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Opponent Preview: Clemson

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Meet the Tigers... They’re, uhh, really freaking good at baseball

NCAA Football: Clemson Spring Game Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Clemson

Mascot: Tigers | School Location: Clemson, SC | Conference: ACC

2018 Record: 16-1 (3-0, 1st Atlantic) | 2018 RPI Rank: 1

2017 Record: 42-21 (17-13, 3rd Atlantic) | 2017 RPI Rank: 15

2016 Record: 44-20 (16-14, T-3rd Atlantic*) | 2016 RPI Rank: 7

*2016 ACC Tournament Champions


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Doug Kingsmore Stadium, Clemson, SC

Game Time(s): Friday, Mar 16 @ 6:30pm | Saturday, Mar 17 @ 4:00pm | Sunday, Mar 18 @ 1:00pm

TV: ACC Network Extra (Friday | Saturday | Sunday)

Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh

Live Stats: Friday | Saturday | Sunday


Tell me about this team

Clemson is going to be easily the toughest team that NC State has faced this year, with the series representing a true litmus test for the 2018 Wolfpack Baseball team. Unlike the soft schedule that State has played in the early going, Top 10 ranked Clemson has played a tough schedule to this point in the season with series against Dallas Baptist, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech as headliners in a schedule that currently ranks 39th nationally in strength of schedule (SOS). That SOS ranking, by the way, is actually probably lower than it could or should be due to early season RPI figures that currently have South Carolina ranked at 125. Early season RPI, man...

A team that was expected to be led by an explosive offense has actually been led to this point by a solid and effective pitching staff. The Tigers staff holds a collective ERA of 2.68 with 1.21 WHIP and has held opposing teams to a .231 batting average. Clemson pitchers are allowing less than two extra-base hits per game. That’s absurd.

The above isn’t meant to put down the Clemson offense because it’s still a unit that’s putting up 6.9 runs per game, despite an overall .265 team batting average. The lineup features six players hitting .274 or better on the season. This is a dangerous group of hitters. They’re not likely to push the issue on the bases, instead beating teams with a flurry of quality at-bats and solid fundamental baseball. That’s pretty much Clemson Head Coach Monte Lee’s calling card.

Key Players:

Offense

OF Seth Beer (JR) - .276 BA, .450 OBP, .621 SLG, 58 AB, 2 2B, 0 3B, 6 HR, 18 R, 12 RBI, 16 BB, 10 K, 1-1 SB in 2018. In addition to having one of the most awesome names in college baseball, Beer is also one of the best hitters in all of college baseball. A likely first or second round draft pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Beer has a career slash line of .326/.499/.647 with 40 home runs in 142 games. Has reached base safely in 22 straight games dating back to last year.

C Chris Williams (SR) - .344 BA, .416 OBP, .609 SLG, 64 AB, 5 2B, 0 3B, 4 HR, 19 R, 19 RBI, 8 BB, 7 K, 0-0 SB in 2018. Williams flashed power during his sophomore and junior campaigns, but not an ability to work counts and consistently get on base. That has changed this year. The 31st round pick by Tampa Bay in last year’s draft is relatively inexperienced behind the dish, so the opportunity may exist for State to test Williams and the Clemson pitchers on the basepaths.

SS Logan Davidson (SO) - .274 BA, .438 OBP, .403 SLG, 62 AB, 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 15 R, 10 RBI, 16 BB, 19 K, 4-5 SB in 2018. Davidson is having himself another solid year after bursting onto the scene a year ago earning Freshman All-American honors. The power hasn’t been there as it was in 2017, but everything else is. He’s not quite, but just about is, the only stealing threat on the bases for the Tigers. This is one of the top shortstops in the country and an expected high draft pick in the 2019 MLB Draft.

1B Patrick Cromwell (SR) - .345 BA, .500 OBP, .491 SLG, 55 AB, 2 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 17 R, 11 RBI, 17 BB, 12 K, 0-0 SB in 2018. Cromwell was a reserve for the most part in 2017, starting 21 games, but he struggled mightily both at the plate (.203 BA) and in the field (.902 FLD%). He’s found his groove this year, though, showing great plate discipline and a much steadier hand in the field.

DH Robert Jolly (SR) - .294 BA, .431 OBP, .353 SLG, 51 AB, 3 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 11 R, 11 RBI, 13 BB, 11 K, 0-0 SB in 2018. Jolly has been a part-time starter throughout his career at Clemson until this year. He’s not a power hitter, but does well at working pitchers and finding a way on base.

