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2015 Baseball Preview: The Hitters

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A second opinion

Last year of this guy
Last year of this guy
Dave Weaver-USA Today Sports

Remember last year's offense? Yeah, that's pretty much this year's offense. Most of the gang retruns, with the only real questions being who will replace the pop McMullan provided and who will replace the defense Ibarra provided? Other than that, the gang is all here, only with some help from an outstanding recruiting class.

CATCHER

Kade Scivicque (Sr.) 304/377/467

Chris Chinea (Jr.) 250/310/395

Michael Papierski (Fr.)

Scivicique is the team's best pure power hitter, and his spot in the middle of the lineup is secure. The Law of Catcher Defense states that a catcher's defensive reputation is inversely proportional to his batting average, and Scivicque lives up to the axiom. It's not that his defense is bad, mind you, just that you will hear a lot about what a defensive liability he is because surely a guy who can hit like that can't play defense. He had one error all last season, and opposing baserunners went 15 for 23 against him, just about equal to Chinea's 16 for 26. He did have three passed balls and a pickoff. I'm not saying he's Johnny Bench, but his poor defensive reputation is completely unearned.

But, because a great hitter can't be a good defensive catcher, Chinea will get his share of reps behind the plate. This will force Scivicque to either play the field or be the DH. I'm not against getting plenty of rest for your catcher, particularly in the heat of south, but Chinea is a solid hitter and a good glove so it's not like the team will fall apart with him in the game.

The more interesting question is what will happen with Papierski. Papierski was a high selection in the draft, and he's another gem in the sterling class of freshmen. Mainieri is going to want to get him onto the field, even if it is only as a backup, because the job will likely be his next season. This gives LSU the enviable problem of having too many capable backstops, and a current starter whose bat cannot be taken out of the order. A position switch, at the very least on a part time basis, is in the cards for Scivicque.

1ST BASE

Conner Hale (Sr.) 306/397/455

Kade Scivicque (Sr.) 304/377/467

Bryce Jordan (Fr.)

Hale can't draw a walk to save his life, but he doesn't strike out and puts tons of balls in play. That's the Raph Rhymes method of hitting 300: volume. As long as the ball is falling, that works out great for him. But if his hit luck goes down and he starts hitting it where they are instead of where they ain't, that average could take a tumble. However, he's a reliable senior leader and he's a well-rounded player who does a little bit of everything.

It's likely he could lose some playing time to either Scivicque getting pushed out behind the plate. Or Hale might be forced into emergency duty over at second base if Kramer Robertson hits 200 again. Hale's an incredibly useful player to have: he can do just about anything and play virtually any position. Whatever he is asked to do, he can do it. He's not a star player, but he's going to end up with tons of playing time just due to his versatility and the fact he puts the ball in play.

2ND BASE

Kramer Robertson (So.) 200/339/290

Conner Hale (Sr.) 306/397/455

Greg Deichmann (Fr.)

Robertson is a shortstop playing second base due to an All-American having that position on lockdown. He is a terrific defensive player, and the strength of LSU's team is its defense first and foremost. Mainieri wants to do anything to keep him on the field because he turns batted balls into outs. The problem is he does the same thing when he's at the plate. This lineup can't carry a 200 hitter, not with this many talented players fighting for playing time. He doesn't need to become Todd Walker at the plate, but he does need to get his rate stats up to merely "below average" instead of "absolutely terrible". His glove is too valuable to keep him on the bench, but his presence in the lineup gives Mainieri to bunt more often.

Deichmann was the Louisiana High School Player of the Year and a legit pro prospect. He talked down his draft stock by making it clear he wanted to be a Tiger. That's all well and good, but guys like this don't do that without some assurances of playing time. Mainieri has got to give this kid a chance to play, and his talent might force the coach's hand, but he's also nursing an injury right now. He's going to lose that chance to make an impression, and if Robertson struggles, I think Mainieri will go the veteran route first.

3RD BASE

Danny Zardon (So.) 268/339/357

Conner Hale (Sr.) 306/397/455

Grayson Byrd (Fr.)

Greg Deichmann (Fr.)

