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Poseur and Junda Preview 2020 LSU Baseball: The Infield

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Part one, we go around the diamond.

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 31 Div 1 Championship Baton Rouge Regional - LSU v Stony Brook
Saul!
Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LSU enters the season in familiar territory: a solidly top 25 team but not the front runner. The Tigers could make it to Omaha, they could even win the SEC, but this team isn’t quite expected to do either of those things.

Which won’t stop it from being a disappointment if they don’t. Sitting right on the cusp of the top ten is a real pain in the expectations game. Not strong enough to be the favorite, but not weak enough that anything short of Omaha won’t feel like an underachievement.

It’s hard living under the shadow of the Intimidator.

We start our LSU preview with the infield, and it’s the grouping that sums up this team: immensely talented in places, but also full of question marks and relying on youth. There’s little Mainieri can actually count on, but he’s going to have to anyway.

All players are listed with their class, then handedness batting/throwing, and the stat line is the traditional slash line of Batting Average/On-Base Percentage/Slugging Percentage at LSU last year, unless otherwise noted.

CATCHER

Jr. R/R Saul Garza 303/358/476
Fr. R/R Hayden Travinski – Perfect Game All-America (1.560 OPS)
Fr. R/R Alex Milazzo - #3 Louisiana prospect
Jr. R/R Braden Doughty 077/250/077 (13 AB)

Well, hello there, catcher depth. Saul Garza is the clear starter here and should be one of the rocks of the LSU lineup. He was slowed early last season due to thumb surgery, but came on late and established himself as one of the Tigers’ best hitters in the postseason. He finished with five home runs, all of them from April 18 or later. What I’m saying; it is not unreasonable to expect a huge jump in those numbers this season, especially the power.

Travinski and Milazzo are two big-time prospects with near precisely opposite reputations. Milazzo has a rocket arm and has wowed scouts as a defensive specialist. He’ll definitely see action behind the plate for just that reason. Travinski, on the other hand, carries a huge bat and will likely force his way into the lineup somewhere. He just won’t be a catcher. Or first baseman, because…

FIRST BASE

So. L/L Cade Beloso 279/339/429
So. L/R CJ Willis 212/311/288
Fr. R/R Hayden Travinski

Beloso is LSU’s returning home-run leader, hitting 10 of them last season. He is one of only two Tigers to make the first-team preseason All-SEC lineup. Beloso’s biggest issue last season is that he was a classic boom or bust hitter. He had 10 home runs, but only 13 extra-base hits overall. That’s okay for a freshman, but he now needs to become a more well-rounded hitter and find some of that gap double power.

CJ Willis showed some flashes as a freshman, but his problem right now is finding a position. He’s clearly locked behind Beloso and now he can feel the heat from Travinski from behind. Willis is a likely candidate to change positions, as he has the athleticism to play third base.

SECOND BASE

Fr. R/R Cade Doughty – Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year
So. R/R Gavin Dugas 186/265/233 (43 AB)
Fr. R/R Collier Cranford

One of the genuine positional battles on the roster. Dugas is the incumbent, but a torn ligament in his thumb sidelined him for most of his freshman year. There’s the general idea a guy shouldn’t lose his starting job to injury, but… Cade Doughty is one hell of a prospect. Dugas has speed and an aggressive style at the plate, so he’s the kind of guy you want in the order: he puts the ball in play and puts pressure on the defense to make plays.

But Doughty didn’t come to LSU to sit on the bench, you know? Doughty already played against older competition in the Ripken League and more than held his own, showing that he has the ability and mental makeup to make the jump in levels. There should be the usual growing pains as there is for most freshmen, but Dugas will have his hands full trying to hold off the newcomer.

SHORTSTOP

Jr. R/R Hal Hughes 174/289/188
Fr. R/R Zach Arnold
Fr. R/R Collier Cranford

On the positive side, Hal Hughes is a plus defender and you need a reliable glove, particularly in SEC play. So much of college baseball is simply putting the ball in play and making the other guys make a play. Hughes makes that play. But… that is an atrocious batting line. LSU can’t keep carrying an automatic out. Mainieri would love if Hughes could simply climb up to, say, 200/300/300 levels. Still bad, but not so bad it makes you want to punch a wall.

The two freshmen are also both defensive specialists. Arnold and Collier eventually project as good SEC hitters, but they aren’t there yet, and they aren’t really pushing Hughes for playing time. He’s been given a wide berth to figure it out. A crazy solution, if Hughes can’t improve, is whether Mainieri would take the defensive hit and move Dugas to short. Highly doubtful, but not impossible if Hughes can’t improve at the plate.

THIRD BASE

Jr. L/R Zack Mathis JUCO Transfer
So. L/R CJ Willis 212/311/288
So. R/R Gavin Dugas 186/265/233 (43 AB)

Zack Mathis hit .352 with 14 HR and 48 doubles as an All-American at San Joaquin Delta College. The kid can hit, and LSU will need him to make the adjustment from JUCO to the SEC seamlessly because… well, there ain’t much behind him.

If Mathis falters, the options are either moving Willis or Dugas across the infield, or worse case, giving the job to one of the shortstops. But if we’re talking about guys who don’t have the bat to carry shortstop, they certainly can’t do it at third, with its higher offensive demands. Defense matters, of course, which is the nervy part of moving Willis, so the best case is either Mathis takes the job and runs with it or Dugas has to stay in the lineup but Doughty is so great he wrestles away the second base job.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Fr. R/R Hayden Travinski – Perfect Game All-America (1.560 OPS)
So. R/R Gavin Dugas 186/265/233 (43 AB)
So. L/R CJ Willis 212/311/288

Personally, I’m penciling Travinski in here. He’s got too big of a bat to not play, and he’s blocked at his two most obvious positions, catcher and first base. But do not count out Mainieri’s desire to get Dugas into the lineup, who apparently has been drawing raves in fall ball. Again, so much of the DH position revolves around what happens at second and third. But, if everything works out (which of course it won’t), Travinski is the DH.

Junda picks up with the outfielders tomorrow, and maybe casts shade on my DH analysis.