Pitching

LHP Jacob Hennessy (SO) - 1-0, 1.96 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .205 OBA, 23.0 IP, 18 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 4 BB, 23 K in 2018. A top lefty reliever for Clemson a year ago, Hennessy has transitioned to the Friday starter role without a hiccup. Hennessy will be a tough match-up for a State lineup featuring a slew of left-handed hitters.

RHP Brooks Crawford (JR) - 1-0, 2.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, .250 OBA, 17.2 IP, 17 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 12 K in 2018. Crawford, Clemson’s Saturday starter, was primarily a reliever until this season. He’s more of a crafty pitcher, and while he’s less of a power pitcher than the other weekend starters for the Tigers, Crawford can still put guys away when needed.

LHP Jake Higginbothan (RS-SO) - 3-0, 2.42 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .205 OBA, 22.1 IP, 17 H, 7 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 17 K in 2018. Higginbothan missed all of 2017 and the latter part of 2016 with an arm injury. He’s come back better than before as the Sunday starter, which is not great news for opponents. The good news is that he’ll more than likely be on a restricted pitch count, so he’s workable for an early exit.

RHP Carson Spiers (SO) - 1-0, 3 SV, 2.08 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, .136 OBA, 13.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 14 K in 2018. Spiers is a legacy player at Clemson, being the third generation in his family to suit up for the Tigers baseball team. After limited action as a freshman in 2017, he’s already appeared in nine games this season, proving to be a dependable bullpen arm for Clemson.

RHP Holt Jones (FR) - 2-0, 0 SV, 1.04 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .133 OBA, 8.2 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 13 K in 2018. A lanky 6’7 pitcher, Jones has been excellent out of the bullpen during his freshman year for the Tigers, although he has walked five and hit a batter in his limited innings of work.

RHP Ryan Miller (SR) - 2-0, 1 SV, 1.12 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, .189 OBA, 16.0 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 5 BB, 10 K in 2018. Former JUCO transfer who was selected in the 31st round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves despite missing a large chunk of the season due to injury. Miller has been a long relief guy for Clemson this year, averaging over three innings per appearance. His fastball is his best pitch and can get up there in velocity.

LHP Mat Clark (RS-FR) - 2-0, 0 SV, 1.80 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, .300 OBA, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 8 K in 2018. Nobody knows where the second T in his name went, but Clark has certainly been showing up frequently in games for the Tigers. He’s been a 2017 Kent Klyman-esque LOOGY spot relief man averaging less than an inning per outing, but like Klyman was in that role for the Wolfpack last year, Clark’s been effective for Clemson this year.


Quick! Fun Facts!

After just one weekend of ACC play under the books across the league, Clemson is the only remaining unbeaten team in the conference.

John Heisman (yes, that Heisman) coached the Clemson baseball team from 1901-1903, compiling an overall record of 28-6-1. That dude could apparently coach everything.

Clemson leads the all-time series between the two schools 117-82-1. That’s an even 200 meetings between the two programs if you’re into adding numbers and such.

If anyone was wondering what Jayson Werth is up to these days, he’s trying to relive the glory days of college posing as transfer Grayson Byrd on the Clemson baseball team.

You’re not fooling anyone, Jayson... Good try.

Prediction

Michael Bienlien (1-0, 1.08 ERA) will be getting the start on the hill Friday night for State in just his second start of the season; his first start was a short inning-limited midweeker. Bienlien has been battling an elbow issue early in the season, so one probably shouldn’t expect an overly long outing from him, which is unfortunate for a State bullpen that’s been worked pretty well over the last week. Brian Brown (3-0, 0.36 ERA) will get the start Saturday, while the always lovable TBA will be getting the nod Sunday.

This Clemson team is just really good, and those bats will wake at a certain point in time (please, just not this weekend). Given the uncertainty in the starting rotation, I have a hard time seeing State taking this series, but also have a tough time believing that the Wolfpack doesn’t take a single game of the three. With lefties Hennessy and Higginbothan going on Friday and Sunday, respectively, for the Tigers, I like State’s chances best on Saturday with Brian Brown on the mound and State’s lefty-dominant lineup facing right-hander Brooks Crawford.

State loses a close game Friday 5-4, wins Saturday 7-4, and loses Sunday 9-5. I sure hope I’m wrong about the bookend games.