2009 Baseball Preview: The Infield

CLEMSON - Don Munson brings CUTigers.com subscribers his expert analysis on the 2009 Tigers.

The 2009 baseball season is upon us and the fortunes for this seasons Tiger squad are looking very good.

Jack Leggett's club has been listed in just about everyone's top 25 and is picked by the ACC coaches to finish second in their division behind Florida State.

Here's a position by position breakdown of this year's squad, starting first with in-depth preview of Clemson's infield:

FIRST BASE: Undoubtedly, it's one of the stronger positions for the Tigers this season. Ben Paulsen is one of the better guys to man the three spot in college, and has now seen action in 116 games in his first two seasons. He will also be one of the six or seven left handed bats in the lineup and will be one of the main sources of power for this year's club. Paulsen batted .258 with five homeruns and 20 runs batted in his freshman campaign. Last season he improved those numbers to the tune of .310, 13 HR, and 49 RBIs. If he can lay off the pitches outside of the strike zone and be patient at the plate, don't be surprised to see him have his best season yet.

Freshman Richard Mounce will be the backup. The 2007 Mr. Football in South Carolina was also listed as the sixth best baseball prospect in the state coming out of high school. He has shown great power since arriving on the Clemson campus and has been quick to pick up the defensive skill set needed at first. Don't be surprised to see him play a key role as a pinch-hitter and from time to time as the designated hitter.

SECOND BASE: The second base job belongs to Mike Freeman. The Georgia transfer led the Tigers with a .332 batting average last season and keep in mind that number went up to .350 in ACC games. He also had 21 multi-hit games which tied for the team lead. Defensively he fielded at a .956 clip and committed only three errors in the last 30 games of the season.

Jack Leggett's 2009 Tigers open their 2009 season Friday afternoon at home against Charlotte.
Freeman was forced to bat in the lead off spot last season, but with Addison Johnson back you could see Freeman hit in the two hole or be a valuable bat in the bottom third of the lineup.

SHORTSTOP: Shortstop is the most contested position on the team entering the start of the season. I think all of us thought Stan Widmann would be the automatic starter here, but after having surgery on his throwing shoulder he will be out of the lineup until sometime in mid-March. Still, even without the surgery he would be pushed by two freshmen as Brad Miller and Jason Stolz have certainly opened the eyes of everyone.

Simply put, both of these guys can flat out play.

Miller has a canon of an arm and has been coming at the plate in recent weeks. He was a 39th round draft pick of the Texas Rangers and listed as the 17th best prospect to come out of Florida.

As good as Miller has looked, Stolz has looked even better. He has shown a little more range, especially going into the hole, and he been a little better with the bat. Even when Widmann does return both of the young freshman may have such a strong grip on the job at short it may be tough for him to work his way into the starting lineup.

THIRD BASE: Playing time at the hot corner will also be very interesting. Whichever player between Miller and Stolz, does not win the starting job at short could be the starter at third, but senior Matt Sanders and sophomore John Hinson will have something to say about that first. Sanders was the starter for 26 games at third last season and will be tough to beat out this year. Sanders batted .297 last season, his first in Tigertown, but only had two homeruns and just 18 RBIs.

Meanwhile Hinson's game has shown marked improvement from the previous year. After being a shortstop in high school, he made the switch to third base last year and you could tell the mental strain took its toll. He only got 86 at bats last season, but managed to hit .264 with one homerun and 11 RBIs. If you know Jack Leggett you know the thought of starting two true freshman on the left side of the infield does not sit very well, having said that you also know that Jack is going to play the player that gives the Tigers the best chance of winning.

Stay tuned to CUTigers.com Thursday for an in-depth look at the outfield.

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