There are five former Tigers on Major League rosters at this time: Billy McMillon (Clemson 91-93) of the Oakland A's, Kris Benson (Clemson 94-96) of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Billy Koch (Clemson 94-96) of the Chicago White Sox, Matthew LeCroy (Clemson 95-97) of the Minnesota Twins, and Khalil Greene (Clemson 99-02) of the San Diego Padres.
Billy McMillon has bounced around the Major Leagues since being drafted out of Clemson by the Florida Marlins.
He has also played for the Detroit Tigers and made his major league debut in April of 1996. He seems to have found a home in Oakland where he's an outfielder and often used as a pinch-hitter. He has a career .257 batting average in the majors while hitting .227 this season in only 44 at bats. He has 10 hits in those 44 at bats with 3 doubles and a home run. McMillon has driven in 10 runs this season. When he was drafted out of Clemson, he had the highest career batting average in school history of .382.
Kris Benson had a dominating junior season at Clemson while winning 4 of the 6 Player of the Year awards including the Rotary Smith award and the Dick Houser Trophy and being named Player of the Year by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. He was Clemson's most decorated baseball player until Khalil Greene's monster senior season in 2002. Benson was also ACC Athlete of the Year in 1996. He was drafted #1 overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996. Benson made his Major League debut in April of 1999, and for his career, he has a record of 34-45 with an ERA of 4.38.
Benson had "Tommy John" surgery and missed all of the 2001 season and returned to action in May of 2002 and struggled. During the 2002 season, Benson had a 4.70 ERA with 68 earned runs while walking 50 and striking out 79 in 130.1 innings pitched. In 2003 he had a 4.97 ERA with 58 earned runs while walking 36 and striking out 68 while pitching 105.1 innings. So far in 2004, Benson is 4-4 with a 5.67 ERA, giving up 38 earned runs while walking 27 and striking out 41 in 60.2 innings pitched. Benson's ERA this season is slightly inflated considering he just recently faced the Houston Astros who are great hitters. His record is partly a factor of not having much run support from his teammates. Benson recently felt flattered when he heard that Oakland A's ace Barry Zito had been impressed with his mechanics while watching him pitch in the College World Series and decided to model his pitching style after Benson.
Billy Koch, who teamed with Benson and Ken Vining to form one of the most feared rotations in college baseball in 1996 has settled into a closer's role with the Chicago White Sox after being a starter for the Tigers.
He was drafted #4 overall by the Toronto Blue Jays, just three slots behind Kris Benson. Koch made his major league debut in May of 1999. He stayed with the Blue Jays through the 2001 season and pitched for Oakland in 2002 where he earned 44 saves. He's been in Chicago since the 2003 season. Koch is the first pitcher in the history of the major leagues to have 30 saves in each of his first 4 seasons. He has a career record of 28-22 with a 3.85 ERA and 162 saves. So far in 2004 he has a 4.43 ERA with 7 saves while walking 10 and striking out 23. Koch struggled mightily during the second half of the 2003 season, but has rebounded nicely in 2004. The velocity on his fastball had dropped to the low 90s last season, but he hit 97 recently, and could once again hit 100 mph like he did in the past.
Matthew LeCroy was a supplemental first round pick of the Minnesota Twins out of Clemson in 1997. He made his major league debut in April of 2000. He was the starting catcher for the Twins for most of his first four seasons, but with the promotion of former #1 overall draft pick Joe Mauer, LeCroy has seen action mostly as the designated hitter as well as some time at first base. LeCroy and Mauer both missed most of the month of May, which caused problems for the Twins since they let A.J. Pierzynski go to the Giants in the off-season.
Shortly after being reinstated from the disabled list, LeCroy was called on to pinch hit in the ninth inning because he was the only player left on the Twins' bench. He promptly stepped to the plate and blasted a pinch-hit grand slam, which turned out to be the winning margin. It wasn't a walk-off grand slam because the game was on the road. He's a .263 career hitter with 35 home runs and 133 RBI. For the 2004 season, he's hitting.281 with 3 home runs and 13 RBI.
Without a doubt, the most decorated baseball player in Clemson history is Khalil Greene.
He re-wrote the Clemson record book while he was a Tiger. He won all six player of the year awards his senior season, surpassing Kris Benson's four as Greene also won the Golden Spikes Award and Player of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was assigned to the rookie league Eugene Emeralds after the College World Series in June of 2002 and rocketed through the minors. He made his major league debut in September 2003, a mere 15 months after finishing his college career, an incredible achievement, particularly for a position player. Greene struggled a little offensively in his one month debut last September when he hit only .215 and has been up and down at the plate so far this season.
He's currently hitting .261 with 11 doubles, 2 triples and 2 home runs while driving in 18 runs. He led all of the Cactus League in RBI during Spring Training 2004. While his hitting understandably isn't what it was when he was a Tiger, he continues to play the outstanding defense that he made famous while he was a Tiger. Greene has made numerous highlight reel plays on defense, including turning in several Baseball Tonight "Web Gems" including three in one game against the Cubs this season. He won National League Rookie of the Month in April and is considered by many to be one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year. While in Colorado last week, Greene was responsible for three of the four runs the Padres scored in a 4-3 win. He drove in a run with a double and hit a 2-run homer later in the game that tied the score. The Padres scored their 4th run on a sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th and Greene made a diving stop to turn the putout at first and end the game. He's quickly become a fan favorite in San Diego, largely because he could make an outstanding defensive play seemingly at will. Few Clemson fans will forget his leaping stab of a ball headed for left field against Georgia Tech in the 2002 College World Series that likely saved the game.
A Look to the Future
While there are currently five former Tigers in the major leagues, it appears that there are a few others that could get the call at some point this season. Matt White pitched for the Seattle Mariners in 2003, but had a very rough spring training and was released. He was picked up by the Indians during spring training and has settled down in AAA. He's currently 2-2 with a 5.97 ERA, giving up 21 earned runs while walking 19 and striking out 24 in 31.2 innings pitched.
Former Tiger baseball and football player Matt Padgett is having a solid season in AAA in the Marlins organization. He's hitting .298 with 13 doubles, 2 triples and 11 home runs so far this season while driving in 41 runs.
There are other Tigers in AAA that could be promoted during the season. Matt Henrie was in AAA for a couple of games last season, but is back in AA this season.
Clemson has a long tradition of producing outstanding baseball players and these are the five that have currently made it to "The Show". They produced many outstanding memories during their days in the orange and purple and should continue to thrill fans today in the majors like they did while playing for Clemson.
Where are They Now?
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