Monte Lee won an ACC championship in his first season as Clemson’s baseball coach and earned a home regional in the NCAA Tournament. Seth Beer won ACC and national player of the year honors in his first season with the Tigers. The two raised the bar very high for the program right out of the gate. So, what can they do for an encore?
The next step, of course, is getting to a Super Regional and on to Omaha. Clemson’s last CWS appearance was in 2010. The six year absence from Omaha is the Tigers’ third longest since their first appearance in 1958. But like every season at Clemson, this one is expected to end at TD Ameritrade Park.
To get there the Tigers will need another All-American season from Beer who will play first base for the first time in his career. How he handles the defensive assignment will be critical for a defense hoping to improve on a season in which they committed 99 errors.
Offensively, there’s no reason not to think Beer won’t be the same offensive machine last season except that he won’t have a great hitter like Chris Okey behind him. Beer walked a team high 62 times last season and can expect that number to climb depending on how much offense is coming from the #4 hole. Okey moved on from Clemson after the Cincinnati Reds took him in the 2nd round of the 2016 MLB draft.
Okey, of course, also will be missed behind the plate. He was an excellent defensive catcher for the Tigers and team leader. The Tigers go into their first game with a question mark at the position after would-be-starter Chris Williams broke his hand in last week’s scrimmage and will miss at least the first month of the season.
There are more questions about Clemson’s infield defense beyond Williams’ injury. Freshman Logan Davidson will look to improve the shortstop position that saw a rotating cast of characters last season. Eli White manned the regular shortstop position last year but committed 24 errors. Jordan Greene started 25 games at third last season but has moved to second. Junior college standout Patrick Cronwell takes over at third.
A team strength should be the speed in the outfield. Chase Pinder in center and KJ Bryant in right cover a lot of ground. Presbyterian transfer Weston Jackson is the new left fielder and he brings strong offensive credentials with him.
The pitching staff will be headed up by All-American Pat Krall. As a starter and reliever last season, he was 10-2 with an ERA of 1.67 and 5 saves. He is penciled in right now as the #2 starter sandwiched between Charlie Barnes and Alex Eubanks. But Lee won’t be opposed to moving Krall back to a closer role if necessary.
The pitching will be bolstered by the return from injury of Jake Higgenbotham who started seven games before being shut down. Ryan Gilliam also is back after limited action last season and will be valuable out of the bullpen. In all, the Tigers have nine hurlers back who saw action last season.
This will be another Clemson team that should be highly competitive in the ACC race, right in the mix with Florida and Louisville in its division. To do that, Beer will need to avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx, the infield defense will need to be cleaner, and Williams will need to come back from his injury and give the Tigers strong play behind the plate.