Kicking off 2013

Jack Leggett

CLEMSON - Opening Day is just over two weeks away. What's D.J. Reader's status? How is the pitching rotation taking shape? And which freshmen will play early?



The Clemson baseball team had their first full practice of the season on Monday. Here are a few notables picked up during pre-practice interviews.

Two-sport star

D.J. Reader, defensive tackle, will now take on the challenge of becoming D.J. Reader, pitcher and first baseman.

Leggett said Reader will pitch "an inning or two" during Monday's practice. So far, most of Reader's work has been in the batting cage. Naturally, he's been a bit rusty getting back into the swing of things on the diamond.

"D.J. is a strong kid, a tremendously coachable kid," Leggett said. "We just haven't seen him enough yet to tell you what he's capable of doing…he picks things up quickly.

"He's got some snap in his hands. He is very strong, as you know. Being 300-plus pounds, it doesn't seem to bother his flexibility. He's got some looseness in his hands as a hitter."

The young arms

Leggett, Scott Firth and Daniel Gossett all raved about Matthew Crownover, a 5-11 195-pound LHP from Ringgold, Ga.

Although Crownover underwent Tommy John surgery last March, he's way ahead of schedule with his recovery. Normally, it takes 12-18 months to come back from the surgery.

Crownover is already throwing and will be available to pitch when the season starts.

"He's way ahead of what a normal human being would be. He's worked extremely hard," Leggett said.

It's likely that Crownover will be on a pretty strict pitch count to start the season, but they're going to prepare him to work as a starter -- going through the routine as a starter.

"I think he'll continue to work his way into it, because he's so focused," Leggett said. "He's so mentally strong and so physically in tune to what his body can do, he's something different than what you normally see."

Said Leggett, "How he's gone about his business, it might have been one of the most impressive things that I've seen since I've been here."

Another lefty, Zack Erwin, also drew some good reviews from Leggett and Gossett -- for the most part.

"Zack Erwin is the goofiest kid I've ever seen coming in. Then, all of a sudden, he's got mound presence. He's dealing. It's just great to see of the young guys," Gossett said.

The old arms

As a freshman last season, Gossett was 6-3 with a 4.32 ERA in 77 innings. If today was opening day, Leggett said Gossett would get the nod as the starter.

Firth, who was 4-0 with 2.09 ERA in 24 relief appearances last season, will also figure into the weekend rotation mix.

He dealt with some forearm issues after pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer, but should be ready to roll by opening day. He'll work today in game-type situations.

"It's back at 100 percent now. I just kind of strained my forearm muscle. I ended up resting it, did kind of a rehab throwing program," Firth said. "It's been feeling great. I'm about to throw today...I threw against hitters in the fall, a little bit. This is the first time in a game situation, so I'm definitely pumped about that."

Kevin Pohle and Jonathan Meyer are also in the conversation for a spot in the weekend rotation.

Both Pohle and Matt Campbell dealt with some injuries over the summer. Campbell should be ready to roll by opening day while Pohle's status for the Feb. 15 opener is a little more questionable.

Campbell's role is up in the air. He could close, work in middle or long relief. Wherever he pitches, Leggett said he'll be counted on to get outs with men on base.

The lineup

There probably three freshman position players that will be looked to as early impact guys. Tyler Krieger [Johns Creek, Ga.] could get the nod at shortstop. In the outfield will be Maleek Gibson [Sumter Academy] and Steven Duggar [Byrnes].

Catcher: Pretty wide-open race. The candidates for the starting job include Garrett Boulware, Matt Reed and Kevin Bradley.

1B: Jon McGibbon - .233, 5 HR and 33 RBI in 2012

2B: Steve Wilkerson could work at shortstop, but it sounds like Leggett wants to keep him at second.

SS: Krieger, Wilkerson and Jay Baum are the candidates with Krieger looking like the leader for the job.

"Krieger, he's a really hard worker, a really good athlete over at shortstop," Leggett said.

3B: JUCO transfer Shane Kennedy. He could also spend some time at DH. Leggett said Kennedy has potential to hit in the middle of the lineup and provide some power.

OF: As noted above, the freshman, Gibson and Duggar will play. Thomas Brittle, who hit .298 with 2 HR and 36 and stole a team-high 15 bases, is back at CF. Tyler Slaton has played well so far during the preseason in LF.

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