Today, we turn our attention to the infield. It's a solid defensive unit that can also hit a ton. LSU has to replace the senior leadership of Hollander, though his production won't be that hard to match. Replacing Clark will be a huge task, and will probably require more than one player to improve. However, this is a veteran unit that all perfromed great last season, so it is certainly possible this year's infield will be even better than the last year's.
Matt Gaudet, Sr., 63 AB, 270/352/444
Gaudet is going to split time with Ochinko, only it won't be a platoon since both hit righty. He was a bit of a disappointment last year, as he came in as a highly touted JUCO transfer who could simply bomb. Only back problems held him back all year. If he's fully healthy this year, he could see a dramatic improvement in his numbers, which would replace Clark's production in the middle of the order. Hey, we're not asking for much, Matt. Just replicate one of the best seasons at LSU in the past decade. So that's asking for too much, but Gaudet should see his numbers improve to the 300/375/500 territory, which would be terrific. I actually am expecting a huge year from him.
Ryan Schimpf, Jr., 250 AB, 320/416/592
It's not much of a reach to call Schimpf our most valuable infielder. LSU will trot out an all-SEC candidate at pretty much every position, but Schimpf is probably the most well-rounded player on the team. On top of those pretty impressive hitting numbers, he belted 12 homers and stole 16 bases. He's a terrific defender and he's our only starting infielder who bats lefty. He also has been moved all over the lineup without complaint. He probably should hit #2 in the order, but Mainieiri has used him as the guy in the back of the order to spark rallies.
Derek Helenihi, Sr., 241 AB, 295/355/407
Helenihi was asked to play a little of everywhere last season and was essentially a starter. He was primarily an outfielder, starting 41 games in right, which was sort of mystifying since he's a terrific defensive player without the bat to justify playing outfield. Now he's got a settled defensive position where he'll be able to flash the leather all season. Hollander's defense was, shall we say, grossly overrated, so I think this will be a huge improvement in the field even if Helenihi's not going to be a monster at the plate. He'll hit just well enough to justify his defensive contributions.
DJ LeMaheiu, So. , 258 AB, 337/386/457
22 errors. Look, LaMaheiu can hit. There's no question about that. He can steal bases (10 on 11 attempts). He can hit for power and he's even a good bunter. But he committed 22 errors last year. There comes a point at which his defensive play becomes unacceptable. Any dip in his hitting and there's a tough decision regarding whether moving him due to his glove. Of course, we don't exactly have another option other than moving Helenihi over or promoting Buzzy Haydel or one of the freshmen. So he really needs to improve the defense. It really could be the key to the season. The good news is that a lot of his errors were due to simply getting to a lot of balls and he's surrounded by two terrific defensive players in Schimpf and Helenihi. But wow, he really can hit. Imagine what he will do as a sophomore.
Buzzy Haydel, Sr., 16 AB, 375/476/688
Chris McGhee, Sr., 29 AB, 310/487/414
Grant Dozar, Fr. - 2008 Louisiana All Star
Wet Delatte, Fr. - 2008 Louisiana All State
Tyler Hanover, Fr. - 2008 All American
Beau Didier, Fr. - Top 200 prospect
Austin Nola, Fr. - Louisiana Player of the Year
Speaking of defense, Nola is supposed to be a terrific defensive shortstop, so he might see playing time. I hate projecting freshmen since I don't follow baseball recruiting that closely, so let's just say there is a lot of question marks sitting on the bench. Mainieiri will probably get them in the mix early to see who can contribute this season and beyond as most of our infield is probably gone at the end of the season.
But there are two useful seniors sitting on the bench who can contribute. McGhee is a speedster who turned the always neat trick of a higher OBP than slugging. He also stole 5 bases in 5 attempts. McGhee is a terrific player to have off the bench. Haydel is a mystery, really. In very limited action, he tore the cover off the ball. Small sample size warning and all, but if that's any indication of what he can do, he should have a larger role this season spotting the starters. He's demonstrated he can play any infield position, another useful skill to have. It's a good bench for a team looking to make a title run as pretty much everyone knows their role. But LSU is vulnerable to an injury. I'm not confident anyone on the bench could step in and take over a starting role. If that's the first criticism, then you know it's a pretty damn good unit.