CLEMSON – Clemson coach Jack Leggett says his players are ready to face an opponent not dressed in orange, white and purple, hosting William & Mary for a three-game set this weekend at Doug Kingsmore Stadium.
Replacing key spots in the lineup and rotation, the Tiger-on-Tiger competition is far from done though.
“It’s an audition for everybody, for all our players and pitchers out there,” Leggett said. “Everybody has to go out there and prove a point that they deserve to be in the role we’re giving them right now.
“I can guarantee you everybody’s role can change between now and the end of the season.”
The projected lineup the long-time Tigers coach is rolling out reflects that idea, with a core of at least 12 players fighting for nine spots.
Around the horn, Clemson has returning starters at first base (junior Jon McGibbon) and second (junior Steve Wilkerson), but freshman switch hitter Tyler Krieger is expected to take over shortstop and third base could be a platoon of sophomore Jay Baum, junior college signee Shane Kennedy and freshman Kevin Bradley. Kennedy is also listed as a probable starter at designated hitter.
Behind the plate, T.L. Hanna’s Garrett Boulware, a sophomore, and freshman Matt Reed are battling at catcher. Bradley, a switch hitter, is a factor here as well.
In the outfield, the Tigers have four players for three spots. Senior center fielder Thomas Brittle is back at the top of the lineup and freshman Steven Duggar is in right field (rated the state’s No. 1 incoming position player by Perfect Game). In left field, sophomore Tyler Slaton and freshman Maleeke Gibson have both impressed and are expected to split time.
“Both of them are really valuable players for us,” Leggett said. “Both are playing really well right now so we have to keep those guys busy. One could DH for us and (one) play some left field – they’re both going to play.”
Brittle, who led the ACC in triples last season (8), says the roster reflects his strengths, line-drive hitting and attacking on the basepaths.
“I don’t know if we have a guy in our lineup that doesn’t have pretty good speed,” Brittle said. “It’s definitely going to be in our favor and (we’re) definitely going to be more aggressive on the bases this year.”
William & Mary, picked seventh preseason in the Colonial Athletic Association, will throw senior right-hander Brett Koehler for Friday’s 4 p.m. start (6-2, 3.21 ERA in 2012), another senior righty in John Farrell (2-3, 2.32) Sat. at 2 p.m. and sophomore right-hander Jason Inghram (3-2, 2.20) in the 1 p.m. finale Sunday. Game two will be Farrell’s first career start after surpassing the school record for saves (14) last season.
Clemson counters with an all-righty rotation of its own, in sophomores Daniel Gossett and Patrick Andrews in the first two games, and closing with senior co-captain Scott Firth, who gets his chance to start after posting a 4-0 record with a team-leading 2.09 ERA in relief last year.
“(Firth)’s got a really good arm,” Leggett said. “He’s just got to control it, throw strikes, work ahead in the count and keep his pitch count down if he wants to be a starter. Get some easy outs here and there – not feel like he has strike everybody out because we have a lot of players out there behind him.
"...He is a great athlete, holds runners on, handles his position and a competitive leader for us so I expect really good things out of him.”
Leggett will certainly to work in a number of fresh faces against the Tribe this weekend, but he says it won’t distract from the main goal.
“This weekend is about winning ballgames,” said Leggett. “However we have to do it, we’ll try to get that done. But we want to see a lot of players play. We want to get our pitchers out there on the mound and get their feet wet.”