Youth will be served on the 2013 Tiger baseball team, at least among position players. Jack Leggett, in his 20th season as head coach at Clemson, will direct a team that features nearly half of its players in their first year in the program. Most of the new faces Tiger fans will see in 2013 will be in the field, as Clemson should feature its youngest lineup in years.
"We have some players who have played really well all fall," said Leggett, whose 847 wins in his 19 seasons as head coach at Clemson are seventh-most in the nation during that time span. "The freshmen have gotten better and better as time has gone on and some are going to contribute and be good players. We have some really good intra-team competition.
"We have some work to figure out who the best players are going to be, but we saw a lot of them emerge in the last three or four weeks of the fall. We are starting to see some of these players take a big jump."
Many of those players who made a big jump are part of a recruiting class that was ranked as high as #5 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Assistant Head Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Bradley LeCroy along with the rest of the coaching staff were instrumental in Clemson signing a top-five class. LeCroy, in his second stint and sixth overall season as an assistant coach at Clemson, was listed as one of the top-10 assistant coaches in the nation by Baseball America in January.
With the losses of First-Team All-ACC players Phil Pohl and Richie Shaffer, Clemson returns players who have combined for only nine career home runs. Therefore, the Tigers will rely on other aspects of the offensive game in 2013.
"I like our team speed," stated Leggett. "Speed is one asset that carries with you from both offense to defense. I think we have a chance to be a good defensive team as well as a good offensive team.
"We are starting to make some progress, but we have to continue to work. I think one of our assets is going to be our speed and quickness and our ability to put pressure on people, so we have some tough decisions to make this spring. I think that's a good problem to have, because everyone has to stay on their toes and keep working."
Although Clemson returns just four position starters, the Tiger pitching staff, led by fourth-year Associate Head Coach Dan Pepicelli, returns 10 of the 13 pitchers who saw action from a 2012 team that had a solid 3.90 ERA.
"We have some good senior and junior leaders on our team, especially on the pitching staff," said Leggett. "Our freshmen and sophomores are hungry and they have a good measure of leadership among themselves as well. I think we have some good leadership on this team and it doesn't just come from the older guys, it comes from everyone."
Three other members of the coaching staff will try to help the Tigers reach the NCAA Tournament for the 27th time in the last 28 seasons. Volunteer Assistant Coach Michael Johnson is in his fifth season in that position, while Student Assistant Coaches Brad Chalk and Stephen Faris are in their first seasons back in Tigertown. All three were All-ACC players and played in the College World Series for the Tigers.
The 2013 schedule features 36 home games, 21 games against 2012 NCAA Tournament teams, and two games at Fluor Field in Greenville, SC. Clemson will open the season with an eight-game homestand, beginning with a three-game series against William & Mary. The top-eight teams in the ACC standings will play in the ACC Tournament at Durham (NC) Bulls Athletic Park from May 22-26. It will be the eighth time the ACC Tournament is held in Durham.
Behind the plate, Clemson must replace Spencer Kieboom, who received the Gold Glove Award as the nation's best defensive catcher in 2012. The only returning Tiger who has experience at the position is sophomore Garrett Boulware (Anderson, SC). He made just one start at catcher as a freshman, but the coaching staff believes he has the arm to solidify the position. Boulware saw most of his action in left field, as he batted .214 in 28 games (17 starts) in 2012.
Freshman Matt Reed (Purcellville, VA) will also vie for the starting spot behind the plate. He won the Omaha Challenge competition among position players in the fall, a sign of his athleticism and strength.
Although he is unable to play in a game, senior bullpen catcher Marcus Curry (Nichols, SC) was voted as a co-captain by his teammates for his hard work and dedication with the pitching staff.
The right side of Clemson's infield returns intact in 2013. Junior second-baseman Steve Wilkerson (Roswell, GA) was Clemson's leadoff batter during most of the 2012 season and earned Second-Team All-ACC honors. The switch-hitter is a preseason third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball thanks to hitting .295 with a team-tying-high 49 runs and two hitting streaks of at least 15 games in 2012.
Junior first-baseman and co-captain Jon McGibbon (Lindenhurst, NY) is Clemson's top returning power hitter. He started 55 games at first base and had a 24-game streak of reaching base in 2012. His highlight of the 2012 season came in the ACC Tournament with Clemson trailing #1 Florida State 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning. He lined a three-run walkoff homer to beat the top-ranked Seminoles, a big reason he was named to the All-ACC Tournament team.
