The Clemson Tigers enter the 2009 season wanting to make amends for their 31-27-1 record in 2008. For the first time since 1986, Clemson did not qualify for postseason play. The 2008 season also marked their first losing conference record since 1972. In spite of last season's record, The ACC coaches have picked Clemson to finish second in the Atlantic Division this season.
The Tigers are optimistic, returning six of their top seven hitters from last season and the the injured Addison Johnson to center field. Catcher Doug Hogan and Friday starter D.J. Mitchell are the only major loses from last year's squad. Hogan hit .271 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI. Mitchell started 14 games for the Tigers and had a 3.47 ERA.
Two-thirds of Clemson's weekend rotation returns along with their closer and Captain Matt Vaughn. Depth in the starting rotation and in the bullpen will help to elevate Clemson to one of the top spots in the ACC.
1B - Kell High School graduate Ben Paulsen returns at first base. Paulsen hit .310 last season with 13 home runs and 49 RBI. Paulsen has been picked as third team preseason All-American. He'll be backed up by freshman Richard Mounce.
2B - Mike Freeman will return at second where he led the Tigers with a .332 average last season.
SS - The shortstop position will have a blend of a returning graduate student along with two freshmen. Stan Widmann returns for his final year after coming back from a possible career ending injury. He'll compete with two of the top freshmen from Clemson's top ten recruiting class in Brad Miller and Jason Stoltz. Miller and Stoltz can also play third base.
3B - Matt Sanders and John Hinson will compete for the starting job at third. If either falters, Stoltz and Miller could find themselves in the starting lineup. Sanders and Hinson shared the third base job last season.
LF - Jeff Schaus will once again be the starter in left. Schaus hit .315 last season.
CF - After sitting out last season with an injury, Addison Johnson returns to the starting lineup. Addision hit .286 two years ago and is expected to be the spark plug at the top of the Clemson order. Last year's starter Wilson Boyd will also be available.
RF - Quarterback Kyle Parker enrolled early last year and quickly made an impact in the Tiger lineup. Parker led the team in homers with 14, RBI with 50, and hit .303. Those numbers earned him freshman All-American honors. Sophomore Chris Epps and freshman Will Lamp will be other outfield options.
C - The catching position is up for grabs with the departure of Doug Hogan. Sophomore John Nester and freshman Phil Pohl will share the catching duties. Nester hit .256 last season.
DH - Wilson Boyd started in center field in 2008. He may open the season as the DH. Boyd hit .300 with 11 home runs and 44 RBI. With the increased depth on the team, one of the freshmen or reserve outfielders will also be available as a DH.
Losing only D.J. Mitchell from last years starting rotation, the Tigers will have the experience and depth needed in ACC play. Graham Stoneburner returns after starting 14 games last season. Stoneburner had a 5.55 ERA. Joining Stoneburner in the rotation will be Ryan Hinson. Hinson started 10 games in 2008 with a 4.74 ERA. Hinson had surgery for a frayed labrum and may have to work his way back into the rotation. The third returning starter is Trey Delk. Delk started five games in 2008 with a 4.01 ERA. Look for freshman Chris Dwyer to challenge for a spot in the weekend rotation.
The bullpen could wind up being the strength of the Clemson squad this season. Matt Vaughn returns as possibly one of the best closers in the ACC. Vaughn had 11 saves in 30 appearances in 2008. Craig Gullickson and Casey Harmon will add experience to the bullpen. They can also be counted on to be spot starters. Freshmen Kevin Brady, Scott Weismann, and Tomas Cruz will add some talented arms to the bullpen.
Clemson is counting on the return of an experienced starting lineup to bring them back to the top of the ACC. The addition of a top ten recruiting class will help push the returning starters. Another key to the season will be the ability of the weekend rotation to elevate their performance over last season's. If they can take the games into the late innings, the deep and experienced bullpen will be a plus for the Tigers. Look for the Tigers and North Carolina State to battle for the runner-up spot behind Florida State in the Atlantic Division.