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Clemson baseball will look different this year — but that's not a bad thing

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NCAA Baseball: NCAA Regionals - Vanderbilt vs Clemson

Clemson baseball coach Monte Lee says the Tigers have the talent to replace sluggers Seth Beer and Chris Williams. File/Joshua S. Kelly/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — Grayson Byrd took his place in front of dozens of television cameras Friday afternoon at Clemson's baseball facility and immediately had a question.

"Which one do I look at?" he joked.

"(I'll) look at all of them."

Then, once he was nestled in, a few minutes later he had another question.

After a reporter mentioned that Clemson's 2019 baseball team will be without the heavy-hitting Seth Beer and slugger Chris Williams, who have both moved on, Byrd asked, "We lost who?" 

"But no, it hurts a little bit when obviously you lose — what Seth had like 22 (home runs) and Chris had 18 or something like that. We'll see what happens."

Indeed, that very narrative — the one that revolves around how the Tigers will replace two of the best hitters in coach Monte Lee's time at Clemson — is one that has and will continue to dominate the preseason before Clemson opens its season Feb. 15 against South Alabama.

The duo's departure is no secret, its impact was widely known and the Tigers must now move on.

But Lee has a plan.

Clemson's roster has more speed and more athleticism than in years past. It also happens to have some of the best leadership he has seen.

"We're going to lose players and that's with any program. I know we always want to talk, it seems like the biggest theme has been 'What are you going to do to replace Williams and Beer?' Well, they're not here anymore," Lee said. "We haven't talked about Seth Beer and Chris Williams a whole lot this year because they're no longer here."

Leading the charge from a leadership standpoint should be Byrd, along with senior infielder Jordan Greene and junior Logan Davidson, whom Lee called the best shortstop in the country.

If all goes according to plan, Davidson will likely be gone at the end of this season for the MLB Draft, where he is a projected first-rounder.

This offseason, Davidson put an emphasis on his footwork as a taller shortstop who understands his defense starts with his feet as he looks to play lower to the ground. Scouts should be there to see him regularly, something that will both simultaneously excite him and be a non-factor.

"They've been watching the whole time. Maybe I wasn't the center because you've got Seth," Davidson said. "But the bottom line is I'm going to do what I do and we're going to do what we do as a team. I plan on playing this game for a long time, so this year is not going to define me or our team."

In addition to Davidson, the Tigers return key contributors in Greene, Byrd and power-hitting catcher Kyle Wilkie in the infield, while a handful of pitchers are back, too. Last year's Friday night starter Jacob Hennessy is back, as is Saturday starter Brooks Crawford and midweek starter Spencer Strider. From a bullpen perspective, Carson Spiers returns in what could become a closing role, along with Owen Griffith and Sam Weatherly, whom Lee called one of the most improved players of the offseason now that Weatherly has completely committed to pitching.

"He's been a different guy," Lee said. "Much better."

Several Tigers on Friday could not stop raving about Davis Sharpe, a freshman pitcher whom Lee says might be as good a hitter as he is a pitcher. Sharpe is competing for a starting rotation spot on a team that should have plenty of arms, plenty of talent and plenty of leadership.

"What I know about our team is it's been, in my opinion, the most focused group that we've had in my four years here," Lee said. "It's the most disciplined group.

"It's the first year where I feel like it's a player-driven leadership."

That is a good thing.

Perhaps the Tigers will get over the regional hump this year.

Follow Grace Raynor on Twitter @gmraynor

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