Clemson will replace the left side of the infield with the losses of Shaffer, a first-team All-American, at third base and Jason Stolz, who had a remarkable .985 fielding percentage, at shortstop.
A leading candidate to move into one of those two starting spots in sophomore Jay Baum (Alpharetta, GA). He batted just .220 as a freshman, but had a .354 on-base percentage thanks to his outstanding strikezone awareness and 28 walks against only 19 strikeouts. Baum also has the ability to play in the outfield, as he made 40 of his 45 starts in the outfield in 2012.
The last of four returning lettermen in the infield is junior Mike Dunster (Greenwich, CT). As one of the team's top pinch-hitters the past two seasons, he is a career .310 hitter with a .420 on-base percentage in 31 games and has not committed an error in 11 chances in the field.
The Tigers have five newcomers in the infield that will all compete for spots in 2013. Junior Shane Kennedy (Orlando, FL), a leading candidate to start at third base, was a junior college All-American and an all-state selection at Santa Fe College in 2012. As a freshman at North Florida in 2011, he hit .324 in 43 games.
Freshman Tyler Krieger (Johns Creek, GA) is a strong candidate to start at shortstop. He was drafted in the 35th round by the Seattle Mariners after being an all-state selection by ESPN.com at Northview High School.
Kevin Bradley (Pennington, NJ) is a freshman who has the versatility to not only play in the infield, but also behind the plate. The 36th-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies is the son of Scott Bradley, who has served as head baseball coach at Princeton since 1998 and played nine seasons in the Major Leagues.
With his 6'6" frame, freshman Jackson Campana (Charlotte, NC) showed his power potential in the fall after being rated as the #13 player in North Carolina by Perfect Game.
Kyle Whitman (Fort Mill, SC) is another freshman infielder who will look to make an impact in 2013. He was rated as the #1 first-baseman in South Carolina by Diamond Prospects. Both Campana and Whitman will also get looks as righthanders on the mound.
The unquestioned leader of the Tiger outfield is senior centerfielder and co-captain Thomas Brittle (Cross, SC). In his first active season as a Tiger in 2012, he showed why he is one of the best defensive outfielders in Clemson history by making countless highlight-reel catches and totaling nine outfield assists. Brittle was a Second-Team All-ACC selection who hit .298 with an ACC-tying-high eight triples, two homers, 36 RBIs, and a team-high 15 steals. He also had a 22-game hitting streak and two walkoff hits in 2012.
Junior Joe Costigan (Naples, FL) was the team's best pinch-hitter in 2012, as he was 7-18 (.389) in that situation. He came on late in the season with several key hits, including a pinch-hit single late in Clemson's comeback win over #1 Florida State in the ACC Tournament. He has also reached base in all four of his career plate appearances in the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore Tyler Slaton (Cumming, GA) is the last returning outfielder with previous collegiate experience. The speedster batted just .189 in 47 games (17 starts), but had a solid .353 on-base percentage. He was Clemson's top pinch-runner late in 2012 who scored the winning run on both of Brittle's walkoff hits.
Mike Triller (Rutland, VT) red-shirted last season, but still earned two honors. He won the team's Dedication Award for outstanding work in the strength training room and the Omaha Challenge competition among fielders prior to the 2012 season.
Four freshmen, all from the state of South Carolina, will compete for the starting corner outfield positions. Steven Duggar (Moore, SC) was rated as the #1 position player in South Carolina by Perfect Game and was a two-time all-state selection at James F. Byrnes High School.
Maleeke Gibson (Sumter, SC) had a stellar fall after a standout career at Thomas Sumter Academy. He was rated as the #7 high school prospect in South Carolina by Baseball America.
Andrew Cox (Belton, SC) was rated as the #2 outfielder in South Carolina by Diamond Prospects and also will vie for playing time at first base. Cox's father, Jimmy, was a member of the 1979 and 1980 Clemson football teams, while his brother, Jay, was an outfielder on the 2011 Tiger baseball squad.
Another Tiger freshman who will compete for playing time in the outfield is John Mulkey (Greenwood, SC), who was an all-state pick at Emerald High School.
The Tiger pitching staff returns over 66 percent of its innings and two of its three weekend starters from the second half of the season.
The leader of the staff is senior righthander and co-captain Scott Firth (Buffalo Grove, IL). He has seen action as both a starter and reliever and has an 11-2 record and a 2.81 ERA in 134.1 innings pitched in his career. The hard thrower was 4-0 with a team-high three saves in 2012. His 2.09 ERA was also best on the team and was the best mark by a Tiger (given a minimum of 40 innings pitched) since 1998.
