Expectations set at Omaha despite the younger roster

Baseball - Jon McGibbon

Photo by Mark Crammer

Baseball - Jon McGibbon

CLEMSON – Clemson baseball approaches the 2013 season with as young a team as any in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It just doesn’t quite feel like it to Jack Leggett, who will step on to the field at Doug Kingsmore Stadium next week for his 20th season.

“I don’t know if I can say we’ve been this young in a long time,” Leggett said. “But the young players we have on our team are a cut above. They’re some kids that are some hard workers that are highly motivated and they want to win.

“They’ve been practicing like they want to win right from the beginning. So, I don’t look at them as all that young to be honest with you.”

But they are, with 26 underclassmen and 16 first-year freshmen lining the roster. Even the sophomores who saw action last year, including expected No. 1 starter and right-hander Daniel Gossett, are having to step into the leadership roles.

“Knowing what they’ve been through, I can talk to them,” Gossett said. “I’m trying to eliminate the awkward questions and just go after them – attack them and say this is what’s going to happen…Just trying to hit them with what they need before they find out the hard way.”

Senior righty Scott Firth, who led Clemson in ERA last season from the bullpen (2.09), is seeing a lot of what his coach is in the team make-up.

“It’s actually been a really good group,” Firth said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, but they’ve all meshed really well with the older guys. We have a couple guys that are older and have been around the block a couple times, and just enough young guys that may be crazy enough to follow us around.”

Left-handers Matthew Crownover and Zack Erwin have been standouts among the new arms, with Crownover having a shot to crack the weekend rotation, and right-hander Clate Schmidt was named the No. 4 top newcomer in the ACC by Baseball America this week.

Among freshmen position players, junior first baseman Jon McGibbon said the group has been impressive across the board.

“Pretty much all of them, you have guys like Steven Duggar (outfielder), Tyler Krieger (infielder), Kevin Bradley (infielder),” said McGibbon. “They’re all going to be a big part of our offense this year and they’re going to step in and help us win.”

A power outage in the lineup is a bit of a concern, with over 80 percent of last year’s home runs gone with stalwarts Richie Shaffer and Phil Pohl moving on to the pros, but McGibbon says the focus with this group is just putting the bat on the ball.

“We have a lot of guys that are going to be able to step in – not necessarily for power,” he said. “But just being able to make contact with the ball and drive guys in.”

The confidence in the Tigers’ youth movement has the expectations right where they should be according to Firth.

“We’re definitely expecting to go to Omaha, to compete for a conference championship and compete for a national championship,” Firth said. “…There’s no point in setting the bar lower than that really.

“We think we have the talent and the group of guys to get it done.”

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