Last year, we were hoping to simply make it to the postseason. In fact, if I would have told you preseason last year that the team would make it to the Supers and lose in three games and the fanbase would, by and large, be disappointed there is almost no chance you would have believed me. That's how much expectations changed in the course of the year.
This year, LSU brings back almost all of the key pieces from last season. Kevin Gausman will be eating powdered donuts in the Baltimore farm system, but he is about the only key loss from 2012. The team almost arrived a year early, but fell one game short in, frankly, a disappointing series against Stony Brook. Now, it's time to live up to the promise and play top tier baseball when that is expected of you. But the team actually got stronger by adding one of the best recruiting classes of Mainieri's tenure. The future, as they say, is now.
Today, we preview the infielders. An asterisk denotes a lefty.
Ty Ross (Jr.) 292/357/384
Chris Chinea (Fr.)
Michael Barash (Fr.)
The good news? Ross is third on the team in slugging percentage among returning starters. The bad news? A 384 slugging was fourth on the team last year. One of the recurring problems of last season was a distinct lack of power. The SEC average SLG was 390, so only having three starters over that threshold is, well, not good. You can now assume I've now informed you of how great he looks in practice and how with his large stature, he's surely going to add that power stroke this season. Yes, and I'm sure he's in the best shape of his life, too. Ross is great defensive players and he's got a cannon for an arm, so even if he never quite lives up to that power potential the scouts keep telling us he has, he's a massive asset. Well, that and he gets on base at a decent clip, too. Ross will be counted on to be a middle of the order hitter this season and his development is a huge key to this year. If Ross can take that next step, this is a team that will go to Omaha.
Mason Katz (Sr.) 320/414/552
*Tyler Moore (So.) 261/327/381
Mason Katz hit 13 home runs last season, which was good for third in the SEC. He then finished second in the college home run derby in the offseason. What I'm saying is, this guy can jack it. Rhymes got the hype, but Katz was LSU's most productive hitter last year, as he is the full package of power and patience. He even stole 8 bases.
Tyler Moore moves from backup catcher to the role he really played last year: super utility man. He started 31 games and made 47 appearances, usually coming into games as the team's best left-handed pinch hitter. Moore will find 150-200 at bats somehow, despite not having a position locked down right now. He's not a star, but he's the kind of serviceable player every good team needs, and he did come through in the clutch against Stony Brook. One of the few who did.
JaCoby Jones (Jr.) 253/308/363
Jared Foster (So.) 218/312/291
JaCoby Jones hit 338/395/467 en route to earning Freshmen All-American honors. Big things were expected of him in his sophomore year and he took a gigantic step backwards. About the only thing that didn't drop off was his steals, as he went from 12 to 11 thefts. On the positive side, Jones really came through as a team player, filling in as a centerfielder briefly in the aftermath of the injuries which gutted that position. He moves back to second this year, his comfortable home. Jones is projected as a potential first or second round pick, so I'm not too worried about him not bouncing back. Jones is another one of those key guys that needs to have a big year, but I'm more worried about Ross finally put it all together than Jones not living up to his draft potential hinted at by his freshman year.
Foster also has some good speed, which comes in handy as a pinch runner. Like most fast guys, he makes you think he's a potential top of the order hitter, which he is not. But used sparingly, he can be a pretty useful part.
Alex Bregman (Fr.)
Casey Yocom (Sr.) 211/357/246
I'm no scout, so I'm not going to pretend I have some great report on Bergman, but he hit .678 in high school. Look, I know it's just New Mexico high school ball, but .678?! Bregman has been tearing it up in fall practice and is already slotted in the lineup as the number three hitter. Almost every report on the kid is a rave, and he's been crushing the ball at every opportunity. He has a chance to be the next Mikie Mahtook, though we'll take the next Ryan Schrimpf.
Yocom is the failsafe. He's got a good glove and could be a late inning defensive replacement. Sure, he has very little power, but he can get on base at a good clip, the most important skill a hitter can have. However, if this team needs Yocom to be the regular shortstop, it means Bregman has flamed out and is probably in the bottom half of the conference. We don't need Bregman to be an All-American, but we do need him to be a productive player. That's a huge burden to put on a freshman, even one as talented as he.
Christian Ibarra (Jr.) JUCO transfer
Oh, third base, or as we like to call it, the Vortex of Suck. I don't know what it is, but take a player on the LSU roster and put him at third, and suddenly he forgets how to hit entirely. Hanover was the one guy who could avoid the vortex, even though Mainieri did find a way to keep calling for sacrifice bunts from one of his best on-base threats. This year's victim? Christian Ibarra, a JUCO transfer who posted a 469 OBP last year. He, like Hanover, is mainly here for his glove, but he should be able to get on base and keep laying down those bunts Mainieri loves so much.
If Ibarra doesn't work out, expect either Moore to find the hot corner as his home if we're having offensive struggles, or Yocom if the team is struggling defensively. Mainieri can go either way with this, but would rather stop the Vortex from claiming yet another victim.
Coming up: The outfielders. OR Did you realize we return all three starting outfielders from opening day last year, but we somehow start two new outfielders?