Sapakoff: Clemson’s Seth Beer, once an Olympic swimming prospect, on tap as a baseball phenom

Clemson sophomore outfielder Seth Beer. (File/Wade Spees/Staff) 

Clemson’s Seth Beer, who opted not to become the next Michael Phelps and is supposed to be in high school, made baseball fans come to Riley Park early Tuesday night. A freshman already taking aim at Clemson power records put on a show in batting practice.

Then he put the Tigers ahead of the Citadel with an RBI double in the first inning. An extraordinary guy named Beer bounced one deep in left-center - near the Bud Light sign, of all places.

“He’s the best freshman hitter I’ve ever seen,” Clemson head coach Monte Lee said after the Tigers’ 12-1 victory. “I have never seen a kid that has that kind of composure and that kind of maturity who has those kind of at-bats as a true freshman. He’s just so disciplined at the plate and he’s so strong. He’s a guy that’s going to play the game for a long, long time.”

While former classmate at Lambert High School in Suwanee, Ga., are having various prom thoughts, Beer is a December graduate off to a precocious Clemson start. He didn’t add to his seven home run total in the first of back-to-back games at The Joe, going a mere 2-for-4 to raise his batting average to .412 while extending a hitting streak to 13.

But numbers say beware of Beer on Wednesday night, and don’t get caught at the concession stand when he’s at bat.

At this freakish pace of a home run almost every other game (four blasts last week), Beer will hit 28 or so this season.

Even if he falls way short of the Clemson single-season record of 27 set by Khalil Greene in 2002, consider that the NCAA modified bat standards twice since 2002 in an effort to make metal bats perform more like wood bats.

Average NCAA Division I batting average and homers per game in 2002: .296 and 0.83.

In 2015: .274 and 0.56.

The Clemson freshman record of 15 home runs set by former Major League catcher Matthew LeCroy in 1995 is well within reach. Other freshman year homer totals for eventual Clemson All-Americans: Shane Monahan 9 (1995), Greene 8 (1999), Jeff Baker 11 (2000), Tyler Colvin 2 (2004), Kyle Parker 14 (2008).

“You just have to keep the pressure to a minimum,” Beer said after Clemson improved to 12-3. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of coming to Clemson. My teammates are amazing and we’ve got something special going on now.”

Coincidentally, Lee just came from the College of Charleston, which used beer sales in attempt to boost attendance at Patriots Point.

Clemson sells Beer. The Tigers are averaging 4,738 fans per game – eight-highest total in the country – partly because of Beer excitement. Former head coach Jack Leggett, who got Beer to commit to Clemson, has a pair of season tickets and sits a few rows behind the home dugout.

Beer was at a crossroads as an early teen.

His two goals:

1. “Swim in the Olympics by age 15.”

2. “Play baseball at the collegiate level.”

No one blinked when a 12-year-old Beer set national records age-group in the 50-meter backstroke and 100-meter backstroke. By 15, a kid who was already 6-3 with serious lefty power, chose baseball over swimming – and a spot on a prestigious Georgia Roadrunners Blue team coached by former Atlanta Braves pitcher Paul Byrd.

With a different decision, Clemson would have less power and Beer might be preparing for a summer trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“I remember waking up at 4:30 to get in the pool by 5:30 and swim until 8 and then go to baseball practice,” said Beer, a right fielder who served as Clemson’s designated hitter Tuesday night. “Just the work ethic of swimming has helped me so much.”

Beer likely would have been an early-round pick in the 2016 Major League draft had he stayed in high school.

With college credentials, he seems destined to force a bidding war among three big league clubs looking to market Beer at Coors Field (Rockies), Busch Stadium (Cardinals) or Miller Park (Brewers).

South Carolina head coach Chad Holbrook watched Beer come up through the Atlanta area showcase ranks, and wasn’t surprised when he went 2-for-4 with a homer at Founders Park on March 4.

“I’ve seen him do a lot of impressive things,” Holbrook said. “That’s not the first time I’ve seen him put a charge in the ball. He’s a gifted player, a great prospect. One of the best freshmen in college baseball, no doubt about that.”

Citadel head coach Fred Jordan agreed.

“I don’t want to jinx the young man,” Jordan said, “but he reminds me of a young (former Major League and University of Tennessee slugger) Todd Helton and as a freshman he has as much composure as (former South Carolina and current Boston Red Sox outfielder) Jackie Bradley Jr. He’s going to be a real superstar for Monte Lee the next three years.”

Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff