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LSU Baseball Preview extravaganza


A great video to start the season…

In the last 48-hours, the temperature in Baton Rouge has risen from 40 degrees to the low 80s. As I write this now them temperature is a perfect 82 degrees with no humidity. I don’t care what that fat groundhog says up north, spring is here. Why? Because LSU baseball is back.

LSU finished last year with a 36-20 record. Not a bad season when you leave the record at that, but their SEC record was only 13-17. The Tigers only won four of their ten SEC series and in the six series losses, they were swept three times. Because of their late season struggles, LSU failed to reach any post-season play.

The Tigers struggled all year, both hitting and pitching. LSU finished the year third in the SEC in hitting with a .303 batting average and finished in the top half of all major SEC categories. What hurt the Tigers all season was their inability to extend plays. College baseball has changed in the last few years, with new bat technology shrinking the size of the sweet spots; home runs and extra base hits are at a all time premium. The goal is to extend singles into doubles and doubles into triples. LSU was able to get runners on, but too often failed to score meaningful runs. Coach Paul Maineri even stated that the team stood around and waited for All-American Mikie Mahtook to make the big hit during SEC play.

Mahtook was without question the team’s best player last year and was rewarded for his play by being drafted in the first round (Tampa Bay) of the MLB draft. Mahtook led the team in batting average (.383), hits (75), runs (61), home runs (14), RBIs (56), total bases (139) and stolen bases (29). Trying to replace Mahtook’s production alone would be insane, it is going to take a group a guys to do that. LSU might the have guys for the job. Jacoby Jones, Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz are the leading Tiger hitter from last year. Jones, who will move from second base to center field, was a freshman All-American last year. He batted .338, hit four homers and drove in 32 runs. His struggles came from his lack of judgment on pitches. Jones struck out 37 times (second on team) and only walked 12 times. His plate discipline needs to improve to say the least. Rhymes (DH) was the second leading hitter on the team last season. With a .360 batting average, Rhymes hit four homer and drove in 42 runs. Katz (OF) shows the most promise to fill the void in the middle of the line-up. Last year, Katz batted .337 with four homers and 53 RBIs. He led the team in doubles (21), but like Jones, Katz needs to improve on his plate discipline. Last season he struck out 34 times and only walked nine times.

Those three will be surrounded with a line up full of leadership and talent. Tyler Hanover (.311, 25 RBIs, 32 walks) and Austin Nola (.296, 2 homers, 42 RBIs, 13 errors) will make up the left side of the infield. Grant Dozar (.250, 2 homers, 9 RBIs) and Alex Edwards (.279, 2 homers, 27 RBIs) will compete with freshman Tyler Moore for playing position at first base. Jackson Slaid had a great fall season and Maineri expect him to start in the outfield along side Jones and Katz. Newcomer Casey Yocom will start the season at second base. Yocom played last year at Feather River CC (I looked it up, that is a real college) and batter .354 with 25 RBIs and 10 steals. The new players in the lineups can’t be afraid and shy away from the moment. LSU doesn’t recruit players to win games, they recruit to win championships.

Moving away from the lineup, let’s take a minute to look at pitching. LSU finished last year ranked in the bottom half of the SEC in pitching. They finished sixth in ERA (4.43), last in saves (9), ninth in strikeouts (396), and sixth in batting average (.396).  The problem wasn’t with LSU’s aces, instead it was with their bullpen. Kurt McCune and pre-season All-American Kevin Gauseman look to improve from their freshman season. McCune finished his freshman year with a team best 7-3 record, 3.31 ERA and 68 strikeouts to only 25 walks. Gauseman tallied a 6-5 record with a 3.51 ERA and 86 strikeouts of only 23 walks. Gauseman is the most talented arm on the team, but at times his fastball touches too much of the plate. As last year proved, these two are great, but not enough to win again the great SEC programs. Who else does LSU have?

The Tigers had to replace their third weekend starter Ben Alsup late in the year. Alsup is now gone, and it looks as though Ryan Eades will have the first crack at the weekend rotation. Eades finished the season with a 4-1 record and a 4.84 ERA. Reports are that he played great in his summer league, but remember that is what they said about Matty Ott the last two off seasons. Speaking of Ott, He is no longer on the team. He can now try to develop a second pitch in the minor leagues. LSU can finally install a new back-half of the bullpen. Potential candidates to replace Ott is Nick Rumbelow and Aaron Nola. Rumbelow only made 10 appearances last year. Recorded a 2-0 record, but in 13 innings pitches, he only struck out 16 and walked 11. Nola is a true freshman with a ton of talent. It is still unclear if Maineri will use Nola as a starter or in a setup/closer roll.

As much as we like to discuss who should be the weekend starters or closer, it’s the pitchers in the middle that usually win or lose the game. LSU has plenty of depth and experience in the bullpen, but are they any good? Kevin Berry (3-1, 3.14 ERA, 16 strikeouts, 8 walks) logged the most innings of all returning bullpen pitchers, so there is that info, but the rest of them are largely unknown. Michael Reed, Joe Broussard, Joey Bourgeois (out last year with Tommy John surgery), and freshman Cody Glenn should get most of the innings to help bridge the starter to closer gap. The good news is LSU has over a month of push-over teams to get their starter and bullpen in order before SEC play starts.