Jack Leggett, who is in his 19th season as head coach at Clemson, will rely on a veteran pitching staff and four returning starters in the field to lead the 2012 team. Leggett, whose 812 wins in 18 seasons at Clemson are sixth-most in the nation during that span, has led the Tigers to six College World Series appearances and 17 NCAA Tournaments, including hosting the Clemson Regional in 2011.
"We have a great-looking group of players this year," said Leggett. "They've been working hard and I'm excited about seeing them as the season progresses. I'm also excited about seeing them work together as a unit, and I'm excited about the preparation it takes to win."
Only three of the eight position starters in the field return from a year ago. And two of those three will start at new positions. The Tigers must replace shortstop Brad Miller, the 2011 ACC Player-of-the-Year and a first-team All-American, along with All-ACC players Will Lamb (CF) and Jeff Schaus (LF). Under the direction of Assistant Coach Bradley LeCroy and Volunteer Assistant Coach Michael Johnson, the Tiger batters and fielders will need to be fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game.
"In order for us to score runs, we're going to have to be very good at execution," stated Leggett. "We're going to have to be able to move runners around, get our bunts down, hit behind runners, and everyone is going to have to be very unselfish. We have a few players who have some power, but at the same time, we don't want to build our game totally around that. If you're sitting around waiting for that to happen with the new bat standards, it's not going to happen."
The pitching staff, under the leadership of Assistant Head Coach Dan Pepicelli, returns players who contributed 64 percent of the innings pitched and 32 of the 43 victories in 2011. First-year Student Assistant Coach Ryan Hinson, a lefthander at Clemson from 2006-09, will also aid in the efforts of the Tiger hurlers.
"I think our pitching is going to be one of our strong points," added Leggett. "We have some young players coming in who are going to help us out. I'm excited about what we have a chance to do on the mound.
"Playing time is definitely a motivating factor for all of our players. They come to practice every day and they know that they have a chance to play if they work hard and do all the little things it takes to help the team win."
The 2012 schedule features 35 home games, 27 games against 2011 NCAA Tournament teams, and two games at Fluor Field in Greenville, SC. Clemson, who is ranked in the preseason as high as #16 in the nation by Baseball America, will host Maine, Leggett's alma mater, from February 24-26, which starts a 10-game stretch where nine of the contests are against teams that played in the 2011 NCAA Tourney. The top-eight teams in the ACC standings will play in the ACC Tournament at NewBridge Bank Park in Greensboro, NC from May 23-27. It will be the second time the ACC Tournament is held in Greensboro.
Clemson has five catchers at its disposal in 2012. Junior Spencer Kieboom (Marietta, GA) was the Tigers' predominant starter behind the plate in 2011 and is slated to do the same in 2012. He was one of Clemson's hottest hitters during the first half of 2011 and also shut down opposing running games with his quick release and strong arm. Kieboom, who committed just two errors and allowed only three passed balls in 2011, is a contact hitter who has struck out just 20 times in 227 career at-bats.
Senior co-captain Phil Pohl (Cooperstown, NY) also has a wealth of experience behind the plate, but he is a leading candidate to be the designated hitter in 2012. One of the best leaders at Clemson in years, Pohl emerged as a Second-Team All-ACC player in 2011. Pohl, who can also play at first base and in the outfield, batted .333 with 22 doubles (third-most in the ACC), four homers, and 33 RBIs while totaling a team-tying-high 24 multi-hit games. The two-time captain also became Clemson's first Academic All-American since 1995.
Sophomore Jake Fletcher (Thomasville, GA) and freshman Andrew Cleveland (Moore, SC) will provide depth behind the plate in 2012. Fletcher played only four games, all off the bench, with six putouts in 2011. Cleveland was an all-region selection as a junior and senior at James F. Byrnes High School. Cleveland is one of three Tigers on the 2012 team who attended James F. Byrnes High School.
Freshman Garrett Boulware (Anderson, SC) will compete for innings behind the plate as well. The local product out of T.L. Hanna High School was rated as the #141 prospect in the nation by Perfect Game and was drafted in the 42nd round by the San Diego Padres. As a righthanded batter, he will also compete for innings in the outfield.
Clemson's 2012 infield will have a "mirrored" look. Miller (SS) and John Hinson (3B) were draft picks in 2011 and are no longer with the program, and last year's right side of the infield will be this season's left side.
Senior co-captain Jason Stolz (Marietta, GA) is one of the two returning starting infielders from a season ago. He started 48 games at second base and 14 games at shortstop in 2011, but he is slated to move into the starting shortstop spot with the departure of Miller. The career .283 hitter in 155 games (127 starts) has 18 sacrifice bunts and has had several clutch hits in the bottom half of the lineup the past three seasons. Thanks in large part to his strong arm, Stolz committed just three errors in the last 34 games of the 2011 season.
