CLEMSON — If there is one Clemson baseball player looking forward to a fresh start after last season it would be senior catcher Chris Williams.

The 2017 season was one of extreme highs and extreme lows for Williams, as he missed the first seven games of the season following a broken wrist suffered during practice.

But that was not all of the games Williams missed. He was out a total of 14 games (21 starts) due to injury, with the worst coming late in the season.

In a weekend series with Nevada, Williams tore the ligament that kept the ball and socket in place. He was relegated to DH duties for all but one of the Tigers’ final 16 games, but he was unable to help the Tigers at the plate.

After a long offseason filled with hard work and rehab, Williams is ready to get on the field for one final ride with the Tigers.

“It feels good to be back on the field,” Williams said. “I’m about 90 percent right now, just that last little stretch of getting my arm strong and everything like that, making those accurate throws to second base.

“After I got surgery this was all I thought off. Just being back on the field in the fall was amazing and then now we’re so close to the season, I can’t wait.”

Williams was one of the team’s most versatile players in 2016, splitting time at third base and first base along with limited action as the catcher. However, with the departure of starting catcher Chris Okey to Major League Baseball, Williams took over the starting job in 2017 and quickly drew the eyes of the national media and scouts.

Even with his injuries, Williams managed to hit .261 with 29 runs, 14 doubles, 14 home runs, 51 RBIs, a .572 slugging percentage, a .320 on-base percentage in 49 games (42 stars, including 36 at catcher and six as the DH).

But after being drafted in the 31st round by the Tampa Bay Rays, Williams decided to return to Clemson — something he had not planned on.

“I was really close (to turning professional),” Williams said. “When the draft was happening, I was really set on ending my career at Clemson and playing professional baseball. But as everything unfolded, I thought this would be the better option. Looking back on it now, I have no regrets.”

This season, Williams will not be relied on to catch every game of the season with the emergence of sophomore Kyle Wilkie last season.

Wilkie was thrust into the spotlight as a true freshman with the injuries to Williams. While Wilkie struggled through the first half of the season, when the Tigers needed him the most, he rose to the challenge.

In the Clemson regional, Wilkie went 3-3 with two runs in the Tigers’ victory over UNC Greensboro and 2-3 with a double, an RBI and a walk against Vanderbilt. It is that kind of backup that will hopefully give Williams some much-needed rest through the grind of the season.

“Right now, Wilkie’s a fantastic catcher,” Williams said. “We’re probably going to split some more time, kind of like getting me a little more rest to keep more at 100 percent throughout the whole season.”

The Tigers are picked to finish third in the ACC Atlantic, but with a healthy Williams back behind the plate and swinging a big bat at the plate, expectations are sure to be much higher within the team.

“It’s great when you’ve got a power-hitting catcher like he is and good behind the dish and all that kind of stuff, you love to have a guy like that,” junior slugger Seth Beer said.“I just think he brings a certain kind of character — relaxed, laidback — that you need to have.

“But then also in those pressure situations, you can rely that he’s going to be cool and collected and ready to go. That’s something that I’ve always found pretty cool about him is that when the moment shines the brightest that’s when he shows up.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.


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