Hard Work and Fun Fuel the Talent of Lynchburg’s Ernie Clement
David Freier | On 28, Jul 2018
If you meet the 6’0″, 170 lb. Ernie Clement out of uniform, you might not know that he is one of the Cleveland Indians’ Top 30 Prospects, as determined by Baseball America. He came in at 24 in their preseason rankings. Currently, MLB Pipeline has him in the number 28 spot.
Raised in Rochester, New York, the 22-year-old has been playing baseball since the age of three. His parents encouraged him to play other sports – he excelled at hockey – but he always returned to his first love, baseball.
“I love the team aspect and everybody coming together for one common goal,” said Clement about his deep passion for baseball. “All of my friends played baseball so that made it really fun.”
It was good fortune that led him to an opportunity to play for the University of Virginia and the path towards baseball as a profession. He had visited UVA for a summer baseball camp when he was a sophomore in high school, but as his senior year went on he was not getting any college offers.
“I guess I was probably a bit too small, not yet developed, or as my coach said, ready for Division I,” related Clement about the path that took him to the Cavaliers.
He participated in a tournament during his senior year, and UVA’s hitting coach, Kevin McMullen got to see him play. He did well in the tournament, was invited to take a tour of campus and got offered a scholarship. Clement did not turn the Cavaliers down.
Since baseball in upstate New York is limited by weather, and he had not had much opportunity to see the kind of pitching that he would encounter in a D1 program, Clement spent the summer before college playing for the Albany Dutchmen of the Perfect Game League.
It was his first opportunity to show his stuff, and Clement did not disappoint. He posted a .322 batting average, stealing seven bases and scoring a dozen runs in 19 games. He would follow it up with a freshman year in Charlottesville where the Cavaliers would become the top ranked college team and win the College World Series.
“It was a special group of guys I got to play with,” he said about the Cavaliers championship squad. “That’s probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of.”
Victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores in the final round, the same team that defeated UVA in the previous year’s College World Series, made it all the more special.
“It was one of our strength and conditioning coaches,” he recalled about what motivated the team, “he said all you need is a chip and chair.”
UVA got the opportunity, and took advantage of it. During his freshman season, Clement contributed, playing around the field – mostly center field and second base. His numbers in 62 games, including a .245 batting average, 22 RBI, and 25 runs scored, were not attention grabbing, but nothing beats winning.
It was his sophomore season when his hard work paid off. He contributed a .351 average, scoring 62 runs in 60 games. Clement began to attract notice from pro scouts who came to watch teammates such as Pavin Smith, Adam Haseley, and Daniel Lynch. All three would become first round selections by Major League teams. After his sophomore year, he would head off for his third summer season of baseball in a wood bat league, suiting up for the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League.
His stellar performance during the summer of 2016 earned him league MVP honors. Clement led the circuit with 59 hits and 19 stolen bases in 40 games. His .353 average was nearly identical to the one he posted for the Cavaliers.
“It was awesome because we had such a good team,” he said about his award winning summer. “We just wanted to win. I think that’s rare in summer ball.”
Leading his team to a 27-15 record, Clement posted a solid junior season back in Charlottesville, and would be selected by Cleveland in the fourth round of the 2017 draft.
Not a power hitter, Clement works hard to make contact and spray the ball around the park. His batting skill makes him a threat every time he steps into the batter’s box. He has an amazing knack of making contact with the baseball. In college, he struck out only 31 times in 745 at-bats. In just under two seasons as a professional, pitchers have set him down on strikes only 27 times in 344 trips to the plate. That gives him a good chance to get on base and spark his team.
“I’m just trying to keep it simple and trying to find ways to get on base so that guys can hit me in,” said Clement. “If I can get on base the first at-bat of the game, it kind of sets the tone and momentum throughout the game.”
Clement was promoted to the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats on June 23. The team averaged 3.72 runs per game in its first 84 contests of the season prior to his arrival. In his first 15 games with Lynchburg, the teams run scoring average jumped to 5.9 per game. By getting on base consistently (he has a .425 OBP with the Hillcats), he provides opportunities for teammates Mitch Longo, Conner Capel, and Li-Jen Chu, who usually follow him in the batting order, to see better pitches.
Of course not everything goes smoothly all the time. He spent a week on the disabled list with a concussion after running into teammate Austen Wade while he was with the Low-A Lake County Captains. He was placed back on the disabled list on Friday, July 27, with left groin soreness.
“He was one of my best friends in the organization because I knew him before anyone else,” said Clement about his friendship with DeJuneas. “We got along well and became really, really good friends at Lake County.”
The two had first met and played together on the 2016 Harwich team of the Cape Cod League.
“I’m excited to see where he goes with his career and if I do see him on the field it is going to be really fun,” said Clement.
DeJuneas is also in the Carolina League with the Buies Creek Astros. The two friends might get to face each other – Lynchburg and Buies Creek have a three-game set August 4-6 at the Astros home on the campus of Campbell University – but it will require a short stint on the 7-day disabled list for Clement.
Clement’s uncanny bat-to-ball skills began back in Little League. Each batter was limited to only three pitches, so he thinks that need to make contact with one of these pitches helped him get better at putting the ball in play.
“No matter where they were you only got to see three pitches,” Clement said. “My dad told me to just hit it, you don’t want to walk or strikeout.”
It required discipline to hit the ball and direct the pitches all over the field. As Clement learns the strike zone in the professional ranks, he also practices with a drill he picked up in college, the two-strike bounce drill.
“I’ll just have a coach bounce balls in and they’ll have spin any which way,” Clement said about this drill. “If it’s in the zone, you have to protect and fight it off, and if not, you have to lay off the pitch.”
It’s a good way to hone bat speed and contact skills and make those fractions-of-a-second decisions that are necessary when you are in the batter’s box.
Defensively, Clement has good range, but is likely best suited to second base because of his arm. His college experience around the field gives him the chance to be a utility player, but right now he is focusing on one game at a time and playing shortstop for the Hillcats, while teammate Luke Wakamatsu, the Opening Day shortstop, is on the disabled list.
When he is not on the field, he enjoys ping pong and fishing. Playing ping pong fuels his competitive spirit. He had to win a game in the clubhouse before he could be free to be interviewed by Did The Tribe Win Last Night.
“My dad and I always did a lot of fishing growing up,” he said. “In Virginia, there are a lot of cool rivers and streams to fly fish.”
Clement loves to fish the South River in the Old Dominion, and often did that with some of his college friends, including fellow Cavalier Daniel Lynch, who is now in the Royals system at Lexington of the South Atlantic League.
In the end, though, he comes back to baseball and working hard to become the best player possible.
“I just love playing baseball,” he said with authentic enthusiasm. “I’m really fortunate to have the opportunity and I never take a second for granted.”