Jeff Clement’s Trying Journey from Third-Overall Pick to Pirate First Baseman


Jeff Clement was destined for stardom.  He had to be.  Right?  I mean Clement was a first round pick in the 2005 star studded draft.  Everyone in that first-round seems to have already made an impact.

Clement was the Mariners third pick in a draft overflowing with stars like Clay Buchholz, Ryan Zimmerman, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Troy Tulowitzki, that ever so familiar Pirate basher-Ryan Braun and, of course, Pittsburgh Pirate star Andrew McCutchen. 

Clement was a quick learner, moved through the ranks swiftly and became productive enough in the Pacific Coast League to be one of its’ most feared hitters.  He was fast tracked and made it to the show in September 2007.  Much like McCutchen, Clement didn’t disappoint, he hit .375 in nine games and had two homers.

He was everything the Mariners dreamed.  But unfortunately, Clement didn’t have the season McCutchen had.  It was obviously shorter and September 2007 would be the highlight of Clement’s major league career. [Pirates Report, John Perrotto]  

Just a couple months later, he had a scare when he was shut down for the final few games of the Arizona Fall League in November of 2007 with possible bone chips again in his left elbow.  Two years earlier, Clement had surgery on the same elbow to have bone chips removed.

A few months later in April 2008, this glowing article was written after Clement was on a 23 game,  .397 average, five homer, 22 walks and 20RBI tear that pointed toward a promotion to Seattle.  The puzzler was just a few days earlier the Mariners signed catcher, Kenji Johjima, to a three-year extension.

GM Bill Bavasi said, “I would guess that at some point along the way, because of Jeff’s bat — and assuming Kenji plays the way he can — Jeff’s going to get exposed to another position at some point.  But we have not given up on him as a catcher. A left-handed hitting catcher with power, those are real tough to find. So, this doesn’t change Jeff’s track to the big leagues much at all. Because his track to the big leagues is with his bat more than his glove anyway.”

I tend to pick up on the following sentence carefully, ‘but we have not given up on him as a catcher.’  This quote was repeated throughout the days we dug up information for this article.  We believe when someone says they have not given up on you, two things are presumed.  They are thinking about it and number two usually it’s someone important telling you something like this, so one should be prepared.  Life comes at you fast.

It certainly did for Clement.

He was called up again in May and struggled hitting .167 in 15 games.  His normal approach at the plate was gone.   The more he tried, the harder he failed.  His swing was different, his approach was different, and he was sent back to Tacoma on May 18 after striking out 20 times in his 48 plate appearances.

He immediately went on a tear at AAA Tacoma hitting a grand slam in his second game back in the PCL.

The Mariners brought Clement back up again in June after he hit .287 with 9HR and 23RBI at Tacoma.  He was given the opportunity to catch as Johjima was being worked out at 1b.

The struggles continued early. In late July another injury hit,  a foul ball off the bat of Dustin Pedoria ripped the thumb nail of his right hand.  He missed some time, but then put together a red-hot spurt when he hit .325 in 77 at-bats. 

But the hot streak was again halted and Clement’s season ended when had to have knee surgery in September.  The surgery wasn’t the result of one specific incident.  Just wear and tear from doing his life’s work.  Two surgeries in three years.  Nothing specific.  Odd.  Here is the Mariners press release.

But before you get the idea that Clement has a prayer behind the dish in Pittsburgh take a closer look:   all 18 runners that attempted to steal on Clement, were successful.  (Pitchers picked off the two runners Clement get credit for while behind the plate.)

This article by Prospect Insider throws the names of Todd Zeile and Brad Ausmus out as a comparision, but points to the big question in their conclusion.

In the spring of 2009, Clement got off to a very slow start offensively and eventually lost his catching job to Rob Johnson.  Mariners Manager Don Wakamatsu had a man named Ken Griffey, Jr  to handle the left-handed DH role, so Clement was AAA bound. 

After being the power hitting heir apparent to the Mariner’s mask, Clement was hacking again in AAA Tacoma for his fourth season.  In this article, Writer Tom Wyrwich got this quote from Clement, “If I had all the answers I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”   

The facts were simply too obvious to overlook.  Clement’s major league bat was a mess.  His knee was recovering from the surgery.  He was pushed to the majors too quickly.  In the eyes of the Mariners staff, his receiving, blocking and throwing to second base were all skills he failed to do on a consistent basis, so what was the organization left to do?

Seattle fans felt it had another draft bust on its’ hands. (Pirate fans know the feeling all too well)

But Neal Huntington and the Pirates felt differently.  

So, Clement started the 2009 season at Tacoma slowly.  He hit just .209 through May 10.  Perhaps it was due to his ailing knee or maybe that his dream of being a  major leaguer was being dashed once again, but he didn’t carry whatever it was after Mother’s Day because by July his average rose to .283 with 12 bombs and 53RBI.

The trade winds swirled around Clement throughout the month of July.  Clement was told he was dealt in the evening of July 28 after being pinch-hit for in what would be his final appearance in Tacoma.   The next morning the  deal was completed.   He was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. 

Jeff Clement could start over.

Clement made an immediate impact at AAA Indianapolis.  His bat had Pirate fans excited.  The key player in the deal was providing immediate production and talk of a callup was being discussed.

But then it happened again.  This time it was the painful oblique injury.  The injury would thwart any plans of a September callup.  But to say Clement  made an impression in Indy would not do it justice so we went over to Scott McCauley’s Indy Indians Blog for this…

"Clement clubbed his 7th home run in just 14 games and drove in 4 runs.  His 1st inning home run was AT LEAST 420 feet and was still going up when it hit the batters eye in straight away centerfield"

Clement played 28 minor league games in 2009 at first base, from what we discovered, he hadn’t taken ground balls for at least seven years, but he was quoted by Jenifer Langosch as saying playing first, “was a heckuva lot easier than catching is.”

He finished the season at Indy with a paltry .224/.313/.459.  He struck out 27 times in 98 at bats.  And yet somehow, BucsDugout pointed out that Clement has drawn an incredible 2010 Pirate season projection from ZiPS  of .266/.340/.461  with an OPS+ of 107.  (They also have Craig Monroe with 10 HR, so go figure.)

So take a deep breath, pray that the injuries were just bad luck, nothing that Clement could control, and then say another prayer Pirate fans.  Clement will continue his journey in just over 40 days in Bradenton, Florida. 

Clement has been instructed to trade in the catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove.  It appears he has been handed the job to lose so, heh, Pirate fans, this is going to be interesting.

Many baseball people think he can hit, he shows what it takes, but will he do it?    In discussions this past week, we have been told, after averaging the projections,  that Clement can put up 18 bombs, 60 RBI and hit for a .275 average.

But will he?  Can he stay healthy?  The odds say he won’t.  People who saw his defense at 1B in Indianapolis, well…heh, if you can hit you can play?  It’s just 1B.  Right?  Clement has been overpowering all over the Pacific Coast League and for short spurts he has done well at the Major League level only to be dinged up by one injury or another.

He doesn’t make excuses for the injuries as evidenced by this November article-subscription req  Clement did with Perrotto at the Pirates’ conditioning camp.   Spring Training can’t come quick enough for Clement.  He has much to prove.

So, heh what do we have to lose?  That short right field porch at PNC has been waiting for the next Brian Giles for so long…let the Jeff Clement experiment begin.

I already said my first prayer.