Power pitchers are critical, but becoming a rarity at Clemson

Kevin Brady, currently out with a forearm strain, is the one true power arm on Clemson’s staff.

CLEMSON -- Draping the chain-link barrier between the visitors' bullpen and the concourse at Doug Kingsmore Stadium is a banner commemorating Kris Benson's national player of the year campaign.

Benson and the 1996 season, which ended in Omaha, are deserving of a historical marker as Clemson might never again possess a team with such power arms. The flame-throwing Benson was the No. 1 overall pick in the baseball draft after posting a 14-2 record and 204 strikeouts in 156 innings. Three picks later in the draft his teammate, the 100 mph heat-dealing Billy Koch was selected.

They are the types of arms Tigers coach Jack Leggett says are more difficult to attract to campus, the types of arms that provide the easiest path to postseason success, and the types of arms Clemson has lacked this season as it begins a three-game home series tonight against Wake Forest (15-23, 6-12) with a 9-9 ACC record (23-13 overall).

To understand the importance of power arms, consider three of the seven teams under Leggett to average better than eight strikes out per nine innings have advanced to the College World Series, including the 1996 team, which posted a program record 9.69 strikeouts per nine innings. This season, Clemson, a team short on power arms after Kevin Brady's injury, is averaging 7.75 strikeouts per nine innings.

"(Kevin) Brady throws as hard as (Benson and Koch) did but getting more than two or three power pitchers on a staff like that is tough," Leggett said. "That might not happen again."

Brady is the one Clemson pitcher who displayed ace potential and can touch 95 mph consistently. But Brady has been out since March with a forearm strain, an injury Leggett says is "still tender." There is no timetable for his return.

Leggett says it's becoming more difficult to entice power arms like Brady to campus because of the "pro influence and all that type of thing."

In the pro game, signing bonuses have skyrocketed.

Two years ago, Clemson signee Madison Younginer, a prep product capable of 97 mph heat, was selected in the seventh round by the Boston Red Sox and signed for $700,000. Chris Dwyer, a lefty who could touch 94 mph, pitched just one season at Clemson and earned a $1.4 million signing bonus as a third rounder in 2009.

Clemson has signed one of the nation's top prep left-hander pitchers in Daniel Norris, but he could also receive a hefty signing bonus out of high school.

There is also the preference by major league teams to develop their own power arms rather than have college coaches tutor and sometimes overuse them.

Still, to prove velocity isn't everything, to prove pitching is not synonymous with throwing is exhibit A: Jonathan Meyer, who like most Clemson pitchers throws in the mid to upper 80s. Meyer once struck out then-high school sophomore Bryce Harper in a summer league game three years ago, and he allowed just two runs over seven innings in his first college start last weekend at Boston College.

Arms like Meyer's are more and more becoming the norm at the college level.

"(Pro scouts) like the people that throw harder," said Meyer, who will start Sunday. "They like the overpowering stuff more than the guy that wins…if a guy is throwing hard they feel like than can make them a pitcher."

Clemson pitching coach Dan Pepicelli says while it is difficult to attract big-time arms, the key is developing talent.

While Pepicelli hopes Brady can return to form, he also says Dominic Leone has improved his velocity, adding "five to six miles per hour," throwing occasionally in the mid 90s. He believes the staff is improving and its best performances will come in May, and perhaps beyond.

Still, Pepicelli welcomes all arms capable of 95 mph. "Whatever you lack in velocity you have to make up in location. The biggest thing with velocity is it gives you margin of error."

A margin that has declined for Clemson.

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