Crystal Logiudice-US PRESSWIRE
Part two of this season's preview.
Yesterday, we looked at the infield, but now we turn to the outfield. All three starters from last year's opening day outfield return, but two of them are now infielders. Katz has moved to first base and Jones from center to second base. Despite returning all three starters, we are looking for two new starters in the outfield as Mainieri re-allocated his resources.
*Mark Laird (Fr.)
*Andrew Stevenson (Fr.)
*Sean McMullen (Jr.) JUCO transfer
One of these newcomers is going to be the starting right fielder. Well, unless Mainieri gets crazy and puts Alex Edward out there as a righty bat to matchup against a lefty starter, but usually, it will be one of these guys. In fall ball, Mark Laird got the majority of the starts, but it's not out of the question for one of the other two guys to steal the job away in the first month. I do expect each of these guys to get an early look. Mainieri likes to ride his starters pretty hard, but even last year, he played around with his two open spots in the order, using six guys for two slots, until he found his starters. I expect the same this year.
Laird is the front runner and was the Louisiana Class A Player of the Year last year. He has plus speed and hopefully, some gap power. If everything goes right, he could be a top of the order table setter who can wreak havoc on the basepaths. If everything goes wrong, he could be an anemic bat who spends most of his time as a pinch runner. Stevenson is pretty much the same player, only with less hype coming into the season. McMullen is a JUCO transfer who isn't quite as fast, but has more of a power stroke. He should get his chance to make an impression in February.
*Chris Sciambra (So.) 246/324/311
On March 25, Sciambra ran into the centerfield wall at Auburn. While I admire his hustle, he fractured his neck vertebrae and missed the rest of the year. This means, quite literally, he plays at a breakneck pace. Sciambra is likely our leadoff hitter because he is fast. Hopefully, he displays more on base skills than he did last year to go with that speed. But putting a guy at the top of the order because he's fast despite the fact he makes a ton of outs is a very Mainieri thing to do. It's like I can see the stress headache this is going to give me all year in advance.
Raph Rhymes (Sr.) 431/489/530
Alex Edward (Sr.) 243/309/284
Rhymes hit .431 last year and even briefly flirted with .500. He was a first team All American and easily one of the nation's most productive hitters, and then he was only a 30th round draft pick. Let's thank scouts for looking at tools instead of skills and production! We can thank Rhymes' flaws as the only reason he is back for his senior year. OK, he's not the best defender in the world nor a speedster, nor does he have great power, but that's looking a gift horse in the mouth. Rhymes is a fabulous hitter who probably won't hit 431 again, but will still be a force in the lineup. I'd argue that Katz was the better overall hitter last year, but Rhymes is still one of the nation's best players. He can just flat out hit. Alex Edward is a guy who has never quite lived up to his promise, but he's now the only right handed bat in the outfield other than Rhymes.
Putting it all together, we will likely see a lineup that looks something like this:
EDIT: Mainieri had a meeting with the press on Monday and confirmed most of Poseur's suspicions, except his lineup guess was a bit off. The bottom 3rd of the order will be
DH Edward/Moore (mostly dependent on if there is a need for another lefty or righty)
Mainieri has already said he wants to have Bregman/Rhymes/Katz be the 3-5 hitters in the order. He's also addicted to having a speed guy at the top of the order, so it seems likely Sciambra will fit that bill. He also will get every chance to succeed, as the only true centerfielder on the roster. We could repeat the JaCoby Jones Experiment, though.
Also, Mainieri likes to go lefty-righty if he can. He's already committed to three righties in the middle of the order, so he might want to space his lefties out. This could push Laird, or whoever wins the right field job, to the bottom half of the order gives him the ability to at least create difficult bullpen matchups for our opponents in the 6-9 slots. This also means he will likely try to make Moore the DH, so he can have a third lefty bat in the lineup. Against lefties, maybe Yocom or Edward can crack the lineup.
Of course, Mainieri likes to tinker in the early part of the season, so the lineup on March 1st will likely be fairly different from the one on June 1st. But once he finds the combo he likes, he tends to stick with it all year. But I really do think Laird, who is penciled in as the #2 hitter right now, will end up in the bottom half of the order unless he tears the cover off the ball. Two freshman batting 2-3 kind of terrifies me.
It's a pretty good lineup if everyone lives up to expectations. There's some good power, some guys in the back of the order who can get on base and not kill rallies, and speed throughout. I expect Rhymes to fall back to earth a bit, but Jones should get back to his freshman levels and I don't think expecting improvement from Ross to be out of line. But we do need Bregman to produce right away. If any of the other newcomers struggle, there are plenty of options. It's still a top heavy lineup, but hopefully, the 6-9 hitters won't be the anchor dragging down the lineup they have been the last two or three seasons.
Tomorrow, the pitchers OR Chris Cotton can't start, close, and be the setup guy, can he?