Leggett Looks Forward

CLEMSON – When a team is tabbed with the nation's top ranking in the preseason, anything less than a trip to the College World Series and a national championship can be viewed as a failure. But considering the way the baseball season went for Clemson, it wasn't a failure.

The Tigers finished the season ranked No. 15 and with a 41-23 record overall. They finished second in the Atlantic Division and fourth overall in the ACC, which isn't exactly standards for bragging.

But considering the team's ace, Sean Clark, never made a pitch, the starting shortstop, Stan Widmann, was gone for the year six games into the season and that the leadoff man and centerfielder, Brad Chalk, missed more than a month, not to mention all the other injuries on the team, it was very good finish.

And that's even with the loss at Mississippi State in the Super Regional.

"(With everyone in place) I really feel like this team would have taken off," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said Tuesday morning. "But you can't make excuses. That's just the way it is. But if we weren't strong-minded and tough, we could have gone in the other direction easy.

"There were times when I came (to the locker room) and asked, ‘Who can play today?' That's the truth."

However, as depleted as the Tigers were at times this year, it could be even worse next year.

Just like during the 2003 and 2004 seasons when Clemson was decimated by the Major League Draft, there is a very real possibility things could be worse for 2008.

It's already expected that junior pitchers Daniel Moskos, David Kopp and Alan Farina, all of whom were drafted high will bolt for professional baseball. It's also seems a conclusion that the junior Chalk will leave, too.

But the fate of the program next year rests solely on what juniors Taylor Harbin and Doug Hogan do.

Harbin was drafted in the eighth round, which is generally high enough to lure the college kids into the pros, while Hogan went in the 16th round. But being a strong hitting catcher, he has more bargaining power than the average pick in that round.

It remains to be seen what will happen with these two players. Obviously Leggett hopes to see them wearing a Clemson uniform next season.

"They all have some things to consider," he said. "I'm hoping they'll consider what happened in the past with guys that came back and continued to improve and upped their position. Look at what happened at Marquez Smith. There's far more into this than just dropping a few rounds in the draft.

"I think in all fairness to us that it needs to be (decided) as quickly as possible."

There's also no guarantee that shortstop Stan Widmann will return from his severe neck injury.

Clemson was also hurt with its incoming signees as Kyle Miller, a junior college transfer that was already inked as the starting third baseman next season, stunned the Tigers staff by opting to turn pro, despite being drafted in the 21st round.

Then there came the drafting of left-handed pitcher Josh Smoker with the 31st pick and shortstop Nicholas Noonan with the 32nd pick. If that wasn't enough, infielder Jake Smolinski was drafted in the second round, which is much higher than the Clemson staff thought he would go.

Clemson could also lose pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Kevin O'Sullivan, whose name has been bantered about for the head jobs at various schools. A decision on his future status could come rather quickly.

So, when it's all said and done, the Tigers could lose their entire outfield, their top two starters, their top two relievers, their catcher, centerfielder, a very important assistant coach and four singees.

That's not exactly a recipe for future success.

But as in years past, Leggett will do what he can to cope and put forth another competitive product.

"There's nothing concrete with what we're going to have in August with what we had at the end of the season," he said. "In a week, all that changes. …

"It's always a concern. But it's a positive for our program that we attract those kids that have those kind of goals (of playing in the pros). But it also presents a challenge for us."

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