Rare Times: Lee, Clemson Enter 2020 Without Proven Stars
When Monte Lee and the Clemson baseball team take the field on the Feb. 14 Opening Day, Seth Beer isn’t walking out of that dugout.
Neither is Logan Davidson, Chris Okey or Pat Krall. All of them were All-Americans during their respective careers.
Not one Tiger who plays at Doug Kingsmore Stadium this season can claim that honor.
For the first time in Lee’s tenure, Clemson is without a bonafide, proven star.
When he set foot on campus in the summer of 2015, he had a preseason All-American catcher in Chris Okey waiting on him for the 2016 season, as well as a star in the making in Seth Beer.
When 2017 rolled around, Lee entered Year 2 with Krall and Beer, preseason All-Americans as a pitcher and hitter, respectively.
In 2018, Beer was once again earning that preseason and postseason honor, and in 2019, shortstop Logan Davidson was the team’s premier player and preseason All-American.
Who’s going to be the face of the program in 2020?
“This is our first year where we don't have that guy coming back,” Lee said. “Now, we had Logan coming back off of a monster sophomore year. And then he goes in the first round. Seth was Seth. He's one of the best. You don't get Seth Beers but once every decade. I mean, you just don't get that kind of player very often.”
Lee is right. Beer wasn’t just a star. He was a superstar and one of the most feared hitters Doug Kingsmore Stadium has ever witnessed.
He’s only the second Tiger in program history to earn All-American honors in three seasons. Beer was the national player of the year as a true freshman.
He was recently named to D1Baseball.com’s All-Decade team as a designated-hitter. Beer, who hit 56 home runs in his three-year career, was the face of the program before being selected in the first round of the 2018 by the Houston Astros.
“We didn't know what Seth Beer was going to be when he got here,” Lee said. “We thought he was going to be pretty good. We didn't know he was going to win the National Player of the Year as a freshman. I don't think anybody could have seen that coming.”
That’s fair, but Beer was the No. 2 player in high school, and it only took a few at-bats to see that he was headed for stardom.
“Logan Davidson as a true freshman to play every day as a shortstop, and wound up being an all American and do what he did in his career, I don't think we could have seen that at the time,” Lee said. “We thought they were really good, but you’ve got to earn that right to be called a star based on what you do on the field of play. And, obviously, a lot of those guys are not in the program now.”
Do you need a premier player to meet expectations at a program where anything less than a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., is a falling short?
Clemson had all of those stars and never made it out of an NCAA Regional. The Tigers haven’t been to Omaha since 2010.
Then again, who’s the alpha dog in the room? Teams need those, and it’s unclear which players will step into that role in 2020.
Beer led by example, spending hours and hours in the batting cage perfecting his craft. To see a player of his caliber work so hard rubbed off on the other guys.
This year’s Clemson squad has a lot to prove when it comes to finding who the best players are going to be.
“We lost a lot of our veteran players who had potential star power last year who had done it,” Lee said, “but from what I've seen, there's a lot of guys here that I really like. They just haven't done it yet. So I would say that for me to put some of our guys in that category, well those guys earned those stripes with what they did on the field.”
Davis Sharpe is the likeliest candidate to carry the torch left behind by Davidson, Grayson Byrd and Kyle Wilkie from last season.
Sharpe did earn preseason All-American honors after going 7-4 with a 3.20 earned run average on the mound and hitting .264 with 18 RBIs at the plate as freshman All-American.
But will he have to excel as a two-way player? History isn’t full of college baseball players who pulled that off. It’s hard to do.
There’s also Kier Meredith, a highly-recruited pro prospect who came to Clemson with a world of promise. But the speedy outfielder has played in just 21 career games in two years because of injuries.
Is this the year Meredith, who says he’s 100-percent healthy to start the year, becomes a force at the plate and base paths while making game-saving plays in the outfield?
“I feel like I can lead these guys well,” Meredith said.
Maybe it’s going to be a big year for a pair of juniors, Bryce Teodosio (13 HRs in 92 games) and Sam Hall (7 HRs, 32 RBIs in 2019).
Sophomore Bryar Hawkins was solid last year, hitting .287 with seven homers and 23 RBIs; he could be ready to take the next step.
Clemson could also find its star on the mound. Pitching depth and talent should far exceed last year, especially if Spencer Strider and Carter Raffield bounce back from injuries and give the Tigers power stuff.
Mat Clark was steady and, at times, stellar as a starter a year ago, leading the Tigers with nine wins.
And there are talented players nobody’s seen play in a Clemson uniform yet who could make immediate impacts. The Tigers’ 2019 recruiting class ranked No. 13 nationally and No. 2 in the ACC by Baseball America.
“We've got some young guys that haven't necessarily played to that level,” Lee said. “But we'll see where we're at a month in the season, halfway point in the season with some of the guys that were going to run out there and play.”
Still, it feels strange not already identifying who those players are heading into Lee’s fifth season.
How much the lack of star power impacts this season is also undetermined.