CLEMSON -The MLB Draft has robbed Jack Leggett of tremendous talent over the years: Zack Greinke, Jeff Francouer and Daniel Norris were among the Clemson signees that turned pro when offered million-dollar plus signing bonuses. Clemson has a commitment from nation’s No. 1 rated prep prospect this year in outfielder Austin Meadows — who is a senior like Robert Nkemdiche at Grayson High (Ga.) — another player Clemson is likely to lose to the draft.
The key in baseball recruiting is to sign really good players, but players that are not so elite that they’ll command seven-figure bonuses and turn pro thereby bypassing the college game. It’s a tricky game that requires projecting really, really young prospects.
But this year’s freshman class contains a number of such players and might be one of Leggett’s best classes in recent years. The class is making an immediate impact.
*Steve Duggar is athletic enough to play center field, but Thomas Brittle is there so the freshman is playing in the corners early this season. He has great speed – 6.64 second 60-yard dash – and he displayed a rocket arm Sunday, throwing out two runners at home. He also has a smooth balanced swing and he leads the team with three doubles, breaking up a no-hitter on Sunday. We are seeing why Baseball America rated the Byrnes product as the No. 15 freshman in the country.
*Veterans Jay Baum and Steve Wilkerson have both played shortstop so it tells you what the staff things of Tyler Krieger to have him starting at short as a freshman. He makes all the plays and looks like a veteran.
*We’ve written here before about a pitching staff that is loaded with talented arms including Clate Schmidt, who tossed four shutout innings Saturday and will start against South Carolina on this coming Saturday. Lefty Matthew Crownover probably wouldn’t be at Clemson if not for Tommy John surgery, lefties who can touch 94 mph are rare, and Zach Erwin is a highly projection 6-5 lefty who tossed a scoreless inning this weekend.
*Then there’s OF Maleeke Gibson, another intriguing athlete, power project D.J. Reader, and and another intriguing arm in RHP Jackson Campana, who some like as much as any freshman arm on the team.
The class is already having an impact in 2013, and it could form the core of the next Clemson team reaches Omaha.
SUNDAY POINT GUARD: THERE’S A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL BUT THERE’S STILL SOME DISTANCE TO COVER IN THE TUNNEL
I was speaking with someone in the Clemson basketball offices this week, when he expressed disbelief that some in the fan base were already growing impatient with the direction of the program. (It’s not as if Clemson has Kansas’ basketball tradition, folks). And the concern is it’s not going to get any better next year.
Say what you will about the careers of Milton Jennings and Devin Booker, but they have given Clemson production and size at the forward positions this season, combining for 26 of Clemson’s 59 points in a loss at Maryland on Saturday. Both have only a handful of games remaining in their careers.
Clemson will have to field a completely new front-court next season and this is a major concern. Right now the candidates are limited to three names: Landry Nnoko, Bernard Sullivan and Josh Smith.
Did we mention this was a major rebuilding job that will require patience?
*Nnoko has the ideal size and athleticism for the position but his skills are very raw and he figures to struggle avoiding foul trouble next season.
*Sullivan’s development was slowed by a breathing issue last season, and he appears to be more of a ‘tweener than a legit power forward. Sullivan knows he must improve his shooting consistency, and stretch the floor like Jennings has done from the four position.
*Smith is a strictly a reserve.
Clemson also lacks a forward commitment in its 2013 recruiting class. Clemson is in on four-star forward Demetrius Henry, a four-star prospect, and a 6-10 center Sidy Mohamad Djitte, and it desperately needs a commitment from a talented big. Right now it just has two commtiments from guards.
The good news is Brownell and his staff can develop players (See: Bobo Baciu). The good news is there are a lot of intriguing options at the guard and small forward positions. But the reality is next year looks like another difficult season as the Tigers try to develop a front court. As Brad Brownell said last week, the goal at Clemson is to be like Miami and be really competitive when a large contingent and junior of seniors exist on the roster. That is not going to be next year.