Three Strikes: Clemson Sweeps, Ivy League Returns, Checking in on Transfers
Clemson Makes Statement with Sweep of Indiana
Clemson is off to a quick start in 2022, as it spent opening weekend sweeping Indiana by scores of 9-0, 19-4 and 5-4 in 10 innings.
That’s precisely what the doctor ordered for a Clemson team that had to endure an abnormally long offseason after it missed regionals in 2021 for the first time since 2008. Referring to it specifically as a quick start is fitting, because coach Monte Lee emphasizes that it’s just a start.
“Last year was a tough year, everybody knows it, and I think our guys were ready to come out and compete and show what we’re made of,” Lee said. “But also, it’s a long season and it’s just one weekend. This club certainly is a little more selfless. I think the team concept matters a little bit more to this group. Not a lot of individuals on this club, I think everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. It’s definitely more of a we over me-type team. So (with) what I’m seeing from that standpoint, I like the culture of this team so far, but ultimately, we’ve got a long way to go, right?”
That said, it’s hard not to feel optimistic about all of the things that went right for the Tigers last weekend.
Third-year sophomore righthander Mack Anglin, who returned to campus this season rather than signing as a 13th-round pick of the Nationals, set the tone with the way he pitched in his start on Friday. He threw five hitless innings with two walks and eight strikeouts.
The stuff has always been there for Anglin—he works with a fastball that reaches the high 90s and a swing-and-miss breaking ball, after all—but after a very successful short stint in the Cape Cod League over the summer and with the early returns in 2022, he looks ready to take a crucial step forward to become the type of Friday starter who can keep Clemson in games against anyone in the ACC.
“Mack pitched,” Lee said by way of complimenting the righthander. “He’s a three-pitch mix guy, his fastball command has gotten much, much better, he’s got a changeup now that he can use against lefties that’s a real weapon, and doesn’t have to rely on his breaking ball so much like he did in the past. He’s pitching more like a starter. He certainly did that in game 1. The key thing for Mack is just consistency, just command over the course of his next, God willing, 13 starts. That’s a big key for us is just consistency when it comes to command with Mack. If he rolls out there and he can command his fastball and his changeup, we know he’s got a wipeout breaking ball. If he can do that week in and week out, he gives us a chance to match up with anybody in the country.”
Once Anglin departed the game, the righthanded bullpen trio of Ty Olenchuk, Billy Barlow and Alex Edmondson combined to throw four more scoreless frames, and that would remain a theme throughout the weekend.
Across the three games, Clemson relievers threw 18.1 innings, giving up 10 hits and two runs, a performance trend that continued into a 2-1 win over College of Charleston on Tuesday, when the bullpen threw 4.2 scoreless innings.
“Our bullpen stepped up in a very big way on Saturday and Sunday,” Lee said. “Both of those games were close games. We broke it open late in the game on Saturday and Sunday was just a back and forth baseball game, a good baseball game. And luckily for us, we got the last at-bat. But I felt like our bullpen was exceptional.”
Not surprisingly, one of the key pieces in the bullpen so far has been third-year sophomore lefthander Geoffrey Gilbert, who has gotten eight of the 11 outs he’s recorded so far this season via strikeout. A season ago, Gilbert was Clemson’s workhorse out of the bullpen and arguably its most effective pitcher overall, with a 2.23 ERA in 44.1 innings, and that’s a role he’ll be ready to hold again.
Edmondson, a sophomore, has also been an early bright spot. He’s appeared in three out of the four games Clemson has played, with six strikeouts in 2.1 innings. But just as impressive as any single performance has been the depth the Tigers have displayed on this unit. The 23 innings thrown by relievers this season have been spread across 11 different pitchers.
One of those 11 is third-year sophomore lefthander Caden Grice, who threw a scoreless ninth inning to get the win in the series finale, but his impact was felt more at the plate. In the Indiana sweep, he went 6-for-12 with a home run and six RBIs, and against College of Charleston in the midweek, his two-run home run was all the scoring the Tigers needed.
It’s a good start to the season for Grice, one of the best power hitters in the country, but after he missed the entire fall with injury, putting him a bit behind in his preparation, he’s only now rounding into form.
“Sunday was the first day where I felt like (Grice) looked more like himself,” Lee said. “He got some hits throughout the course of the weekend, but to me, from a timing perspective and a swing perspective, he hit the big home run and hit a hard ball to right field that got caught (on Sunday). It felt like he swung the bat more Caden-like on Sunday.”
Despite putting up 19 runs in one of the games against Indiana, it’s been a good but not necessarily great first week offensively for Clemson, with sophomore catcher/outfielder Cooper Ingle (8-for-16) and Dayton transfer shortstop Benjamin Blackwell (3-for-10, HR, 5 R) among the others who have swung it well so far. Fourth-year sophomore outfielder Chad Fairey has also been effective. He’s just 2-for-10, but he’s drawn a team-leading seven walks, which has allowed him to reach base at a better than 50% clip.
Getting the likes of fourth-year junior corner infielder Bryar Hawkins (2-for-15) and third-year sophomore outfielder Dylan Brewer (4-for-18) going would be huge, as Brewer is looked upon to be a table setter in the lineup and Hawkins is expected to be a run producer alongside Grice.
As Clemson looks to round into form with ACC play approaching in a couple of weeks, the development of the lineup is something to watch, as is finding consistent starting pitching behind Anglin in the rotation to make sure the burden on the bullpen isn’t unreasonably heavy.
