Clemson University

Five questions facing Tigers for 2008

Clemson finished the season 41-23, logging a second-place (18-12) finish in the ACC Atlantic Division and advancing to the Super Regionals for the third straight year.

Five questions the Tigers must answer before fall practice:

• 1. HOW MUCH DAMAGE DID THE DRAFT INFLICT?

Potentially more than the Tigers can recoup with a single recruiting class.

Losing four junior pitchers, their top two signees and Brad Chalk appeared likely. But if they surrender Taylor Harbin and Doug Hogan as well, Clemson enters rebuilding mode.

Harbin, the team's X-factor entering the draft, went in the eighth round. That is usually high enough to snag any junior, although an excessive signing bonus demand or a low-ball offer would affect negotiations.

Hogan also remains a mystery. The redshirt junior from Irmo figured to return because he would not be taken until rounds 20-40. But as a 16th-round pick by the Chicago Cubs, Hogan now has to weigh whether he could go higher next year.

In addition, Clemson stands to lose one or two of its planned replacements.

Prep infielder Jake Smolinski was scratched off the signee list after being a surprise second-round selection.

And the Tigers are holding their breath that Kyle Miller, a transfer from Central Florida Community College, does not sign as a 21st-round pick with Houston. Miller is slotted to take over for departing senior third baseman Marquez Smith, but the Astros selected Miller as a catcher, where he figures to play as a pro.

• 2. WILL THE TIGERS LOSE THEIR HEAD RECRUITER?

Having a total of 19 players and signees drafted will not hurt the resume of pitching coach Kevin O'Sullivan.

It seems only a matter of time before O'Sullivan, the primary recruiter, will land a head coaching job, especially considering the success of his predecessors, namely Tim Corbin at Vanderbilt.

O'Sullivan, a runner-up last year for Louisville's job, would be a logical candidate to fill vacancies at Tennessee or Florida.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton is a Clemson graduate who has witnessed Corbin's work. O'Sullivan has masterfully tapped into the state of Florida -- see Smith, Andy D'Alessio, David Kopp, Alan Farina and Stephen Clyne -- and has family there.

Or, if College of Charleston coach John Pawlowski winds up with one of those gigs, O'Sullivan could capitalize on the domino effect.

n 3. WHERE WILL THE POWER COME FROM?

If fans thought the Tigers lacked punch for most of this season, wait till they get a load of next year's lineup.

Let's put it this way: Harbin is not known for his power, yet he would be the team's most prolific home run hitter if he returned and Hogan departed.

Best-case scenario -- Harbin and Hogan come back and alleviate the pressure on Ben Paulsen and Alex Burg to make gargantuan statistical leaps. If Miller joins the team, he could add pop as well.

Worst-case scenario -- Harbin, Hogan and Miller go pro and leave Clemson with a lineup that totaled 13 homers this season. Welcome to small-ball orientation.

n 4. HOW CERTAIN IS STAN WIDMANN'S RETURN?

Widmann, the starting shortstop, missed all but the opening six games when he had a giant cell tumor removed from his neck in late March.

For a condition as serious as Widmann endured, it is impossible to put a concrete timetable on his recovery -- or, for that matter, assure he will be physically cleared to play again.

Yet it is encouraging to see Widmann, who still wears a neck brace, shag fly balls in batting practice.

Encouraging enough to pencil him in for 2008? That answer may be months away.

If not, freshman John Hinson from Asheville, N.C., is the most likely solution.

n 5. CAN CLEMSON PLUG ENOUGH HOLES TO MAKE A CWS RUN?

To make it to Omaha, Neb., all a team has to do is get hot at the right time to win five in a row, so it would be premature to count the Tigers out.

But without Harbin and Hogan, it is difficult to imagine Clemson making it there as a probable No. 3 seed in a road regional.

Clemson's strength the past two years has been starting pitching, and next season should be no different. Juniors Ryan Hinson and D.J. Mitchell are solid, and the Tigers have a number of alternatives (Matt Vaughn, P.J. Zocchi and Matt Zoltak) to fill in the blanks, except perhaps at closer.

Just like this year, the key will be generating runs. They have some nice offensive pieces, but without Harbin and/or Hogan, there would be a massive leadership void.

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