give you three bold predictions.
Q: Where does the power come from?
A: When people say power, most people automatically think home runs. However Clemson hit only 44 homers last season (0.7 per game) but still managed to average 5.7 runs per game and we expect a similar type of season in 2013. The Tigers (as almost always under Leggett) will continue to be a “small-ball” team so look for the team to be aggressive on the base paths, move runners with sacrifice bunts & flies, and hit-and-run.
The top returning player (in terms of homers) in Jon McGibbon with five and only two other returners (Thomas Brittle-2 and Steve Wilkerson-1) homered in 2012. Clemson will need both McGibbon and Wilkerson to step up their power production this season, as both should be in the heart of the batting order. Junior college transfer Shane Kennedy and freshman Jackson Campana are the two newcomers that should also help in this area.
Q: Who will be the third starter?
A: A really tough question, with no clear answer. However, there are four guys that we expect to challenge for the spot.
Opening weekend, don’t be shocked to see either Scott Firth or Jonathan Meyer get the nod. Both guys have tons of experience, in both starting roles and as long relievers, so either one is a safe bet on opening weekend.
Two other names to be on the lookout for are freshmen Matthew Crownover and Clate Schmidt. Crownover, a lefty coming off arm surgery that caused him to miss the majority of his senior year of high school, is a quality pitcher but it will more than likely be mid-season before he is fully ready to be a full-time starter. Schmidt, a highly regarded righty out of the Atlanta area, is a guy you could also see on the weekends as we progress further into the season.
Q: Who mans the corner spots in the outfield?
A: With the graduation of Brad Felder and the expected move of Jay Baum back to the infield (most likely second base), the Tigers will need to fill two of the three outfield sports as Thomas Brittle should once again man centerfield.
This is one place that Clemson certainly has plenty of different options and scenarios that could play out. Junior Joe Costigan, sophomore Tyler Slaton, and redshirt freshman Mike Triller return from last season to join freshmen Maleeke Gibson, Andrew Cox, Steven Duggar, and John Mulkey.
We expect Gibson to fill one of the spots (and don’t be shocked to see him in one of the top two spots in the lineup) with the other spot more up for grabs. The main contenders for that spot are Duggar, Cox, and Slaton. Any of the three could get the opening day start and all three may rotate some at the beginning of the season until one player can create some separation.
Q: Who will we see behind the plate and at DH?
A: With the loss of Spencer Kieboom (to the draft) and the graduation of Phil Pohl, these are two spots for Tiger fans to keep a close eye on as we start the season.
At catcher, we expect Garrett Boulware to move back to his natural position and get the opening day start. However, he will be pushed by freshman Matt Reed and fellow freshman Kevin Bradley could see time behind the plate as well if needed.
The DH spot could be filled by any number of players and could more than likely fluctuate in the early season. The top four guys you will see the most of should be Joe Costigan (bats left), Jackson Campana (bats right), Andrew Cox (bats left), and Mike Dunster (bats left). This spot will likely be determined based on whether the other team is throwing a RHP or LHP.
Q: How is the bullpen?
A: With 22 guys listed as pitchers on the staff (although some may be position players as well), the bullpen should have some depth in 2013 including four lefties.
Several guys listed earlier (Firth, Meyer, Crownover, & Schmidt) give the Tigers a solid base along with returners Matt Campbell and Mike Kent. Other returnees include Joseph Moorefield, Clay Bates, and Patrick Andrews. All of these guys should make major contributions in the upcoming season.
The incomers also bring a lot of talent to the pitching staff. A few other names to watch for, besides Crownover and Schmidt, are Anderson-product Wales Toney, lefty Zack Erwin, and football-product D.J. Reader.
Q: Who will be the biggest surprise in 2013?
A: Another tough call with so many new faces, but the one guy that seems to stand out to us is freshman outfielder Maleeke Gibson. As mentioned earlier, we expect Gibson to be a starter in the outfield and hit in the top of the order. Based on what we saw in the fall, Gibson reminds us of former Tiger outfielder (and current student assistant) Brad Chalk. He is a guy who will go the other way a lot (hitting the ball through the left side of the infield), can sacrifice when needed, bunt for a base hit, and be disruptive on the base paths.
Q: Who can the Tigers least afford to lose in 2013?
A: Although no one ever wants to think about it (or at least say it), an injury to a single player (Kevin Brady in 2012) can have a major effect on a team. This year, we think that player is sophomore pitcher Daniel Gossett. Gossett came on strong at the end of last season and should be the #1 pitcher entering the season. Although the Tigers seem to plenty have pitching depth, losing a teams top pitcher is always a big blow and Clemson will rely on Gossett a lot this season to go head-to-head against other teams top starters each Friday.
Three bold predictions:
1) The Tigers will not suffer a three-game weekend sweep in 2013.
2) Clemson will host a regional the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
3) The Tigers will win the regular-season series against South Carolina for the first time since 2010.