Max Wagner and Mack Anglin are still eligible to play at Clemson, but Erik Bakich is unsure if he will coach either of them.
In theory, Wagner and Anglin would be cornerstones for Bakich’s first baseball team at Clemson next spring. The trouble is, they’re widely regarded as the program’s best prospects for next week’s Major League Baseball draft. Wagner, who took home the ACC Player of the Year award last season after setting the school record for home runs, is number one D1Baseball as college baseball’s No. 35 overall, while Anglin, Clemson’s right-handed ace, comes in at No. 78 on the list.
Bakich said he’s spoken to both about their futures since he was hired as the Tigers’ head coach last month. Neither has given him any indication of which direction they are leaning, Bakich said, but he’s approaching it as if neither player will be returning to Clemson next season.
“I think I got it in my head that they’re both going to sign,” Bakich said. “And if they didn’t, it would be a huge boost. But I don’t go in expecting them to come back 100%, I personally and our staff make sure we make preparations for their departure. We don’t bet on them coming back and then suddenly we react to it. So I think we have to look at it that way from a roster management standpoint.”
Like every coach in the sport this time of year, Bakich is waiting to see how much the three-day draft will change his hiring plans for next season. In general, the higher a player is selected, the higher the amount that will be set aside for a signing bonus. Draft-eligible underclassmen (either three completed college seasons or at least 21 years old) have the option to return to college if selected and don’t sign, but for first and second graders in particular, those amounts are seven figure types that are hard to overlook .
Because of this, Clemson could lose two of his best players early on in professional baseball, but Bakich has given up predicting what will happen when the draft begins Sunday’s first two rounds. Rounds 3-10 take place on Monday before the draft concludes with Rounds 11-20 on Tuesday.
“I’ve paid close attention to that over the past 21 years and seen a lot of guys going lower than I thought they would go, or higher than I thought they would go,” Bakich said. “I’ve just come to the conclusion that sometimes it’s an inaccurate science that you can’t control. The decision makers making these decisions know what they are doing and have their reasons, but you certainly cannot predict it.”
Other players with remaining eligibility may also have to make decisions once it’s over. Shortstop Ben Blackwell and pitchers Geoffrey Gilbert, Jackson Lindley and Ryan Ammons are among the players Bakich believes could also give their names next week.
But it’s not just current players he’ll be watching.
Clemson has signed or signed more than 10 high school players for his 2022 recruiting class. Three of them — Winnacunnet (New Hampshire) pitcher Joe Allen, Chaminade (New York) shortstop Nolan Nawrocki and St. Mary’s Prep (Michigan) infielder Jack Crighton — were former Michiganers intending to follow Bakich to Clemson, but most eyes are focused on a few pitching undersigned, St. Mary’s Prep’s Brock Porter and Boiling Springs standout Tristan Smith.
There’s a chance none will make it onto campus depending on how high they get picked. Porter, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, is ranked No. 11 overall prospect in the draft MLB draft pipeline while Smith, a 6-2 southpaw, checks in at number 46. Each of the first 68 picks has a slot value of at least $1 million MLB.com draftsman Jim Callis.
“It’s going to be interesting over the next week just to see what happens,” Bakich said.
Next season, college baseball rosters will be reset to a 35-player limit, with one caveat: a maximum of 40 is allowed if the extra five players lost their 2020 season to the coronavirus pandemic. With a plethora of new players — Michigan transfers Riley Bertram and Willie Weiss also following Bakich to Clemson — and not knowing exactly how many current players are on the way out, numbers for the Tigers’ 2023 roster are tight.
Bakich said Clemson could sign two more transfers for next season, but only if a pair of underclassmen leave early to play professionally. Of course, that number could go up if there are some surprises next week.
“I thought it would be a quick adjustment to the 35 man (squad) except for just five extra COVID super seniors. It’s going to be tough,” Bakich said. “The draft, the roster, that’s something every coach, not just me and Clemson, every coach has to figure out. We’ll only know what it’s really going to look like after the draft.”
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