With an athletic freshman class joining an athletic group of returning players, the Clemson baseball team appears to have been intently built for speed.
Yes, and no, says head coach Jack Leggett.
Yes, in the sense that the Tigers will rely heavily on their speed and athleticism, and will play the sort of situational baseball that depends on putting the ball in play and running the bases, and putting pressure on opponents.
But, no, in that Leggett hasn’t significantly changed his approach to recruiting, and not even in light of the long-ball’s diminished relevance in the college game after the NCAA’s adoption of less-lively bats a couple of years back.
“We don’t have a whole lot of home runs coming back from last year’s team,” Leggett agreed. “The bats have changed, and the game’s changed a little bit, so we’ve got to change with the times and we’ve got to be able to bunt and run, be able to hit and run, run the bases very well, play really good defense, and pitch. That’s the story of it all the time, and I think these kids understand what we’ve got to do to try and win.
“But to be honest with you, every year we’ve recruited the same kind of kids. We wouldn’t have done anything differently. They’re just good baseball players, and good athletes. They’re versatile kids and hard-working kids with great attitudes. I don’t think there’s a kid out here that we looked at because the bats have changed.
“We always wanted speed and great athletes, and we always wanted guys who have wiry bodies, and who can run. You never have seen too many players on our team who were out of shape or were just one-dimensional. So I don’t think there’s one kid out here we would not have recruited in the past.”
Still, the Tigers’ lineup does look as if it’s well-adapted to the type of game that’s been ascendant over the past two seasons.
“I think we’ve got some good speed on our team,” said Leggett. “So it’s our job during our scrimmages to try and play with no fear, and reckless abandon, and try to get them on the edge a little bit, because when you play on the edge, you’re a little better baseball team. And they’re better baseball players, so we try to put that no-fear-of-failure type of mentality into them right off the bat. We do have some guys who can run a little bit, so that’s going to be part of our framework, and part of our make-up of this team.
“We have a really good incoming freshman class,” he added. “They’ve been working extremely hard and have set a good example for the older guys. They haven’t taken anything for granted, and I’ve been very impressed with them. They’re all athletic, and that’s good because we also have some athletic kids coming back.”
As to which players in the mix might occasionally be counted on to provide some power, Leggett said that there are several who could hit one out “here and there.”
“Jon McGibbon is a kid who’s got some power,” said Leggett. “And Shane Kennedy, an incoming junior college kid has a good chance to help us in the lineup. Shane’s got some power, he’s just got to continue to work on his fundamentals. He’s raw on defense but has gotten much better since the fall.
“So those are probably the two kids who have the most power. And then there are some other guys like Steve Wilkerson who are going to hit us one, or two, or three home runs, but for the most part if we sit around and rely on that, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Wilkerson - a junior infielder who’s one of the team’s veteran leaders – thinks that the Tigers’ offensive capabilities are right in line with the sort of game that Leggett teaches.
“I feel good about our sticks this year,” said Wilkerson. “Honestly, I have a better feeling about them this year than last year. We have a lot of guys who are good contact hitters, and Coach Leggett’s style is more about line-drives, and getting people on base and running around, so I think our bats this year fit in pretty good with our system.”