By John Perrotto
Jeff Clement doesn’t make excuses about failing to live up to his billing so far in professional baseball.
The Seattle Mariners selected Clement with the third overall pick in the 2005 first-year player draft.
He was an All-America catcher and set the school career home run record at the University of Southern California after leaving Marshalltown (Iowa) High School with the most homers in high school baseball history.
Clement is now 26 and the superstardom that was predicted for him has been elusive. He has played in just 75 major-league games, including none this past season, and hit .237 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs.
“I think what baseball, and really all sports, are about is getting the most that you can out of your ability,” Clement said. “I haven’t done that yet and it’s disappointing to me. I know I’m a better player than what I’ve shown.”
Clement will get the chance to hit the reset button on his career when the Pirates open spring training on Feb. 17. He was the key player among the five the Pirates acquired from Seattle in the July 29 trade that sent Jack Wilson and Ian Snell to the Mariners.
Clement hit .224 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 27 games with Class AAA Indianapolis after the trade. The plan was for Clement to join the Pirates in September and play regularly at first base but that was scuttled when he suffered a strained muscle in his rib cage.
“The timing of the injury was very unfortunate,” said Clement, who is taking part in the Pirates’ conditioning camp this week at PNC Park. “I was looking forward to making a good first impression. Now, I can’t wait to get to spring training to begin making that impression.”
The Pirates believe they can unlock Clement’s potential. The Mariners, though, gave up on the idea of Clement being their catcher of the future last season as he spent the year at Class AAA Tacoma before being traded while rookie Rob Johnson unseated Kenji Johjima as the starting catcher with the major-league club.
Clement was consigned to designated hitter duty at Tacoma but will get a chance to be the Pirates’
first baseman next year.
“Being a DH was tough because I’ve always been used to being into the game on every pitch as a catcher,” Clement said. “It was nice to get traded to a National League organization, so I could play in the field.”
Catcher remains Clement’s preferred position but the Pirates have Ryan Doumit signed for two more seasons and are high on backup Jason Jaramillo. Clement, though, isn’t complaining being handed a first baseman’s mitt.
“I’ve played enough first base that I at least feel comfortable there,” Clement said. “It will be a new challenge for me in a new organization. It will be a change of scenery and I’m hopeful that is what I need to start playing up to my capabilities.”