Until those kinks get worked out, Lee is right to look at his team as a work in progress, but the early results have established that the baseline for the Tigers is quite high.
Ivy League Makes Long-Awaited Return
The 2022 season signals the return to action for a whole host of programs that didn’t compete in 2021.
Bethune-Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore both returned to the field last weekend after sitting out all of 2021, with the former losing two of three at home to Youngstown State and the latter getting swept on the road against Longwood. They were outliers in sitting out as part of a conference, the MEAC, that otherwise played last season.
When it comes to the Ivy League, however, it was a league-wide decision not to play, and save for Pennsylvania pushing to get on the field to play 14 games against local opponents in Villanova, La Salle and Delaware last season, that’s precisely what the conference’s teams did.
The Ivy League returns to the field as a group this weekend, with every team except Penn playing its first game since March 8, 2020 in most cases, and March 11, 2020 in the case of Yale, which was the last Ivy team to play a game before the season was canceled nearly two years ago.
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With the layoff being what it was, Ivy League rosters look markedly different than they did in 2020. Unlike most of the rest of college baseball, which was able to hang on to upperclassmen to give them fifth and sometimes sixth seasons in their respective programs, Ivy League rules prevent graduate students from competing. That means that loads of players have matriculated out of Ivy League programs over the last two years, either to play elsewhere as grad transfers or to begin their lives outside of baseball.
And it’s probably no less strange for a player who has stuck it out in the Ivy League. Consider the player who was a freshman in 2019. Maybe he had a big role on the team that season or maybe he didn’t, but either way, he likely went into the 2020 season feeling much more prepared to be an impact player now that he had a full year of college baseball under his belt and was more acclimated to the balance and commitment required to be a baseball player and a student at an Ivy League institution.
But just as that second season was getting going, things got canceled, then another season got canceled, and suddenly, that player is now going into his senior season, with just one more chance to either build on what he did way back in 2019 or become a key player on the roster for the very first time.
As a result, predicting how things are going to play out in the Ivy League in 2021 is a fool’s errand. There are simply too many variables at play.
Typically, you’d look for teams with returning experience, but that’s obviously hard to come by in the Ivy League this season, and even if there are examples of reasonably experienced rosters, without games to prepare for and play over most of the last two seasons, how much player development can we actually expect to have happened?
There are a handful of teams you can point to as a potential favorite for the conference title. Penn theoretically has a slight advantage because it got to play 14 games last season. Harvard is the last team to have won the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and therefore could get in the mix. Yale is always among the strongest teams in the conference and it goes into the season as something of a sentimental favorite with coach John Stuper set to retire at the end of the season.
Ultimately, there’s just no way to really know how it’s going to go, and that should make the Ivy League interesting to follow as the season unfolds.
Checking in on Top Transfers
With this being the first season that four-year transfers are able to play in their destination program right away rather than sitting for a year, transfers are expected to have an outsized impact all across college baseball in 2022.
In this space, we’ll periodically check in on just how much of an impact transfers are having from coast to coast. In this first installment, let’s check in on the players we had ranked in the top 10 of our impact transfers rankings.
- Jacob Berry, Louisiana State—The Arizona transfer went 4-for-10 with two home runs in LSU’s sweep of Maine. Amidst questions about his best defensive position, he spent time at right field, left field and third base against the Black Bears.
- Adam Maier, Oregon—One of the most unique transfers in college baseball, given his move from NAIA British Columbia to Oregon, Maier started on Opening Day for the Ducks against San Diego and gave up three hits and four runs (two earned) with nine strikeouts in five innings.
- Jack Moss, Texas A&M—An Arizona State transfer, Moss went 5-for-12 in Texas A&M’s sweep of Fordham. He started each of the first two games at first base before sliding into the DH spot in the series finale.
- Micah Dallas, Texas A&M—A transfer from in-state rival Texas Tech, Dallas started game 2 of the Fordham series and gave up seven hits and one run with no walks and five strikeouts in 6.1 innings.
- Jace Bohrofen, Arkansas—Bohrofen arrived in Fayetteville after a freshman season spent at Oklahoma and a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. He struggled in Arkansas’ series win over Illinois State, going 0-for-7 in his two starts.
- Victor Mederos, Oklahoma State—A transfer from Miami, where he was part of a No. 1-ranked recruiting class, Mederos started in the second game of Oklahoma State’s series against Vanderbilt and threw four innings, giving up four hits and one run with four walks and six strikeouts.
- Tyler McManus, Louisiana State—McManus, a Samford transfer, appeared in two games in LSU’s sweep of Maine, starting one of them. He went 1-for-5 at the plate.
- Griffin Doersching, Oklahoma State—A physical first baseman who played four seasons at Northern Kentucky, Doersching went 5-for-10 with three doubles and a home run in Oklahoma State’s series win against Vanderbilt, and went 2-for-5 in a Tuesday loss to Sam Houston State.
- Jack Washburn, Mississippi—An Oregon State transfer, Washburn threw one scoreless inning of relief in Ole Miss’ Opening Day win over Charleston Southern, walking one batter and striking out one along the way.
- Alex Toral, Florida State—A transfer from Miami, Toral went 5-for-11 with a home run and nine RBIs in FSU’s sweep of James Madison over the weekend.