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LSU Baseball: A Look Ahead

In the tradition of obnoxious commentators the world over, when the home team wins a championship, it doesn't take long to start wondering whether we can win another.  Paul Mainieri seems to think we've got what it takes to contend again next year:

LSU expects to return at least 10 major contributors who were freshmen or sophomores on the 56-17 squad that won the Southeastern Conference regular-season and tournament titles and swept through its NCAA regional and super regional.

Among them are second baseman DJ LeMahieu, center fielder Mikie Mahtook, catcher Micah Gibbs, shortstop Austin Nola, No. 1 pitcher Anthony Ranaudo and closer Matty Ott.

"We’ve got a good core of kids coming back for next year’s team, and if we hold on to some key recruits who were drafted, I don’t see why we can’t have a very solid team," Mainieri said.

Nevermind for a second that the writer of the article seems to think DJ Lemahieu is likely to return.  He is probably the only observer who thinks that.  Moving along from that point, let's examine the question.  What will LSU return, and what will LSU lose?

We know that the following key players will be returning to the team, barring something thoroughly unexpected:

Mikie Mahtook
Leon Landry
Tyler Hanover
Austin Nola
Micah Gibbs
Anthony Ranaudo
Matty Ott
Austin Ross
Daniel Bradshaw
Paul Bertuccini

In addition, the following role players from this season will be returning:

Chris Matulis
Grant Dozar
Johnny Dishon
Randy Ziegler
Beau Didier
Jordan Nicholson
Ben Alsup

The following players were drafted and there are varying degrees of likelihood of them returning:

Jared Mitchell (see ya around)
DJ Lemahieu (we aren't getting our hopes up)
Ryan Schimpf (50-50 shot at best to return, but all depends)
Blake Dean (CW says he'll likely return)
Sean Ochinko (CW says he'll likely leave)

We lose the following contributors, who have used up their eligibility:

Louis Coleman
Derek Helenihi
Nolan Cain
Ryan Byrd
Buzzy Haydel
Nick Pontiff
Chris McGee

In addition, we can't rely on Chad Jones to return, as we do not know where his football career will take him in 2010.

That's a pretty good core of players returning.  We have a bona fide #1 pitcher, a shutdown closer, a little power hitting with Gibbs, Landry, and Mahtook, experienced infielders in Hanover and Nola, two more starters with the potential to be weekend starters in Ross and Bradshaw, and at least one good short reliever. 

That's a good starting point.  One has to expect that Nola's offensive is going to improve, and that Mahtook will grow more studly in the next 6 months.  Hanover will likely smooth some of his rougher edges, and Gibbs will continue just being Gibbs.

We would like to add more reliable power hitting to that lineup, and that is where a guy like Blake Dean and/or Ryan Schimpf can come in very handy should either or both decide to return. One or more of the little-used young players who waited their turn this year could be the next good power hitter.  Beau Didier needed season-ending surgery but was given one at-bat.  He his a home run.  I don't know much about Didier, but I would say that's a very promising start.

We would like to add one consistently good weekend starter to replace Louis Coleman, easily the most important player we are losing.  Daniel Bradshaw might emerge as that guy.  We may find that guy among the new recruiting class is Brody Colvin and/or Zach Von Rosenberg.  Or, a guy like Randy Ziegler or Chris Matulis could develop.  Matty Ott could be moved into that role if someone emerges to take the closer spot.  It would also sure be nice if Austin Ross would give us the good outings we sometimes see from him a little more consistently.  Another year of experience could do that for him.

My opinion is that if all the drafted players leave, it would be too much to hope that all those pieces could be so easily replaced.  Getting Dean back would be a great start.  Getting Schimpf back along with him would make us a threat to beat anyone.

The big key will be compensating for the loss of Louis Coleman.  Surely no one person will emerge who will give us  next year what Coleman gave us this year.  Instead, we will have to see several pitchers improve their games enough that they collectively improve our team enough to overcome that loss.  In addition, someone will have to emerge as a go-to starter, even if he isn't quite Coleman-esque.  This tournament has shown us what two good starting pitchers will do to opponents (having a guy like Coleman pitch against Minnesota whentheir staff was burned was a huge advantage).  Only Texas was able to match what we had in that department.

Chad Jones is also an X-factor, as he may or may not return, but if he does he could be the starting right fielder, the designated hitter, a short relief specialist, or even the closer.  Or he could be preparing for the NFL draft in March instead of preparing for a baseball season.

If the pieces fall into place, the 2010 version of the LSU baseball Tigers can be incredible, but there's a lot of details hidden by that "if".  We'll get our first indication of where the 2010 season is heading on August 15, the deadline for MLB teams to sign their draftees.  Last year's August 15 was huge for LSU as it was the day we found out we would get Louis Coleman back.  It was the day that set the stage for June 24, 2009.