LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri held his annual mid-summer press conference where he introduces the incoming player to the program Wednesday, and there is a lot of new faces to get to learn.
LSU’s chief concern is replacing the entirety of its starting rotation after Jared Poche’ graduated, Alex Lange signed professionally with Cubs, and Eric Walker will miss 2018 entirely in his recovery from Tommy John Surgery.
In his press conference, Mainieri formally announced that Zack Hess will be given a look at a starter, and if he was pressed right now to create a starting rotation based solely off of returning players, Todd Peterson and Nick Bush would be starters two and three. But none of that is nailed down.
“Hess was so magnificent coming out of the bullpen that it almost looked like he was made for that role,” Mainieri said. “It would be an awesome thing if we could use him in that role going forward, I don’t know if we’ll have that luxury or not. He’s got the best arm of any of our returning pitchers and usually, your best arm is your Friday night starter. So we’re going to continue to give him a chance as a starter.”
But Hess will have to change some things if he wants to become LSU’s ace.
“I told him if he wants to be a starting pitcher you’re going to have to develop a third pitch, you’re going to have to slow the running game down by being a little bit quicker to the plate, and you’re going to have to field your position a little better, and hold your velocity a little deeper into the game.”
Hess is currently pitching once a week in the Cape Cod League for the summer and working on developing a change-up in addition to his fastball and already nasty slider. Hess figures to be the crux of the LSU rotation, but LSU hopes some of the high-caliber signings can step in and fill the starting roles. All told, there are 11 new pitchers that LSU will welcome to campus in the fall
“Somebody is going to emerge,” Mainieri said. “Somebody is going to be the new Alex Lange as a freshman, somebody is going to be the new Eric Walker as a freshman, somebody is going to be the new Jared Poche’ as a freshman. Remember all three of those guys were starters (as a freshman) and if I would have been talking to you in the summer before their freshman years I probably couldn’t have told you that they were going to be a starting pitcher. So it will be interesting to see how that develops.”
At the top of the list is AJ Labas, a 6’3” right-handed pitcher from Trinity Christian High School in Fleming Island, Florida. Labas held a .50 ERA in 65 innings his senior year with a 7.45 K/BB (82/11). Mainieri likened Labas’ mound presence to Alex Lange’s, and Labas can control three pitches well and throw them all for strikes. Labas was committed to North Florida, but when Smoke Laval was fired UNF released him from his NLI and LSU put the late blitz on recruiting him.
Nick Storz probably has a taller profile and an even taller frame at 6’6” 255. A freshman from Poly Prep Country Day High School in Brookyln, Storz was in the Top 100 Draft Prospects according to Baseball America and is an incredibly physical pitcher that has a slider with a nasty late break to it.
Thanks to a new rule from the NCAA that if states that if a player is ruled medically ineligible before the season starts, their roster spot can be given to another player, Eric Walker’s spot on the roster will be taken by Clay Moffitt, son of LSU football strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt and brother of LSU defensive end Aaron Moffitt. Moffitt is a junior transfer from LSU-Eunice, where coming off of injury he pitched a 3.61 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 42.1 innings for the Bengals.
“It was a tremendous moment, there were a few tears shed in my office when he and his mother were in my office and I have him an opportunity to be a part of our program,” Mainieri said.
Obviously, there is no way to know for sure, but looking past fall ball the LSU rotation appears to be Zack Hess-AJ Labas-Nick Storz, with Caleb Gilbert filling in as the fourth starter.