Last year was a magical run for LSU baseball. A team that was supposed to be going through a rebuilding season started the season looking like an SEC also-ran. Enter one magical possum, and suddenly LSU couldn’t lose, flirted with the top ranking in the nation, before earning a national seed.
This year has expectations just a tad higher, as LSU is a top five pick in virtually every major publication this preseason. On the heels of a disappointing football season and a disastrous basketball season, LSU athletics needs the baseball team to live up to those lofty expectations.
We’re not even at opening day, and the early returns don’t look good.
LSU returns eight seniors and virtually all of its offensive production from last season. This is obviously a good thing, but the biggest weakness of the team was middle of the order power. LSU hit 46 homers last season, and returned 39 this season.
Make that 23.
Bryce Jordan went down with a knee injury, chasing down a foul ball. A few days later, Greg Deichmann broke his jaw upon being struck in the face with a pitch. For those of you scoring at home, that is LSU’s three and four-hole hitters.
LSU could sustain the loss of one of its big bats in the middle of the order, but both? That’s a tall order, which is why Mainieri still hasn’t made a decision on Deichmann’s availability for the season opener. Let’s be honest, he’s not going to play and he’s likely going to miss a lot of time. But the team still hasn’t quite accepted the reality of the situation.
It’s understandable to cling to hope that Deichmann could play because Bryce is indisputably out for the season. Mainieri desperately wants his 288/346/513 hitter with 11 bombs in the lineup. It’s just wishful thinking at this point.
The silver lining is that LSU was expecting to lose Deichmann to the draft in the offseason anyway, so there was at least some semblance of a plan how to replace him. The staff is in a bad spot, but not completely flat footed.
The two injuries have to be taken together, as they send the same ripples through the lineup. Bryce Jordan had already likely lost his 1st baseman’s job to freshman Jake Slaughter even before the injury, so this means that Slaughter is now going to work without a net.
Previously, Mainieri could throw the freshman out there with the knowledge he had several solid options to take over the position if Slaughter struggled. Now, two of the best replacement options are hurt. So, it’s sink or swim time for the new kid, though he likely will slide in later in the lineup.
One of the other options at first base was Bryce Adams, but he is forced to take over the designated hitter slot for the injured Bryce. Three possible backup options for the freshman 1st baseman, and now two are out of the lineup, one for the season, and the third option is now the starting DH.
Adams had a rough season at the plate last year, hitting 150/227/350 in just 20 at bats. The good news is, just about any player in history could look bad in 20 at bats. Adams has a power stroke, and I’m not overly concerned with him being forced into the lineup.
What will be tested is the outfield depth. Duplantis has a hammer lock on the center field position, but the Tigers were counting on converted 1st baseman Deichmann to provide stability in right while things sorted themselves out on left field. That, unfortunately, is no longer an option.
Beau Jordan and Brennan Breaux were locked in a competition for the left field job, but that competition gets put on hold thanks to the injury. Beau gets to keep his job from last season despite his late season struggles, and Breaux’ superior glove will get him on the field.
Before, Mainieri had to choose between Jordan’s bat and Breaux’s glove, but now no such decision is necessary. They both get the start. I’d guess Breaux will get the tougher defensive assignment in left, but Mainieri might favor some consistency in the lineup and keep Jordan in left.
There’s now only one other outfielder on the roster who is healthy, which is a perilously thin bench. Zach Watson is a speedster who might see some action as a late inning defensive sub or as a pinch runner, but I seriously doubt he will see much playing time, even with the injuries.
Mainieri doesn’t like to play with lineups all that much, and he rides his starters pretty hard. He gets a lineup and generally sticks with it. For example, last year was a rebuilding year and he still had six players make over 60 starts. The position player outside of catcher with the fewest starts was Chris Reid, who started 47 games and appeared in 55. And this was in an unsettled year.
In a way, that means this Deichmann injury is a bit of a blessing in disguise. This forces Mainieri to play both Beau Jordan and Brennan Breaux. Deichmann should be back in a month or so, hopefully in time for the SEC schedule.
At that point, that means Mainieri will have a bench bat who is used to being a starter. This could be more valuable as the season goes on, especially if each of the players forced into starting roles performs well. Then it becomes a fight for playing time. Deichmann will certainly get his job back, but the question is where.
When he returns to full health, Mainieri will have the option to place Deichmann at DH, 1st base, or in right field. That means each of these replacement players has a one month audition to show what they can do, reasonably secure in their playing time until then. And this can only strengthen the bench come postseason.
Losing two key bats the week before the season starts is never good, but this is a chance for some unproven guys on the roster to show their stuff and force their way into the permanent lineup. I wouldn’t go as far to call the injury a good thing, but it’s not a disaster, so long as LSU does not have to rush him back into the lineup.