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Tiger baseball kicks off spring practice with a bang: Spring practice will provide competition at key positions for Clemson

Ashley Stout, Staff

Chris Williams (27) will replace Chris Okey behind the plate as catcher this season. He played last season as backup cathcer, first baseman and third baseman. 

The Tiger baseball team took to the field for the official start of spring practice last Friday and Head Coach Monte Lee was excited to have his team back at work. 

“The one message is, yeah we had a great year [last year], but ultimately we didn’t end up where we wanted to be. So the guys have come back with a chip on their shoulder. They’re very hungry to get [practice] started, to compete against each other, and three weeks from now we will start our season against someone else in the other dugout,” Lee said before starting practice. 

And it certainly seemed as if the players were hungry, especially K. J. Bryant, who hit the very first pitch of spring practice about four rows up into the stands of left field. 

Bryant is just one of the many players competing for starting roles this spring, and several positions are up for grabs. 

One of the largest losses for the Tigers from last season is the loss of All-American catcher Chris Okey, who decided to end his Clemson career early to enter the MLB draft. It appears as though Chris Williams is a lock at that position to start. He played backup for Okey last season as well as playing first and third base sporadically throughout the year. Later in the season, he also emerged as a huge weapon on offense and Lee will look to him to not only replace Okey behind the plate, but also in the lineup. 

Lee had high praises for Williams, saying “Chris Williams is one of the best athletes on this team … [he] is getting as much pro attention right now as any guy on our roster.”

First base will be an interesting position to watch as well. Seth Beer has been moved to first from right field, but Andrew Cox also has experience at the same position if needed. Beer did play first base in high school but with his inexperience at the position in college it will be interesting to watch how he handles it the first few games. 

Weston Wilson is another player who will have to be replaced this season. He spent all of last year at second base and started all but one game. He and his valuable experience will have to be replaced this year. 

“Second base is going to be a position of competition between Grayson Byrd, Jordan Greene and Adam Renwick,” Lee said. 

Greene and Renwick saw playing time last year but both are still very young players. Byrd had to sit out the 2016 season due to NCAA transfer rules, but he was region-player-of-the-year his senior year of high school, an honor he sports alongside several other similar accolades. These three players should provide a competitive edge to the second base spot. 

Logan Davidson provided a buzz this offseason. The freshman from Charlotte, North Carolina, was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player-of-the-Year his senior season. It is likely Tiger fans will have the chance to see him play shortstop opening weekend. 

Third base was a rotating table for the majority of last season, but junior transfer Patrick Cromwell could provide some stability at the position. He had a nice fall camp and it seems as if he will get the start come opening weekend. 

The outfield has more experience this season. Chase Pinder will return to his center field spot and it is likely Bryant will replace Beer in right field. Bryant had several starts there last season so he is no stranger to the role. Left field will be interesting. Reed Rohlman is the returning starter but a graduate transfer, Weston Jackson, has been making waves since fall. Regardless, the outfield seems fairly solidified. 

The pitching rotation, however, is not. 

“I do not have a weekend rotation yet, we will see how these three weeks go and then make that determination,” Lee said. 

He also pointed out the likelihood of Pat Krall being a starter come opening weekend. 

“One of the promises we made Pat when he turned down a really good opportunity to go play professional baseball, you know Pat wanted the opportunity to start. From day one in the fall we tried to develop him into a starter and we fully intend to give him that opportunity, and he deserves that.”

Krall was arguably the best pitcher for the Tigers last season. He

played a multitude of rolls from reliever to closer to starter, and excelled at each of them. He ended last year with a 1.67 ERA, the best on the team. 

Several other pitchers will be fighting for starts, including veterans Charlie Barnes and Alex Eubanks, along with some new names as well. 

Lee acknowledged the struggles last year’s pitching faced but seemed optimistic about this season’s possibilities. 

“The one thing we do know is that last year, we had to put guys in those spots because it was all we had. This year, we can choose which guy to put in those spots because we have options, we have depth and we have competition,” he said. 

The Tigers open their season on Feb. 17 against Wright State at 4 p.m. at Doug Kingsmore Stadium. 

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