When comparing some of Seth Beer’s numbers to his freshman season, it’s easy to say he experienced a “sophomore slump” this year.
The 2016 Dick Howser Award winner comes into today’s Clemson Regional against UNC Greensboro with a .291 batting average, down from .369 he hit last year. His slug percentage is down from .700 to .587 while his on base percentage is down from .535 to .462.
“I know what I did last year was special,” Beer said. “I know it is not something you see very much. You can’t expect yourself to have those kinds of expectations heading into the next season.”
But Beer did, and so did all of Clemson.
Everyone expected Beer to have an even better season in 2017 than he did in 2016, but that is not how things work, generally.
There is a better scouting report now on Beer. Pitchers have adjusted to what he does at the plate and they have pitched different to him. They have tried to frustrate him by very rarely give him anything good to hit. Coaches have adjusted the defense and shift more too where he has a tendency to hit the baseball.
“You can’t look at one year and try to identify yourself with what you did last year with this year,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said. “Often times we fall in that trap as coaches. We fall in that trap as athletes.”
Beer admits he got wrapped up early in the season with his expectations and it came to frustrate him. At one point, he was hitting just .250 and he was striking out more than he ever has. Heading into today’s 7 p.m. game, he has 32 strikeouts after just having 27 all of last season.
“I have had to manipulate my mind several times to keep (expectations) within reach,” Beer said. “That has been my whole goal and my whole dream this year.”
It has not been easy for Beer to adjust, especially considering everyone has always adjusted to him instead of the other way around. However, he knew he needed to do something. That something came one afternoon when he was watching an instructional video.
“This guy asked with two strikes, ‘What do you do,’” Beer recalled. “He said people say to expand the zone. But he said that is wrong. He said you shrink it. He said what are the odds with two strikes you get a strike.”
Beer admitted it made him think, “I said pretty low. So that is what I have been doing. Throughout the at-bat I try to shrink my zone a little more. I try to pick pitches. At the end of the day, they don’t really want to throw something too well in the strike zone.”
The Tigers’ all-American also picked the brain of former Clemson star and Big Leaguer Jeff Baker, who spoke to the team last month.
“He told me you can only judge yourself on the last 10 at-bats,” Beer said. “He says if you go 0-for-10 on those last 10, it does not really matter what you did on the previous 10. What matters is what is coming up in the next 10 at-bats.
“To me that really meant a lot because at that point I was batting .250 and I had never been in that situation before, but once you break it down into smaller pieces, it is a lot easier.”
Breaking it down into smaller pieces allowed Beer to go on a season-high 12-game hitting streak, which included three straight games of hitting at least one home run. He also hit a grand slam in the Tigers’ come-from-behind victory over Coastal Carolina on May 16.
“Throughout the time I was really struggling, I was swinging at a lot of pitches, good pitches, but they were pitches that I could not do damage with,” Beer said. “I really cut down on that kind of stuff and really adjusted to pitches that I can only hit.”
The result, Beer lifted his average from .250 to .302 before last week’s ACC Championships when his 12-game hitting streak came to an end. But during the hitting streak, he hit .360 with five home runs and 19 RBIs.
Despite all his struggles, Beer is tied with Chris Williams for the team lead in home runs (14) and RBIs (14).
“Little by little I have grown,” the Suwanee, Ga., native said. “I think this is one of the best experiences I could have had. I learned how to deal with this kind of stress and to deal with this kind of adversity because the ultimate goal is to someday do this as a job. Those guys deal with this on a daily basis in the Majors.
“Learning how to deal with failure and then keep your confidence in knowing you can have huge success at any moment has been a huge thing for me to learn this year.”
Last year, despite all of his success, Beer says he would have crumbled under the pressure and scrutiny that has come with the struggles he has had this season.
“I have adjusted more of my approach than anything,” he said. “I have had to learn to go up there to swing and hit the ball because it has, of course, gotten really, really tough. You have to have a good approach. I have some things that I can do and adjust to what is happening in order to be successful, but it has been a difficult experience.
“However, it is fun to be challenged every time I go up to bat.”