As long as college baseball continues to play a waltz, coach Jack Leggett doesn’t intend to slam dance.
Stout defense, reliable pitching and speed are required in the Dead Bat Era, and Leggett’s 20th Clemson baseball team was built for the game.
“I don’t know a guy in our lineup that doesn’t have pretty good speed,” said senior co-captain Thomas Brittle, center fielder and the top hitter from a 35-28 team this past season that made Clemson’s 18th NCAA tournament appearance under Leggett.
“It definitely could be in our favor,” said Brittle, who hit .298 in 2012, including team highs in triples (8), hit-by-pitch (11) and stolen bases (15). “We’ll be more aggressive on the bases this year. Run a little more, hit and run, bunt and put more pressure on the defense.”
A buzz kill for a team relying on big hammers, spacious Doug Kingsmore Stadium could be huge as the season opens Friday with the first of three weekend games against William & Mary. Clemson returns more stolen bases (40) from last season’s team than home runs (8), and Leggett would like to lead the nation in triples.
“It’s going to be a lot more line drives and ground balls and trying to make things happen with our speed,” said Brittle, second-team all-conference last season. “Through the lineup, hopefully, we’ll be more consistent. Our pitching is really deep, so get some runs early and let our pitchers cruise the rest of the way.”
Returning are 10 of the 13 pitchers who saw action last season, including Friday’s starter Daniel Gossett, a sophomore right-hander from Byrnes High. “Goose” finds himself in a different role from where he began his career. Initially the closer, Gossett earned two saves in nine relief appearances, changed to midweek starter and finished with strong outings against Wake Forest and Virginia in the ACC tournament and South Carolina in the NCAA regional.
Leggett said sophomore right-hander Patrick Andrews and senior right-hander Scott Firth would complete the weekend rotation, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised to see a huge shuffle by season’s end with junior right-hander Kevin Pohle and freshman right-hander Matthew Crownover working back from injuries.
Brittle, junior first baseman Jon McGibbon and junior second baseman Steve Wilkerson are the relative locks among the returning everyday players. Leggett intends to mix and match the remainder of the lineup with freshmen Tyler Krieger and Steven Dugger likely at short and right field. Sophomore Garrett Boulware and freshman Matt Reed might split duty at catching.
Third base, left field and designated hitter could be filled by a number of players, including junior college transfer Shane Kennedy, who with McGibbon might be the other best power threat.
Leggett said this weekend’s games would be an audition for every player.
“The lineup you see out there could be totally different 20 games into the season,” Leggett said.