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2002 First-Year Player Draft - Player Profile
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Baker shines at Clemson
By Matthew Leach
MLB.com

 PROFILE: JEFF BAKER
school position video
  Clemson   SS   56K | 300K
bt ht wt dob class
  R/R   6-2   210   06-21-81   SR
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Large frame, well-proportioned, strong all over. Look of Aaron Boone. Ferocious cuts on certain pitches. Upper deck, raw power. Good throws carry. No problems with glove or arm.
Jeff Baker has seen the best that amateur baseball has to offer. In the U.S. and abroad, with aluminum bats and with wood, Baker has been there. He's only got two places left to go in the game: the College World Series championship, then professional baseball.

With the team Clemson University is fielding this year, he's got a heck of a chance at the former. And with Baker's talent, odds are even better that he'll enjoy the latter. Baker, a 20-year-old junior third baseman, is considered by some to be the premier college position player available in this year's First-Year Player Draft.

He's played for USA Baseball, including the national team last year, and now he's playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference, which is absolutely stacked in 2002. There's not much left for him.

"When you come to Clemson you get to play in the ACC and it's awesome," Baker said. "We played Wake (Forest) and they were No. 3 in the country. We play Georgia Tech, another great team. Then our final series of the year is against Florida State. You can't really ask for much more, to play against better competition or help develop yourself as a college baseball player."

And it's within this context that Baker has made his mark. He's hitting .339 with a sparkling .450 on-base percentage and .693 slugging percentage. He's ripped 16 homers in just 163 at-bats, and has almost as many walks (27) as strikeouts (31). All for the consensus No. 1 team in the country, in the toughest conference in the country.

"I don't think we've ever had a year where there's as many great teams as we have this year," said Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. "I said it before we played Clemson and I'll say it now -- we're in fifth place, (but we) beat them two out of three. There's not a lot that separates one through five."

"I've never seen it stronger," said Florida State coach Mike Martin, whose team faces Clemson at Clemson to end the regular season.

Baker also has plenty of USA Baseball experience. He was a starter on the 2001 international team that went a sparkling 21-7-1 against top-flight competition. He hit just .237, but with plenty of walks (17 in 93 at-bats) and power (10 extra-base hits). And he learned about hitting with a wooden bat.

"It just elevates your game and your level of competition and the way you want to play," Baker said of his international experience. "Those are some of the best guys I've faced all year. It just helps you elevate. Even if you don't perform the way you want to, you're out there seeing it. It's been huge. The guys you're playing with and the coaches are top-notch."

That experience has helped turn Baker into not just a talented hitter, but a poised one.

"He's a perfect fit for a pro third baseman. He's got the power that can take him a long way, but he's also got a great mentality for the game of baseball. He doesn't get out of control when things don't go his way.

"That and the fact that he hit about a 400-foot home run against us." -- Mike Martin, Florida State coach

"Personally, I feel that he's going to be a very good pro because he's got a great stroke," Martin said. "He's a perfect fit for a pro third baseman. He's got the power that can take him a long way, but he's also got a great mentality for the game of baseball. He doesn't get out of control when things don't go his way.

"That and the fact that he hit about a 400-foot home run against us."

For now, Baker isn't thinking about pro baseball too much. He's not concerning himself with the business side of things, not worried about the pluses and minuses of being advised by Scott Boras' agency.

He's got a much more immediate concern, which is winning a national championship. The Tigers have never won it all in Omaha, despite a proud baseball tradition that includes Major League stars Kris Benson and Billy Koch.

"We know what we have," Baker said. "We know we've got a special group of guys that play hard and play well together. When you've been No. 1 in the country for a month, you start to get expectations that come along with it from not only yourself, but players outside the program, our fans and our coaches. Our goal every year is to get out to Omaha, but this year we'd really like to get to Omaha and make some noise out there. Not just go out there, play a couple games, be satisfied and come home."

Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com based in St. Louis. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. Any opinions referred to here are not necessarily those of Major League Baseball.