LSU’s 2017 baseball season ended just two victories shy of reaching the ultimate goal – the national championship.
The Tigers were swept in two games by Florida in the CWS championship series. Now, LSU coach Paul Mainieri faces a huge job of reloading for a run at the 2018 national title.
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
There are 18 newcomers on the roster when LSU begins fall practice Sunday. There are just eight major contributors returning from last year’s team – infielders Josh Smith, Jake Slaughter and Nick Coomes, outfielders Antoine Duplantis, Beau Jordan and Zach Watson and pitchers Zack Hess and Caleb Gilbert.
Eric Walker, who would have been the top returning starting pitcher, will miss the 2018 season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Coomes will miss fall practice as he recovers from a shoulder injury.
“It seems like every year is like this now,” Mainieri said. “In the fall of 2015, we had lost eight of nine everyday players. Every year we have so much turnover. We have so many players who have to learn the game.
“We always have two main goals in the fall. First, we want to teach them the way we want them to play. We try to put a lot of pressure on them. Second, we want to create competition and see how they stack up. We’ll won’t establish the roles for the players until spring.”
Without a doubt, the pitching staff must be rebuilt. Hess and Gilbert are the only two players who are assured of having a key role. Mainieri has not decided if Hess will be the Friday night starter or the closer. Gilbert, who threw well in the postseason, will be a weekend starter.
“We are not considering roles in the fall,” Mainieri said. “We want to see who can do the things to be successful at this level. Two returnees who have given us a glimpse of being top guys are Todd Peterson and Nick Bush.
“Freshmen who have stood out in bullpens are Devin Fontenot and Ma’Khail Hilliard. Fontenot looks like Matty Ott as a freshman. He throws a lot of strikes at the knees. Hilliard has a confident demeanor. He has a curve ball which has the makings of a great out pitch.”
Mainieri knows that Hess can be a lights-out reliever. He would love for Hess to be the Friday night starter. However, Hess has yet to show that he can pitch deep into games.
“Zack throws too many pitches,” Mainieri said. “He has not shown the ability to go at least seven innings. We are hoping Hess can be the Friday night starter. We need to find a couple of guys who can pitch at the end of the game.
“If we can find them, we would have more flexibility with Hess. We would have a greater opportunity to have Hess as a starter. The way I structure the staff is I want a No. 1 starter, a No. 2 starter, three guys in the bullpen who can pitch the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and then the No. 3 starter.”
Mainieri identified six players whom he believes will be everyday players – Smith, Watson, Duplantis, Beau Jordan, Bryce Jordan and Slaughter. Smith and Slaughter will line up at shortstop and third base, respectively, in the fall. Watson and Duplantis will handle centerfield and rightfield, respectively.
Beau Jordan is in the mix at leftfield, first base and designated hitter. Bryce Jordan, who missed last year with a knee injury, will work at first base and designated hitter. Freshmen Daniel Cabrera and Nick Webre will get time in the fall in leftfield and first base. Mason Templet is another first base candidate.
Junior college transfer Brandt Broussard is the top second baseman as fall practice begins. Rankin Woley and Chris Reid will divide time between second base and third base. Freshman Hal Hughes, who will be a shortstop during most fall scrimmages, will also be in the picture at second base.
Two newcomers are expected to divide the catching duties – junior college transfer Hunter Feduccia and freshman Mason Doolittle. This position brings Mainieri the most concerns outside of the pitching staff.
“Catcher is the No. 1 priority to make sure we get that position ready for the season,” Mainieri said. “I haven’t seen Feduccia enough to know how good a hitter he is. He does have a simple swing. Doolittle has a high ceiling.”
The strength of the Southeastern Conference was revealed in Collegiate Baseball’s recently-released recruiting rankings for the 2017 class. LSU was No. 5 in the country. However, the Tigers were No. 4 in the SEC – behind Vanderbilt, Florida and South Carolina.
“Every year is the same thing in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “You know what you sign up for in this league. Everybody has good players. This year will be no different than any other year.”
Here is LSU’s 2017 fall baseball roster.
Seniors: Nick Coomes
Juniors: Brandt Broussard, Bryce Jordan, Chris Reid
Sophomores: Jake Slaughter, Josh Smith, Mason Templet, Rankin Woley
Freshmen: Hal Hughes
Seniors: Beau Jordan
Juniors: Antoine Duplantis
Sophomores: Zach Watson
Freshmen: Daniel Cabrera, Nick Webre
Juniors: Hunter Feduccia
Freshmen: Mason Doolittle, Braden Doughty
Seniors: Austin Bain
Juniors: Caleb Gilbert, Clay Moffitt, Brandon Nowak, Taylor Petersen, Cameron Sanders
Sophomores: Matthew Beck, Nick Bush, Zack Hess, Todd Peterson, Will Reese, Eric Walker (injured)
Freshmen: Devin Fontenot, Ma’Khail Hilliard, John Kodros, AJ Labas, Matt Schroer, Nick Storz, Trent Vietmeier