Junior co-captain Richie Shaffer (Charlotte, NC) leads the infield with his power-hitting bat and steady defense. A career .318 hitter with 20 homers, 91 RBIs, and a .426 on-base percentage, Shaffer is a preseason second-team All-American by Perfect Game. He was a First-Team All-ACC first-baseman in 2011, but is slated in 2012 to move to third base, where he started six games in 2011. Shaffer led or tied for the 2011 team lead in runs (62), homers (13), RBIs (55), slugging percentage (.577), and walks (44). The Cape Cod League All-Star also won the home run derby at Fenway Park prior to the 2011 Cape Cod League All-Star game.
Sophomore Jon McGibbon (Lindenhurst, NY) is a leading candidate to be the everyday starter at first base and has experience in right field. He batted .339 with one homer, 14 RBIs, and a .463 on-base percentage in 43 games (11 starts) in 2011, but his power numbers should increase in 2012. He was noted in 2011 for his ability as a pinch-hitter, as he was an incredible 10-for-17 (.588) in that situation and 14-for-27 (.519) off the bench. Clemson was also 10-1 in his 11 starts.
Sophomore Patrick Boyd (1998-01), Wilkerson played 42 games and made 12 starts at second base in 2011.
Sophomore Mike Dunster (Greenwich, CT) made the most of his limited opportunities in 2011, as he was 6-for-12 with a .625 on-base percentage in 12 games (one start). He will compete for the starting role at second base. Dunster was errorless in seven chances in the field in 2011.
A fourth sophomore will be in the mix in the infield. Kevin Caughman (Martinez, GA) has played 13 games off the bench in two active seasons. He is one of the team's top students in the classroom as a financial management major. Freshman Jay Baum (Alpharetta, GA), rated as the #218 player in the nation by Perfect Game out of Centennial High School, will also compete for innings in the infield.
Six outfielders, four of which are in their first active seasons in a Tiger uniform, will compete for the three outfield spots. Clemson lost all three starters (Schaus, Lamb, Chris Epps) in the outfield from a season ago.
The two returnees in the outfield are sophomores Dominic Attanasio (Windermere, FL) and Joe Costigan (Naples, FL). The 5'7" Attanasio is a slap hitter and speedy baserunner who batted .367 in 33 games (10 starts) as a freshman in 2011. He was 6-for-15 (.400) as a pinch-hitter and was a key to many wins, as he was 19-for-36 (.528) in Tiger victories.
Costigan was 2-for-8 with a .571 on-base percentage in 14 games, all off the bench, as a freshman in 2011. He was rated as the #36 player in the 2011 Coastal Plain League by Perfect Game.
Junior Thomas Brittle (Cross, SC) sat out the 2011 season after transferring from College of Charleston, where he hit .273 with 16 stolen bases in 76 games (15 starts) in 2009 and 2010. He is one of the fastest players on the team and is a leading candidate to start in centerfield.
Another veteran player who transferred from a school in the Lowcountry will make an impact in the outfield in 2012. Graduate Brad Felder (Bowman, SC) played at The Citadel in 2008, 2010, and 2011. Felder, who has outstanding strength and speed, batted .252 with 18 homers, 68 RBIs, and 36 steals in 151 games (136 starts) with the Bulldogs. He is a strong candidate to start in right field in his one and only season at Clemson in 2012. Felder is the son of the former Bobbie Mims, who was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame after a standout career as a women's basketball player.
Freshmen Tyler Slaton (Cumming, GA) and Mike Triller (Rutland, VT) will compete for a starting job in the outfield. Slaton was a three-time all-region selection at North Forsyth High School, while Triller played in the Vermont North-South All-Star game after hitting a team-best .528 as a senior. Triller also won the Omaha Challenge competition among fielders in the fall.
The pitching staff figures to be the strength of the 2012 team. Several Tigers have been Friday starters during one point of their careers.
One of those Tigers who is slated to headline the rotation is junior righthander Kevin Brady (Gaithersburg, MD). Despite suffering an injury that cost him most of his 2011 season, Brady was still 2-0 with a 3.86 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only one walk in 23.1 innings pitched. He was dominant in his first three outings before suffering an arm injury that forced him out of action for 71 days. The hard thrower was drafted in the 17th round by the Cleveland Indians last summer, but elected to return for his junior season, where he is listed as the #41 prospect in the nation for the 2012 draft by Baseball America.