Another hard-throwing righty who will play a prominent role in the success of the Tigers is sophomore Daniel Gossett (Lyman, SC). He was Clemson's best pitchers as a starter during the latter stages of 2012. Gossett had a 6-3 record and a .221 opponents' batting average with a team-high 87 strikeouts in 77.0 innings pitched.
Junior righty Kevin Pohle (Saint Louis, MO) was Clemson's top freshman pitcher in 2011, a weekend starter during most of the 2012 season, and looks to do the same in 2013. He has a 12-6 record and 3.14 ERA in 33 appearances (17 starts) in his career. Pohe was rated as the #3 college prospect in South Carolina for the 2013 draft by Perfect Game.
Like Pohle, senior righty Jonathan Meyer (San Diego, CA) relies on movement and location for his success. He has pitched more innings (160.2) than any other Tiger on the 2013 team as both a starter and long reliever. Meyer has 124 strikeouts against only 45 walks, good for a 2.76 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Junior righthander Matt Campbell (Alpharetta, GA) was having an outstanding 2012 season as one of the team's best end-of-game pitchers before suffering a season-ending injury on April 27. The hard thrower had a 2.49 ERA, a team-best .211 opponents' batting average, and 29 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched.
Mike Kent (Springfield, VA) is another junior righty who emerged as a go-to reliever in 2012. With his outstanding breaking ball, he had a 3.76 ERA in 21 appearances and was nearly flawless in the ninth inning of games.
Senior Joseph Moorefield (Woodruff, SC) is Clemson's lone returning lefthander who has seen significant action on the mound as a Tiger. Primarily facing lefthanded batters in 2012, Moorefiefld allowed just one of his 18 inherited baserunners to score.
Sophomore Patrick Andrews (Hilton Head Island, SC) showed flashes of dominance as a freshman in 2012, including against #1 Florida State in the ACC Tournament when he retired all four batters he faced to earn the win. The hard-throwing righthander has the versatility to start or pitch out of the bullpen.
Clay Bates (Rock Hill, SC), another sophomore righthander, is a sidearm pitcher who has been a long reliever and situational pitcher. He has won the Omaha Challenge competition among pitchers during all three of his falls in Tigertown.
Clemson's final returning hurler is sophomore lefthander Kyle Bailey (Southlake, TX). He made just two relief appearances in 2012, but looks to play a more prominent role out of the bullpen in 2013.
A big reason for Clemson's high recruiting ranking was the addition of freshman righthander Clate Schmidt (Acworth, GA). He was drafted in the 36th round by the Detroit Tigers and was rated as the #10 righthander in the nation by Perfect Game. Schmidt was also an all-state selection in the talent-rich state of Georgia.
Another highly-touted prospect is freshman lefty Matthew Crownover (Ringgold, GA). He was rated as the #87 high school prospect in the nation by Baseball America after being a three-time all-state selection.
Local product and freshman righthander Wales Toney (Anderson, SC) will compete for innings as a freshman in 2013. He was rated as the #5 player in South Carolina by Perfect Game at T.L. Hanna High School.
Freshman righthander Brody Koerner (Concord, NC) was a two-time all-state selection and was rated as the #5 high school prospect in North Carolina by Baseball America.
Zack Erwin (Duluth, GA) joins Crownover as freshman lefties in 2013. He set Duluth High School records for season and career wins and strikeouts.
Freshman D.J. Reader (Greensboro, NC), who also has the versatility to play in the infield, is a 6'3", 335-pound righthander. He is already known to Tiger fans as a backup defensive tackle who had 40 tackles in 236 snaps on Clemson's 11-2 football team in 2012.
Sophomore righthander Kyle Schnell (Alpharetta, GA) will add depth to the bullpen after playing in 2012 at Lake Sumter (FL) Community College.
Two more righthanders with local ties, sophomore Daniel Chewning (Seneca, SC) and freshman Garrett Lovorn (Pendleton, SC), will compete for innings in their first season in the program. Chewning, who stands 6'8", is one of the tallest Tigers in history. Lovorn was rated as the #12 pitcher in South Carolina by Diamond Prospects.
One more Tiger will a member of the 2013 team, but he is ineligible due to NCAA transfer rules. Junior righty Jake Long (Anderson, SC) had a 4.38 ERA in 88.1 innings pitched at East Tennessee State in 2012 after a standout career at T.L. Hanna High School.