Welcome to the ATVS LSU baseball preview. We'll start things off by previewing the infield. As a reminder from last year's preview, listed next to each player is last season's "slash stats", AVG/OBP/SLG. This gives us a good, well-rounded look at each player. I also list their handedness (bats/throws) and class.
If we learned anything from last season, Mainieri will not hesitate to use the first months of the season to mix and match the lineup. If he was willing to move upperclassmen who were also big-time producers like Schimpf and LeMaheiu around the diamond, he's certainly not going to shy away from moving around a bunch of freshmen and not yet established players. By the end of last season, four freshmen were in the regular lineup, so don't think he will hesitate to play the hot hand. It's a long way of saying that today's starters are not going to be the starters in May and June.
S/R Micah Gibbs (Jr) 294/403/454
R/R Wes Luquette (Fr)
L/R Beau Didier (RSFr)
R/R Matt Fury (RSFr)
Both Didier and Luquette have had Tommy John surgery on their throwing arm, so it will be interesting to see which player can contribute in a backup role. Catcher goes from an absurd position of strength to merely a position of strength. I'm a huge fan of Gibbs, and feel that his power never really came around last season. I expect a bit of a power breakout. He's not going to become the second coming of Matt Clark, but he could be good for double digit home runs this year.
Grant Dozar will be the primary backup in his role as the super-utility player, but I'd really like to see one of the freshman step up, as it really isn't Dozar's natural position. Playing out of position at catcher is pretty dangerous, and Gibbs is a real virtue behind the plate. He plays good defense and he threw out 22 of 70 attempted base stealers, a good 31.4% clip. Gibbs is one of our most irreplaceable players.
L/L Blake Dean (Sr) 328/432/595
R/R Kyle Koeneman (Jr)385/526/888 (JUCO)
R/R Matt Gaudet (Sr) 270/352/444 (2008)
Blake Dean is awesome. He returned for his senior year, so as a reward, he gets a position. Mainieri has sort of, kind of, not really promised that Dean will play first all season to help him improve his draft stock. That's a great concept, but we didn't sign a JUCO star like Koeneman to ride the bench. We know Gaudet can hit, but there's only two lineup spots to split between these three, and it is not like Dean is going to be a part time player. It almost might be there is too much talent here. And this is not even counting Grant Dozar, the only guy on the roster who has actually started a game at first base for LSU. There's just a glut of talent here, so expect some serious roster shakeups to create places for these guys to play. This is a long way of saying that I'm not sure how Mainieri keeps Dean exclusively at first base all year.
L/R Wet Delatte (RSFr)
L/R Grant Dozar (So) 265/395/441
Mainieri showed no hesitation in using freshmen last year, but it's an entirely different thing to hand a freshman the starting job going into the season. The Wet Delatte experiment doesn't work, it will be interesting to see how the lineup shakes out. Can Koeneman play third? Do we shift Hanover back from second base? Does Grant Dozar get a shot, and we pray he improves dramatically? Or does Beau Didier shift from behind the plate? It's a whole lot of questions which only need answers if Delatte does not pan out. It's one thing to want a freshman to do well, but to rely on it? That's pretty scary.
R/R Tyler Hanover (So) 321/357/455
R/R Austin Nola (So) 240/350/364
Once again, Didier and Dozar are the primary backups.
Let's not mince words, Nola was terrible at the plate last year. He's a very good defensive player, but even the second coming of Ozzie Smith needs to hit more than 240 in college. This isn't the 1960's National League, the NCAA is a high run environment, and you cannot afford players who cannot contribute anything at the plate. That said, Nola showed great improvement as the season wore on and he should bring his averages up. Nola as even a 270/370/400 hitter would be tremendously valuable, given his top notch defense. If that improvement doesn't come at the plate, there's no viable safety net. I think that little bit of improvement is not asking too much.
Tyler Hanover had a terrific freshman campaign that only seemed disappointing when compared to the other stellar freshmen on the team. However, he does need to add a little bit more power, as he only had 16 extra base hits last year. By comparison, Schimpf has 19 doubles and 22 homers last season.
Depth is a real concern. Look, this team is not nearly as loaded in the infield as it was last season, but it can still end up being a great unit. If everything works out, Dean and Gibbs will once again anchor the middle of the order, Gaudet and Koeneman could be a scary good platoon, and the other three infielders will be solid producers at the plate with Nola being a "Gold Glover" in the field. But we're a middle infield injury or Delatte slow start away from relying on Dozar or Didier to produce in over 100 at bats. And that's a scary prospect.