Despite LSU's rep as a power hitting, bludgeon you until you cry kind of team, the strength of the team in recent years has been the pitching staff. The Tigers have sent multiple pitchers to the Majors as high draft picks, most recently Aaron Nola. This year, the MLB prospects are a long way away from the draft.
LHP Jared Poche' (So.) 9-3, 2.45 ERA, 91.2 IP, 52/26 K/BB
RHP Jake Godfrey (Fr.)
RHP Alex Lange (Fr.)
LHP Jake Latz (Fr.)
LHP Kyle Bouman (Sr.) 5-2, 2.12 ERA, 63.2 IP, 32/16 K/BB
We finally enter the post-Nola era with a bunch of exciting young arms with tantalizingly great talent, and two upperclassmen anchors who don't wow you with your stuff but have been effective. This is the first time in a long time LSU will be without an obvious Friday ace, and it is incumbent on one of the highly touted freshmen to grow into one. No pressure, guys.
Jake Latz is already behind the eight ball with some arm troubles. Right now, they say he's only going to be out a few weeks, but we've heard this story before. I doubt he pitches this year, considering he was already nursing injuries in the fall. That gives Godfrey and Lange slots in the rotation. Eventually, one will end up as our Friday starter while the other might have to deal with being the midweek starter, but both are huge talents who can bring the heat. I'm excited by both of these guys, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if both are in the weekend rotation by March.
Jared Poche' flourished as a Saturday starter last year, and while he'll start the season on the hill, I don't think anyone thinks he is going to become a dominant ace. He lacks a real power pitch, and he relies heavily on his changeup as his out pitch. He can strike guys out, but he's not going to mow through the order. He is reliant on the defense to get outs for him which, given LSU's defense, is a pretty good strategy.
This bring us to Kyle Bouman, the forgotten man of the LSU rotation. He's already been mentally written of the rotation by most analysts and for good reason: if these freshmen arms are as good as hyped, then he's going to get squeezed out by their talent. Someone has to make way for the new guys. Besides, he's a finesse pitcher who has been heaped with faint praise: he's a veteran innings-eater who pitches to contact.
Ugh. Why not just say he's a coach on the field, so we can get blue-collar bingo?
But look at those numbers again. He had a better ERA than Poche' and his peripheral numbers are nearly the same, given that he pitched less innings. Bouman lost his spot in the rotation last year midseason after getting roughed up a few times, but by season's end, there he was, getting guys out every Sunday. I think that's how this season will go. The freshmen will be given every opportunity to displace him, but by the time we hit the postseason, Bouman will be taking the ball as our third starter and quietly getting guys out. So much of what we think of as pitching is actually defense. Bouman won't overwhelm you, but if he keeps the ball in the park, he will let LSU's outstanding defense make outs for him. He's the perfect pitcher for this team. Don't walk people, don't give up home runs, and let the defense do its work.
Russell Reynolds (So.)
Jesse Stallings (Fr.)
Doug Norman (Fr.)
Reynolds missed last season due to labrum surgery and he missed fall ball due to falling out of a pickup truck, which has to be one of the more SEC-appropriate injuries. Reynolds throws three effective pitches and can hit the low 90s with his fastball, making him a solid contender for the closer gig. Stallings also missed his last season, his senior high school year, with an injury, but he's also reaching the low to mid 90s on the gun. Mainieri has named him the leading contender for the job, but I think he's keeping it warm for Reynolds, if he can show he's healthy. The other contender is the other hyped freshman, Doug Norman. He doesn't throw it as hard as his fellow freshmen, but apparently he has a deceptive delivery and a mature mental makeup. He might get the job or one even better, the relief ace role. As much as it is nice to have a closer, Mainieri also likes having a Swiss Army knife in his pen that he can bring out in any situation to shutdown potential rallies.
Zac Person (Sr.) 3-1, 2.57 ERA, 28 IP, 31 G, 29/12 K/BB
Hunter Devall (Jr.) 1-0, 3.10 ERA, 20.1 IP, 18 G, 16/8 K/BB
Person and Devall both rely heavily on their curveball, which is what you want with guys on base. I joke, but then again, they only had 1 wild pitch between them and runners only went 2 for 4 stealing against them. So don't mind my snark. Both are reliable lefty arms, which you can never have too many of in your pen.
Alden Cartwright (So.) 1-1, 2.41 ERA, 33.2 IP, 21 G, 25/13 K/BB
Parker Bugg (So.) 2-2, 2.75 ERA, 36 IP, 26 G, 29/5 K/BB
Brady Domangue (Sr.) 2-0, 5.59 ERA, 19.1 IP, 19 G, 11/12 K/BB
Collin Strall (So.)
Hunter Newman (So.)
Ryan May (Fr.)
Bugg is a legit relief ace. His K/BB ratio is great, he can pitch multiple innings, and he can get you out of whatever jam you're in. He's the most reliable arm in the pen, and we'll likely see a lot of him in just about every situation you can imagine.
Outside of Bugg, it's a lot of question marks. Newman is coming back from injury, but he did have some great flashes as freshman. If he can reclaim that form, LSU is absolutely set. Cartwright has never found a role for himself, and he's the standard starter for Johnny Allstaff, earning 7 starts last year. If Domangue is in the game, it's almost certain the game is completely out of hand. There's depth here, and the potential for something great if we can get Newman up and running to go with Bugg and the closer contenders, but right now, so much of it is unproven.
The lack of an ace will hurt LSU at some point this season, though there is a chance one of the freshmen seizes the opportunity and takes on that role. That's the difference for this team going to Omaha or staying home. We absolutely need one of the freshman four to become a star right away.
However, there's still a lot of proven arms on this team. I'm higher on Bouman than most, and Poche' is an effective Saturday starter. There is some depth in the pen even as the team will spend the early part of the year figuring out its closer. The team's strength is not its pitching, but it is not a negative either. This is a staff that can keep the lights on, and rely on the truly stellar defense behind it. That can cover a lot of holes. Expect a lot of low ERA's because of it.