College baseball: Chase Pinder giving Clemson versatility, leadership
Monte Lee was "nervous" the first time he put Chase Pinder in Clemson's lineup as the clean-up hitter on Feb. 22.
It's something the Tiger coach had never done before, and he wasn't sure the effect it would have on his junior center-fielder or the team.
Pinder put those fears to rest by going 4-for-4 with four runs batted in in an 11-5 win over Western Carolina.
Pinder hasn't stayed there, though. Instead, he's moved all over the lineup, hitting first, second and fourth this season.
When a coach is juggling an order and trying to figure out where everyone fits best, that kind of versatility is invaluable.
That can also describe Pinder as an overall player.
Seth Beer draws much of the attention from opponents, fans and the media, but Pinder, who leads the team with a .359 batting average, is the straw that stirs Clemson's drink.
"I've said it time and time again, I think Chase Pinder is one of the most underrated players in the ACC," Lee said. "He's one of those rare baseball players that can hit as a lead-off guy, he can steal bases, he can play the short game, but he can also hit for some pop and some power."
He can also play the outfield, and Pinder's saved a few hits and runs already for a Clemson squad that's 17-4 overall and 5-1 in ACC play heading into Friday's three-game series against Boston College (7-11, 1-5) in Rhode Island.
"I never want to say I'm where I want to be, but at this moment, at Clemson, I feel like I'm in a good spot for the team," said Pinder, who hit .294 and had 46 RBIs last year. "Moving forward from last year with (Chris) Okey leaving and all the middle infielders, Weston (Wilson) and Eli (White), I found an opportunity."
Pinder, who missed the Tigers' season opener with an illness, has six doubles, 16 RBIs and a .453 on-base percentage in 20 of 21 games. He's added six steals and his .435 mark with runners in scoring position is best on the team.
"He hits really, really well with runners in scoring position," Lee said. "That's why we put him behind Seth (at times)."
Over the last eight games, though, Pinder has moved back to the familiar spot as leadoff hitter, where he's 11-for-30 during that span. He's scored nine runs at the top of the order and driven in four while stealing three bases as Clemson's gone 7-1 in that stretch.
"Being the leadoff hitter can really set a game for yourself," Pinder said. "If you can get to a pitcher, especially a young pitcher, early in the game and get to the bullpen quick, it's a game-changer for sure."
It doesn't change his approach, except for that first at-bat, when he's trying to see a couple extra pitches so the Tigers behind him can get a feel for the guy on the mound.
After that, the native of Poquoson, Virginia generally finds himself at the plate with runners on the rest of the game. He can also move behind Beer in the order and make teams pay for walking one of the most feared hitters in the game.
Pinder has certainly grown physically since arriving as a freshman in 2015, but he's also playing and speaking like a more confident player.
He asked to join the team council in the offseason. He's carrying himself like a veteran. He knows this is his chance for a breakout year, and Major League Baseball scouts already view him a talent who could go between rounds four and six in this summer's draft.
His versatility and leadership, though, could pay huge dividends for Clemson before June gets here.
"I wanted to be a guy that people look to," Pinder said. "I'm where I want to be in that regard. It seems to be working."
This article is written by Brad Senkiw from Anderson Independent Mail, S.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.