News From No. 1

Clemson didn’t have to do much to assume the No. 1 spot in the latest Baseball America Top 25 rankings. The Tigers ascended to the top without playing a game, as No. 2 Miami dropped a pair of games to Mercer last weekend and No. 1 Rice limped to a 2-3 start. Clemson plays host to George Mason this weekend in the first tuneup series of its rather light non-conference slate. The biggest challenge between now and Clemson’s March 30-April 1 series against Miami is a two-game home-and-home set against No. 3 South Carolina on March 3-4. That gives the Tigers plenty of time to break in their brand-new weekend rotation. Jason Berken, Josh Cribb and Stephen Faris are gone, replaced by junior righthanders P.J. Zocchi and David Kopp and sophomore lefty Ryan Hinson.

Clemson assistant coach Kevin O’Sullivan reports that Zocchi will get the Friday start against the Patriots. He is undersized at 5-foot-11 and not overpowering, but he throws strikes with three pitches, including an 88-91 mph fastball. Kopp, who will start Saturday, has made the greatest jump since last year, pitching in the 90-94 range this spring. The 6-foot-2 Hinson has projection and a quick arm, making him an intriguing candidate for the 2008 draft. He has been working in the 88-91 range as well, but don’t be shocked by a velocity increase.

Righthander Alan Farina, a transfer from Daytona Beach (Fla.) CC, and righty D.J. Mitchell will serve as very solid setup men for closer Daniel Moskos, potentially giving Clemson one of the best bullpens in the nation. There had been some speculation that the Tigers could use Farina, who throws a lively 92-93 mph fastball and a hammer curveball, as a midweek starter, but those duties are likely to fall to freshman righthander Josh Thrailkill, who is throwing well and appears to be past the velocity dip that plagued him as a senior in high school. But the Tigers got some bad news from another freshman, as two-way player Graham Stoneburner tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Stoneburner, one of the gems of Clemson’s fourth-ranked recruiting class, had fully recovered from a stress fracture in his back that torpedoed his draft stock last June, but now he’s almost certain to miss all of 2007. The Tigers have more than enough pitching depth to withstand this hit, but it’s still a blow, because Stoneburner could have emerged as a key arm for them thanks to his athleticism and four-pitch mix.