Jun 7, 2013; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers pitcher Aaron Nola (10) pitches in the fourth inning against the Oklahoma Sooners during the Baton Rouge super regional of the 2013 NCAA baseball tournament at Alex Box Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Sports

LSU Tigers 2014 baseball season preview

LSU Tigers 2014 baseball season preview

The LSU Tiger’s baseball team is ranked No. 2 in USA Today’s preseason poll which was released today. The rankings is the highest LSU has been since the 2010 preseason poll when they were also the No. 2 team in the poll.

“Rankings,” head coach Paul Mainieri said, “a lot of coaches play them down. I’m not one of those coaches. I think rankings are cool. It creates excitement. Gets people talking.”

The other three polls released haven’t been quite as kind as the USA Today poll as LSU is No. 9 in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25, released Monday, No. 12 in Perfect Game’s preseason poll and are No. 3 according to Collegiate Baseball.

LSU has a number of key performers Mainieri’s club needs to replace from last year’s College World Series team, including catcher Ty Ross, 1B Mason Katz, 2B Jacoby Jones, left fielder Raph Rhymes and No. 2 pitcher Ryan Eades who went 8-1 last year.

That doesn’t even include the loss of closer Chris Cotton who led the SEC with 16 saves a year ago and posted a 1.16 earned run average in 46.2 innings and five others who provided support and depth to the staff and bullpen.

Alex Bregman returns as a preseason All-American after hitting .369 with 31 extra-base hits and a .546 slugging percentage. He will be the team’s leader offensively in a lineup that also sees Christian Ibarra back at third base and Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird returning to their spots at center and right field. Sean McMullen looks like the team’s designated hitter/left fielder.

Aaron Nola once again leads the LSU pitching staff and is a preseason All-American like Bregman and looks to build on his 12-1 campaign in 2013 when he recorded a 1.57 ERA with 122 strikeouts in 126 innings to only 18 walks.

Cody Glenn will look to fill Eades’ shoes as the team’s No. 2 starter and needs to be more consistent after a 7-3 season a year ago. He showed a lot of potential last year, but would often slip up and failed to built on his great performances in 2013. More consistency this year should lock him in for a weekend spot in the rotation.

The middle relief will sort itself out over the next couple weeks before the season starts and into the first few weeks of the season after losing four relievers form last year’s club. One guy to keep an eye on to replace Cotton as the closer is Brady Domanque who transfers form LSU-Eunice after setting strikeout and ERA records en route to winning another  Junior College championship.

Bottom Line:There are a number of players who need to take their game to the next level and make up for the loss of the production in both the lineup and the rotation and bullpen. There is, as usual, a ton of talent on the LSU roster but depending on how quickly the younger players develop alongside future pros like Nola and Bregman will ultimately determine if LSU can win the consistently tough SEC and make it back to Omaha.

“I don’t really know how you can increase the pressure at LSU. I don’t think you can increase the expectations here,” Mainieri said. “Every year, the expectations are the same: Omaha or bust. And if you get to Omaha, you want to win the national championship.”

The season starts on Feb. 14 vs. University of New Orleans.

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Tags: Aaron Nola Alex Bregman Baseball LSU Tigers Paul Manieri

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