Another leading contender for a weekend spot is junior righty Dominic Leone (Norwich, CT). The co-captain is a competitive pitcher who has a 9-4 record and 4.21 ERA in 37 appearances (22 starts) in his career. Like Brady, Leone suffered an early-season injury in 2011 that hampered his progress. After recovering from the injury, he was 6-2 with a 3.70 ERA and a team-high 72 strikeouts in 65.2 innings pitched in 2011. Leone earned a win in five straight starts from April to May and keyed Clemson's run late in the season.
Junior righthander Jonathan Meyer (San Diego, CA) has experience as both a starter and reliever in a Tiger uniform. In 2011, he moved into the weekend rotation in the second half of the season and excelled. He was 5-2 with a 3.31 ERA and .221 opponents' batting average in 23 appearances (seven starts) as a sophomore. He also had a 3.32 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2011 and is the only returning Tiger who has pitched a complete game. Meyer, who has been most effective when keeping the ball down in the strikezone, will again compete for a weekend spot.
David Haselden (Spartanburg, SC), like Meyer, has a plethora of experience as both a starter and reliever. The senior righthander is one of the top control hurlers in Tiger history. In 54 appearances (seven starts) in his career, he has an 11-5 record, five saves, and a 3.26 ERA along with a 3.36 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 1.86 walks-per-nine-innings-pitched mark. Those last two figures are sixth and second, respectively, in Tiger history. In 2011, the mechanical engineering major had a 6-1 record, three saves, and a 2.23 ERA in 25 appearances (four starts). His 2.23 ERA was fifth-best in the ACC and is best among returning ACC players in 2012, as the ACC's top four in ERA all signed professional contracts.
Junior righty Scott Firth (Buffalo Grove, IL) is a strong candidate for a weekend spot in the rotation. He has a 7-2 record and 3.27 ERA in 82.2 innings pitched in his career, and has even better numbers in ACC regular-season contests. Firth, who is the #72 player in the nation according to College Baseball Daily, had a 5-1 record and 3.06 ERA in 16 outings (seven starts) in 2011.
Sophomore righthander Kevin Pohle (Saint Louis, MO) was Clemson's top freshman pitcher in 2011, when he was a reliever and spot starter. He was a freshman All-American by NCBWA when he had a 5-2 record and a team-best 1.93 ERA in 17 appearances (three starts). Pohle, who will compete for a starting spot, did not allow a home run in 2011 thanks in large part to his downward movement on his pitches.
After a limited role in his first two seasons, junior lefthander Joseph Moorefield (Woodruff, SC) will be called upon to provide valuable innings in 2012 as one of only two lefthanders on the staff. The hard thrower was drafted in the 26th round by the Kansas City Royals in 2011 after pitching 20.0 combined innings in his first two seasons at Clemson.
Another hard-throwing pitcher is sophomore righty Matt Campbell (Alpharetta, GA), who will be counted on as one of the top pitchers out of the bullpen in 2011. He had a 1-0 record, two saves, a 3.09 ERA, and .154 opponents' batting average in 16 relief appearances as a freshman. Campbell will look to continue is effectiveness with two outs, where he held opponents to 0-for-25 in 2011.
Sophomore righthander Mike Kent (Springfield, VA), who will provide depth in the bullpen, received a medical red-shirt in 2011 after suffering a season-ending injury. He has a 1-1 record and .262 opponents' batting average in seven appearances (two starts) in his career.
Six freshmen will add to Clemson's already deep pitching staff. Clay Bates (Rock Hill, SC) red-shirted in 2011 after a standout career at Northwestern High School. Bates has won the Omaha Challenge competition among pitchers in both of his seasons at Clemson and will compete for innings out of the bullpen in 2012. Kyle Bailey (Southlake, TX) joins Moorefield as the only lefties on the staff after being an all-state pitcher at Carroll Senior High School.
Daniel Gossett (Lyman, SC) and Brock Goodling (Mount Union, PA) are two freshman righties who have the ability to be a factor in 2012. Gossett was the #127 player in the nation by Perfect Game out of James F. Byrnes High School and was drafted in the 16th round by the Boston Red Sox. Goodling was the #337 player in the nation by Perfect Game and was a two-time all-state selection at Mount Union High School.
Two other freshman righthanders will compete for innings out of the bullpen in 2012. Patrick Andrews (Hilton Head Island, SC) was the #153 player in the nation by Perfect Game after being named SCISA Player-of-the-Year as a senior at Hilton Head Prep School. Trevor Kieboom (Marietta, GA), brother of Clemson junior catcher Spencer Kieboom, lettered three times at Walton High School and has the ability to play in the infield in 2012.