Monte Lee Excited As Opening Day Approaches

JP-Priester

Heading into his fifth season at the helm, Clemson's head baseball coach Monte Lee is excited about the potential he sees in his team. It is a roster littered with some youth and inexperience, but it is also a roster that features a bevy of talent, particularly when it comes to pitching.

"Yeah, very excited," Lee said on the Clemson Athletics Podcast. "Our pitching staff looks pretty strong. I really like our depth right now. I feel like we have more stuff overall as a pitching staff than we've had in the past."

Since taking over for Hall of Famer Jack Leggett prior to the 2016 season, Lee's teams have featured some talented arms. As good as some of the pitching has been during his tenure, it's the pitching depth that has been an issue.

Last season, it appeared that he might finally have a little depth, but before the season could get started, that depth took a major hit, as both Spencer Strider and Carter Raffield suffered injuries that required Tommy John surgery. Just like that, that little bit of depth was gone. 

"We have probably eight guys," Lee said. "that I would say right now have a chance to start and it's going to be a tough decision to make for us to figure out who's going to be one, two, three in mid week. So I like our depth I like the stuff and the talent on the pitching side. We got to stay healthy, we all know that injuries can come when least expected."

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During his first three seasons in the Tigers dugout, Lee's teams featured lineups full of players with a lot of pop in their bats. They took a station-to-station type of approach, and relied heavily on the long ball. 

Last season, with a lineup that lacked the power his previous teams had but one that possessed far more speed, the team tried to take a different approach offensively. They were far more aggressive on the base paths, even attempting to play some "small ball" at times. 

The results were mixed, as the team would have trouble getting guys on base over the second half of the season, rendering all that speed moot. With even less pop in the lineup for the 2020 season, Lee knows his team will have to be better at manufacturing runs than they were last season. 

"I don't know if we're going to have as much power as we've had in the past," Lee said. "But we've got to be able to grind out at bats. It's going to be a pass the baton offense. We've got to be able to move runners. We've got to be able to hit and run a little more, steel bases, and bunt more."

It's actually a concept that Lee likes. "And quite honestly, I kind of like that," Lee said. "I like it because we always get pigeonholed into we're a power offense, but I've always felt like you have to maximize the group of players that you have."

As far as who is playing where though, that is still to be determined. Lee says they're looking to get the best nine on the field, and not necessarily the nine best players. 

"Our big focus with these guys," Lee said, "is understanding that we want to put our best nine on the field, not necessarily our nine best. It's not about looking at this roster of position players and saying these are our nine best players, let's just fit in the pieces of the puzzle. It's what's our best nine to win this day." 

How good this team is, and how far they can actually go remains to be seen. Much will hinge on how well some of the very talented, albeit very young arms perform once the lights are on, and can they hold up over an entire season. 

The offense could be a work in progress, at least early on. However, if this pitching staff is as good as they appear to be on paper, Monte Lee's team might be able to withstand a slow start at the plate. 

On February 14, those questions start to get answered. The Tigers will welcome a pretty good Liberty team into Doug Kingsmore Stadium for a weekend series to open the season.

"We've got a heck of a challenge in just the opening weekend," Lee said. "We've got Liberty, and Liberty was a postseason team last year. So yeah, we're going to be challenged."

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