Let’s take a look at Clemson baseball’s all-time starting nine in this edition of the NCAA.com series of the best possible starting lineups for some of college baseball’s most successful programs.
Here is how we picked the team: We dug deep in the record books, only considering the players’ college careers. Their achievements in professional baseball did not come into play. There was also consideration given to their positional fits and how well they fit into a batting order we made based on historical stats that could provide a combination of high batting averages, speed, and power.
Shane Monahan, outfield (1993-95)
— Clemson Baseball (@ClemsonBaseball) January 21, 2016
Monahan is one of the best hitters in Clemson history, and his uncanny ability to seemingly always get the bat on the ball is why he sees the leadoff spot. He recorded 337 career hits during his time at Clemson. That’s 112 hits per season — remarkable for a college player. His .394 average is third-best in Tigers lore, while he ranks amongst Clemson’s all-time greats in doubles (eighth with 60), triples (first with 21), runs (third with 235), and stolen bases (ninth with 61). The two-time All-American and 1995 ACC player of the year would cause havoc anywhere in the lineup.
Seth Beer, outfield (2016-18)
Seth Beer — OF COURSE — breaks up Adam Hill’s no-hit bid in the 6th with this two-run blast. 2-1, Clemson. pic.twitter.com/YuGtNpGVAc
— Michael Lananna (@mlananna) March 3, 2018
Beer started things off right at Clemson, taking home ACC and national freshman of the year honors as well as the Dick Howser Award in 2016. He also garnered First Team All-American honors from just about every publication the same season before repeating the feat in 2018. Beer’s power was legendary in Clemson history, but it was his eye that lands him in the two-hole. Beer walked nearly twice as much as he struck out in his three years as a Tiger (180 walks to 98 strikeouts), placing him third all-time in walks and first all-time in walks per at bat.
MORE ON BEER: How Ken Griffey, Jr. helped Beer get his groove back
Khalil Greene, shortstop (1999-2002)
Greene’s 2002 season alone could earn him a spot in the lineup, but the Golden Spikes Award-winning infielder had a memorable four-year career as well. Greene is Clemson’s all-time leader in hits (403), RBI (276), and total bases (668), while his 95 doubles are best in NCAA history. And then there was that 2002 season when he took home the program’s only Golden Spikes Award as well as the Dick Howser Award. He hit .470 with 33 doubles, 27 home runs, 91 RBI, and 17 stolen bases and struck out only 22 times in 71 games. You’d have a hard time replicating those numbers in a video game.
Jeff Baker, third base (2000-02)
This is simple. Baker is tied for the most home runs in Clemson history and trails only Greene with his 226 career RBI. His 2001 season (.369, 25 home runs, 75 RBI) earned him his first All-American honors, which he replicated in a big final season in 2002. Baker was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2002, but unfortunately, he had his own teammate to contend with. That doesn’t lessen his spot in Clemson lore, or the heart of our lineup.
Dude Buchanan, first base (1939-41)
How are you going to pass up a sharp-hitting first baseman named Dude? Buchanan played in the wood bat era and that’s what earns him a spot on the list. Most record books are filled with players from the aluminum bat era, but Buchanan’s numbers have stood the test of time. His .402 career batting average is still second-best all-time, and his .485 average in 1941 is still tops in program history. Sure, he was playing in much shorter seasons, but it leaves you wondering what damage he could have done in a 60-game schedule.
Bert Heffernan, catcher (1985-88)
Catcher wasn’t an easy choice. Matthew LeCroy was a two-time American and Chris Okey found his way onto the Johnny Bench Award watchlist seemingly every season. But Heffernan’s name is all over the Clemson record books, finishing his career third in hits (335), fifth in doubles (63), tied for seventh in triples (14), and his 507 total bases are sixth all-time. Heffernan had a career-year in his senior campaign, hitting .337 with 93 runs scored, 18 doubles, 21 stolen bases and 62 walks to just 27 strikeouts, earning him his lone First Team All-American nod.
Billy McMillon, outfield (1991-1993)
This was tough. Originally, this spot went to Denny Walling whose 1975 season is legendary in Clemson lore, hitting .421 with 13 home runs and capturing the ACC player of the year award. But that was Walling’s only season in Clemson, giving McMillon the more complete resume. The versatile outfielder, who could also play first, never hit below .377 in his three years with the Tigers and while some outfielders may have had bigger seasons, few brought the consistency to the plate McMillon did.
Rusty Adkins, second base (1965-67)
Believe it or not, this was the hardest positional player to pick. It went back and forth between Tim Teufel (1979-80) and Adkins, but eventually Adkins got the nod. Teufel is deserving, a 1980 All-American whose name is still amongst the Clemson greats in batting average and slugging percentage, but Adkins was a three-time All-American with the seventh-longest hitting streak in college baseball history (41 games). When you add the fact that he has his own spot in the Clemson baseball glossary, Adkins is simply a legendary Tiger who couldn’t be omitted.
Kris Benson, starting pitcher (1994-1996)
Brian Barnes made a compelling case, but Benson ended his Clemson career in dominating fashion. Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball named him the 1996 national player of the year and he earned Dick Howser honors that same season. He went 14-2, striking out 204 in just 156 innings of work, while posting a 2.02 ERA going on to become the program’s only No. 1 overall pick in MLB Draft history. Yes, Barnes is the all-time leader in wins and Ks, and would be the Saturday night starter in our fictional rotation, but Benson simply dominated and deserves to open every weekend series this starting nine faces.
Bill Wilhelm, head coach
— Clemson Baseball (@ClemsonBaseball) March 11, 2015
Jack Leggett makes a strong case, finishing with 955 career wins at Clemson and a .665 winning percentage. His overall resume (1,332 total wins) put him amongst DI’s all-time greats. But it’s Wilhelm’s 1,161 wins at Clemson that earns him the nod as skipper, finding himself amongst the top 25 winningest coaches of all time. Wilhelm’s career spanned five decades and he never had a losing season, leading the Tigers to six College World Series and a record 11 ACC titles. He was inducted to the College Baseball Hall of Fame posthumously in 2011.