CLEMSON – With Opening Day just a few sunsets and sunrises away, here are seven notes on the Clemson baseball team before the Tigers launch the Monte Lee era with a seven-game homestand preceding the South Carolina series:
1) A statistic certain to be atop the quirks of Clemson’s roster: there are three Alexes available out of the bullpen.
Alex Bostic, Alex Eubanks and Alex Schnell should all play a vital role as relief pitchers under Andrew See’s tutelage. As written in today’s Post and Courier, Bostic (6-2, 210, junior lefty) will get the first go at closer, and it sounded like Lee will give Bostic a long leash to start the year.
“You want power stuff at the end of the game, and Bostic gives you speed up to 93-94 miles an hour,” Lee said. “He’s left-handed, he’s got a plus breaking ball, he’s an experienced guy, so we feel very good about going with Bostic at the end.”
Eubanks (6-0, 185, freshman righty) will be counted upon to anchor the bullpen; Lee called Eubanks “a right-handed version of Barnes,” as in Opening Day starter Charlie Barnes. Eubanks features not an overwhelming fastball but has two breaking balls and coaxes grounders with a sinking fastball. Eubanks was considered for the Sunday role but coaches opted to use him upwards of twice a week out of the ‘pen.
Schnell (5-11, 175, sophomore lefty) was used the most among the three Alexes last year, but he needs to work on his control. He issued 15 walks and hit six batters against just 14 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings, and while he was 2-0 he compiled a ghastly 8.41 ERA. Schnell’s best game was Feb. 27, 2015 when he fired the final four innings of two-hit, shutout ball to finish off a 11-4 win over the Gamecocks in Clemson.
Specifically, on the weekends, Lee and See would prefer to insert Eubanks when Barnes leaves the game and veteran Pat Krall (2-4, 4.03 ERA in 38 IP in 2015) coming in for Clate Schmidt, both as stylistic contrasts to those particular starters.
2) Elsewhere in the bullpen, here are two names you need to learn: Ryley Gilliam and Garrett Lovorn.
Gilliam is a 5-10, 170-pound freshman who earned rave reviews from Lee Tuesday and has been pegged as the eighth-inning guy in front of Bostic.
“Gilliam has the best breaking ball on the staff. He can really spin a breaking ball,” Lee said. “He’s a little guy – think (former All-American) Daniel Gossett. He’s a really twitched-up athlete with an explosive fastball and a wipeout breaking ball.”
Lovorn is a big junior (6-3, 235) who redshirted in 2013 and did not pitch in 2015, but is throwing in the low 90s.
3) It was detailed in this morning’s print article how Lee felt about Barnes and Schmidt getting the ball in that order, but Schmidt sounded far from jilted about ceding the Opening Day start to a player two years younger.
“My job is going to be the same as if I was on Friday,” Schmidt said. “I want to be able to either win the series or send the momentum our way if we need it. I know Charlie’s going to do what he’s supposed to do. But it’s my job to go in Saturday and have the same mentality I would any other day.”
4) The most exciting additions to Clemson’s batting order: first baseman Chris Williams and right fielder Seth Beer.
Williams transferred in from Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif., where he led the league champion Rustlers in RBIs and was named the Orange Empire Conference Co-Player of the Year.
Williams could also catch, to save Chris Okey’s legs from time to time.
“We feel like Chris gives us a pretty good defender at first, and he’s a middle-of-the-order type hitter,” Lee said. “He’s got a chance to be a special hitter, and if I had to catch him, we wouldn’t miss much of a beat. I think he’ll be here one year next year as our catcher, and then he’ll be gone in the draft.”
Then there’s the blue-chip recruit Beer, who smacked multiple home runs during spring intrasquad scrimmages.
“Beer has shown over the last two weekends he has the potential and ability to drive the baseball, and he can really throw,” Lee said. “(In right field,) that’s where he’s most comfortable.”
5) Reed Rohlman, the team’s batting champ in 2015, will be a wild card positionally; when the Tigers favor a offensive lineup, they’ll put him in left field and let Robert Jolly (.351 on 57 ABs last year) grab a bat as designated hitter. When the Tigers prefer defense, Rohlman will be DH and someone out of Drew Wharton, Maleeke Gibson and Mike Triller will man left.
6) Sophomore Chase Pinder, who takes over as the starting center fielder after working some at second base and designated hitter in 2015, will likely be rewarded for his high on-base percentage (.360) with the leadoff spot Friday.
Lee likes Pinder’s 26 combined walks and hits-by-pitch versus 22 strikeouts. That was the best ratio on the Tigers last year, slightly ahead of Tyler Slaton, who was leadoff hitter and center fielder in 2015 but only hit .236 (Pinder hit .256.)
“Pinder can run, he gives you quality at-bats,” Lee said. “I like a guy who’s that’s got at least an even HBP and walk ratio to his strikeouts, or even higher.”
7) And finally, Lee feels good. That just doesn’t mean anything a couple days before Opening Day.
“You know what, look, I feel the same way every year. Every team is a different team. Unless you’ve got a lot of guys returning, you’ve got a better feel for how they’re going to perform,” Lee said. “As far as I go, I feel very confident about our team. Can they compete and perform under pressure? That’s the question we have to answer.
“So I feel good. But I’m always going to feel good going into the first weekend – we haven’t played anybody yet.”