Feature Photo: Chase Pinder, CF, Clemson Univ.
(Photo by Brian Hennessy)
Increasingly, major league organizations are looking for players who can fill a variety of roles, and projected 2017 MLB First-Year Player Draft pick Chase Pinder fits that bill to a tee, and he’ll likely come off the draft board before the end of Day Two.
During his three-year career at Clemson University, Pinder has handled a number of different roles. Originally recruited to Clemson as an outfielder, Pinder spent his freshman season playing second base when Tigers second baseman Tyler Krieger injured his throwing arm. Pinder held his own at second, posting a .970 fielding percentage. In 2016, Pinder moved back to the outfield, taking over as the Tigers’ regular center fielder. He has found a home in center, where he has been a difference-maker with his glove.
Pinder’s prowess in center field was on full display on April 10, when Virginia Tech second baseman Jack Owens stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Owens sent a high drive to straightaway center field, and Pinder leaped above the wall to take back a grand slam, producing one of the top defensive highlights of the college baseball season (Video courtesy of ACC Digital Network.)
Pinder says he is happy to be back in center field after his freshman deployment to second base, which ultimately served to showcase his versatility.
“Honestly, center field kind of comes naturally to me,” Pinder said. “I’d say that second base is the one I’d have to work on more. Center field is my home when it comes to playing baseball. I like controlling the outfield and helping people get into the right position to make the play. But I also think the angle is much easier than in the corner positions. You have a little more ground to cover, but usually your faster guys are in center field, so that isn’t too much of a problem. You can a straight-up view [on the angles] and you know exactly what the ball is doing. You know what kind of spin it has off of the bat, and the angle. I think it is probably the easiest for angles.”
Pinder has also filled a number of roles in the lineup for the Tigers over the past two years. Often a leadoff hitter, the right-handed hitting Pinder was asked to move into a middle-of-the-order role for the Tigers earlier this season. As the season progressed, Pinder split his time between the top four spots in the Tigers’ lineup. Although Pinder has a .447 career slugging percentage at Clemson, he sees himself as more of a table-setter than a traditional run producer.
“I have only hit there a few times in my career, but probably the two-hole would be my best spot just because I have good bat control and if there is something that needs to be done, I can do anything they need in that case,” Pinder said. “I have hit a lot of leadoff, and I think that is also a good position for me because I get deep in counts. I can work a count and I’m not afraid to hit with two strikes. The three- and four-hole, I think they put me there because I was hitting best on the team with runners in scoring position. They just did that because we were not executing with two outs or getting people in or getting people over. It was more of a situational thing.”
Pinder hit 11 home runs in 64 games for in 2016 for the Tigers, so it was surprising to see him without a home run 38 games into the 2017 season. He decided to make a mid-season adjustment and the results paid off – over a 14-game stretch during the final weeks of the regular season, Pinder homered six times.
Pinder said the difference was getting back to his natural strengths as a hitter.
“The classic approach is middle-backside [positioning at contact], and that’s not me. That’s not who I am as a hitter. I have always been the guy who hits the ball off of my front foot. I got back to that,” Pinder said. “I set up the Hack Attack – which is the pitching machine – as fast as it could go and put it on the inner half and tried to see how many balls I could hit with backspin to the true pull-side. With coach throwing BP, my last two rounds are all pull. My first three rounds are all executing and going oppo, but I want to finish pull because that is my truest swing. I think that has helped me a lot because even the balls that are middle, or middle-away, I can still pull them for home runs. I think that has helped me quite a bit.”
Pinder finished the regular season slashing .319/.433/.473 for Clemson with those six home runs, as well as 12 stolen bases in 15 chances. The 12 stolen bases were a career high for Pinder, who was clocked at an above-average 4.22-4.25 seconds from home-to-first by 2080 Baseball’s Burke Granger. Pinder says that he made a conscious effort to run more in 2017, and he believes his speed could be an asset at the next level.
“[Stealing bases] was one of the things I was working on this year. I would like to have a few more, but we hit a tough stretch where we needed to have as many people on base as possible. We were more station-to-station at that point,” Pinder said. “Last year, we had [freshman] Seth Beer [OF/1B, and 2016 NCAA Player of the Year] and Chris Okey – a [Reds’] second-rounder [in 2016, now with their High A Daytona affiliate] – hitting behind me, so I never really needed to [run]. If I was on first, one of them was going to get me in. Honestly, I think I just had more opportunities this year early in the season to run and I took advantage of them.”
The aspect of Pinder’s game that likely will generate the most interest from major league organizations is his pitch recognition and plate discipline. Pinder has a career .406 on-base percentage at Clemson and he has walked 97 times while striking out just 99 times in 791 plate appearances. In this 2080 draft video of Pinder, his selectivity is on display.
Pinder says that his selectivity has always come naturally to him.
“If a ball is coming into the strike zone or out of the strike zone, I can place a finger on where it is. I think some people overlook that,” Pinder said. “Wherever the pitch is, I can always put a finger on the location. I have always had a good eye. I think it will translate better as the strike zone gets a little smaller. Not to bash on umps in college, but people do know that the strike zone gets a little tighter the higher that you go. I think it will translate well later in my baseball career.”
When Pinder hears his name called during the MLB Draft, which begins on June 12, he will be carrying on a family tradition. Chase’s older brother, Chad Pinder (UTIL, Athletics), was the A’s second-round selection (#71 overall) in the 2013 MLB Draft, and his father, Chris Pinder, was a 39th-round selection of the Giants in 1992. Chad has played four positions to-date for the A’s, while hitting .273 with seven home runs over his first 27 games, while his dad pitched two seasons of Rookie-level ball for the Giants from 1992-1993.
Pinder says he gets plenty of advice from his father and his brother.
“Chad and my dad know my swing the best. Chad knows it from more of a physical standpoint and mechanically. But my dad, he looks for more of contact point and how the ball is coming off of the bat and if that is working out, he knows my swing is right,” Pinder said. “Those two guys have helped me so much in life and in baseball. They are two guys that I look up to. I can’t thank them enough for that.”
Pinder is looking forward to taking the next step in his baseball journey.
“It’s going to be a great feeling [to be drafted], obviously, but there is also another side of it where this isn’t the end. People look at this point as a destination to get to, but really this is just when things are getting started,” Pinder said. “I’m ready to get to work and whoever calls my name, I’ll be extremely grateful. I’m excited for the opportunity and I look forward to putting my all into an organization.”