Oh, the Vortex of Suck returns. The Vortex has haunted LSU for years, as it turns ordinarily decent players into bad ones seemingly without reason or warning. I think the third base bag is filled with kryptonite or something. Christian Ibarra was largely impervious to the Vortex, though he did only hit 238/383/331. The biggest thing was the spectacular defense he provided, so Ibarra was still a vital contributor regardless. If you can field the position, especially in the bunt-happy college game, you can play. If you can play it like Ibarra, you play a lot. Now, it's up to Zardon to ward off the evil spirits at the hot corner.

If Zardon struggles with the glove or at the plate, which doesn't seem all that unlikely given our history at failing to find a third baseman, two freshmen might get a shot to show their stuff. There's the aforementioned Deichmann, and also Grayson Byrd, son of Tiger great Paul Byrd (and boy, does that make me feel old). Byrd is a shortstop commit and likely the shortstop of the future, but let's be honest, barring injury there's no real chance to get playing time there. If he wants to see the field this season, it will be to flash the leather at third base. I don't think there's much chance Mainieri will sacrifice defense for offense at this position, nor should he. Third base defense is vital, which means that the most likely scenario is that he sends the senior Hale over there, but what fun is speculating about veteran moves? Freshmen are more fun to project your hopes onto.

SHORTSTOP

Alex Bregman (Jr.) 316/397/455

Grayson Byrd (Fr.)

Bregman is awesome. I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. He's an All-American who can do it all: he hits for average and power, he has great speed, and he plays plus defense. We're going to miss him when he's gone, and I don't much like to think about it. It's nice to have an All-American to pencil into the middle of the lineup every night.

OUTFIELD

LF Jake Fraley (So.) 372/419/521

CF Andrew Stevenson (Jr.) 335/393/419

RF Mark Laird (Jr.) 291/366/354

Jared Foster (Sr.) 115/194/180

Chris Sciambra (Sr.) 265/296/388

Beau Jordan (Fr.)

Damn. That's a pretty great outfield.

I mean, we can quibble a little. I wish Laird displayed a little more power, and Stevenson gets thrown out on the basepaths too much for a guy with his speed. But we're talking about the margins here. This is a terrific trio who contribute both with the bat and the glove. And especially their legs. The three returning starters combined for 27 stolen bases. Laird had the fewest with 8, but he also had the best success rate on the bases. Of course, their speed also allows them to track down fly balls, one of the reasons that opponents only hit .270 on balls in play.

I keep bringing up defense, but this is where it pays dividends. IT's almost impossible to turn a non-home run fly ball into a basehit against this outfield. Their gloves are where doubles go to die. They all are pretty good hitters as well, making lots of contact and having solid gap power. The greatest gift you can give a young pitching staff is a great defense. It all starts with this outfield.

The bench is a little questionable. Sciambra is a decent pinch hitter and a reliable bat. Foster had a miserable season at the plate last year, but he gives the team one more threat on the bases in the late innings. Foster is a valuable pinch runner, and we'd all like to see him turn it around the plate.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Chris Chinea (Jr.) 250/310/395

Kade Scivicque (Sr.) 304/377/467

Greg Deichmann (Fr.)

The catcher not wearing the tools of ignorance will likely get the start at designated hitter. Projecting who will be the DH in a month's time is a fool's errand, as it depends on who wins those positional battles. The one thing we can be sure of is that Scivicque will be in the lineup somehow, barring injury. You don't bench your best power hitter, but you might make him the DH.

If and when Deichmann gets healthy, he'll likely see his first action by getting weaned as a DH. It's good exposure to the college game in a fairly low pressure slot. If he starts hitting, he'll likely find his way onto the field somehow. He's too big of a prospect to let sit on the bench for a year.

VERDICT

What is not to like? Six of the team's top seven hitters return. There's a veteran manning virtually every position, and they are backed up by a bunch of obscenely hyped prospects who will push for time right away. The defense should again be among the nation's best, which will help out the pitching staff immensely. Also, most of the order can flat out rake, anchored by an All-American in the middle of the order.

The team has power, speed to burn, and the ability to make contact. There's starting experience galore, but also some capable and reliable bats off the bench. This is one of the most well-rounded offenses of Mainieri's entire tenure. There is no reason why this shouldn't be one of the most productive offenses in the SEC, or even the nation.