Tiger baseball will be better next time around: here's why

Experience, maturity, upgraded talent should put Clemson in lead pack for 2014 CWS

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett greets Shane Kennedy as he rounds third after his home run in the Tigers' NCAA Regional game against Saint Louis at Carolina Stadium in Columbia on Saturday.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson head coach Jack Leggett greets Shane Kennedy as he rounds third after his home run in the Tigers' NCAA Regional game against Saint Louis at Carolina Stadium in Columbia on Saturday.

Jack Leggett believes the best is yet to come for the current group of players that comprise the Clemson baseball team.

The 2013 Tigers won 40 games, challenged down to the wire for the ACC Atlantic Division crown, and then narrowly, via a late slump, played its way out of a host role in the NCAA tournament.

Save senior pitcher Scott Firth and centerfielder Thomas Brittle, everyone returns for 2013.

That's just one of several reasons why the Tigers should be better in 2014 than they were this spring:

Experience and maturity: Coaches Leggett, Dan Pepicelli and Bradley LeCroy will be able to man their defensive positions across the board and go deep into their pitching staff before needing to use a player lacking significant college big-game experience. At the end, a late-season swoon seemed to overshadow what the Tigers accomplished during the first three-fourths of their season, including a string of clutch, game-winning deliveries by members of next year's sophomore class. Moreover, the Tigers learned to win the close ones during a mid-season streak that was impressive as any run in the nation.

Ongoing talent upgrade: Coordinator Bradley LeCroy has spearheaded an effort that has turned Clemson's recruiting around since he came on board three years ago, and the inflow of talent will continue this summer when another well-balanced class joins an already-young team. Catcher Chris Okey - who was projected as a top-three round draft pick before declaring his intention to attend college - headlines the class, but he's not the only potential star. Infielder Weston Wilson and Alex Bostic might have been mid-round picks had they not declared their college intentions early, and infielder Eli White was a 26th-round pick.

Chris Okey: High school catchers with first-round potential rarely end up playing for college teams, so the addition of Okey bucks the trend and is something of a coup for the Tigers - the kind of decision that helps elevate any program. A solid hitter with advanced defensive skills and mobility behind the plate, Okey will give the Tigers options at a position where Garrett Boulware caught nearly every pitch this spring.

Shane Kennedy: The junior college transfer provided some pop to Clemson's lineup this spring, and, having been passed over by the MLB draft, will have a chance to develop as a heavy hitter in the middle of the Tigers' batting order. He led the Tigers with a .317 batting order this season, finished second on the team to Boulware in home runs with five, and stole 22 bases in 27 attempts.

Steve Wilkerson: Like Kennedy, the Tigers' three-year infield starter will come back for his senior season with something to prove after going undrafted. He batted .291 with a team-high 16 doubles last season, following up on an All-ACC sophomore season in which he batted .295 and led the team in runs scored.

Eli White and Weston Wilson: The talented freshmen infielders will keep the pressure on Wilkerson and Tyler Krieger, giving Leggett options to keep the Tigers' most productive bats in the lineup.

Jake Long: The junior pitcher is expected to fit into the Tigers' starting rotation next season, after sitting out 2013 as a transfer from East Tennessee State where he started 15 games as a sophomore and had a .256 opponents' batting average. A product of T.L. Hanna High in Anderson, S.C., he played his first college season at Spartanburg Methodist College, where he had a 5-2 record and a 1.64 ERA, with 48 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched.

Kevin Pohle: A two-year letterman who sat out the 2013 season because of injury, Pohle was the Tigers' top freshman pitcher in 2011 and a weekend starter for most of 2012. In two seasons, he's 12-6 with a 3.14 ERA in 33 appearances and 17 starts. Prior to the 2013 season, he was ranked as the No. 3 college prospect in South Carolina by Perfect Game.

Jon McGibbon: The Tigers need for the rising senior first baseman to pick up where he left off in 2013, when he played nearly flawless defense and finished the season by batting .424 in his last 19 games. He missed the Tigers' NCAA regional after pulling a hamstring in practice, and his absence made a difference.

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