Armed with one of the deepest infields in college baseball, Clemson coach Jack Leggett usually describes the Tigers’ personnel possibilities up the middle and at the corners in terms of versatility, and having players who can be used in more than one position.
Even so, there are a couple of infield roles that are already more clearly defined, and one of those would undoubtedly be assigned to sophomore shortstop Tyler Krieger.
“Tyler Krieger is a mainstay for us over at shortstop,” said Leggett, after ticking off the names of several players who could be used at either short, second, or third. “Offensively, he’s gotten so much stronger, and defensively he’s a rock for us.”
Regarded by Perfect Game as the 23rd-best freshman in the nation in the 2013 preseason, Krieger lived up to his first-year billing by settling directly into the Tigers’ line-up and starting all 62 games at short. For the most part, the switch-hitter from Johns Creek, GA, handled his baptism by fire with aplomb, finishing the season with 27 RBIs and a .257 batting average (.310 with runners in scoring position), as well as a .958 fielding percentage.
His glove-work only improved as the season wore on, as he committed just a single error in his last 17 games, and none in his final nine. As he prepares for his second year, Krieger says that playing full-time as a freshman resulted naturally in an accelerated learning curve.
“I learned from my mistakes, and failed quite a bit,” he said. “But I also had some good things happen to me, so it was kind of an up-and-down year. But I learned a lot from a lot of guys, and just tried and take all the experiences that I had, and use them to my advantage, and learn and get better every single day.”
Very evidently having added some muscle to his previously lean frame, Krieger expects for his physical enhancement to have a positive impact on his offensive capabilities.
“I think that last year my physical stature was not where I would have liked it, but I’ve been working on trying to get in the weight-room, and really kind of work on my strength,” he said. “I think it’s really going to help me improve at the plate, and give me more confidence to be successful.”
From a team standpoint, Krieger says that the Tigers are in-synch and experienced, and that the high expectations for the coming season are realistic.
“Obviously, experience is going to play a big factor into the year, but we’re such a tight-knit group this year, and I feel like the chemistry of this team is just better than in years past,” he said. “I’m really excited about the effort that people have been showing, and we just can’t wait to get things rolling.
“Everybody’s a year better, everybody’s a year more experienced, and everybody’s ready to get to work and prove that we can be an offensive team with a great pitching staff. Hopefully, that meshes into something of a National Championship caliber type team.”
The key to that eventuality, as Krieger sees it, is to invest in the concrete details of what it takes to be successful.
“Any time you lose before you reach a National Championship, you’re going to be upset,” said Krieger of Clemson’s failure to reach the College World Series a season ago. “I don’t think anybody’s happy with even a second-place finish. Everybody’s goal is to eventually win the National Championship, and not just get to Omaha.
“What we have to do is not so much talk about winning a National Championship every single day, but about how we’re going to separate ourselves, because you’ve got every other team in the country that’s saying the exact same thing. Everybody wants to win a National Championship, but what are you going to do to separate yourself from all the other teams? Figuring that out starts today.”