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Poseur and Junda Preview 2020 LSU Baseball: The Bullpen

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Making you wait on the starters, like the opposite of a game

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAR 31 Mississippi State at LSU
I’m excited

Y’all were promised the rotation preview today, but we flipped the coin and Zach won, so Junda gets to do the fun part. We’ll close out on the strength of the team, the rotation.

That leaves me with the bullpen. The bullpen is always a work in progress and the true testament to a coach’s ability. He has to cobble together a workable staff every season out of, let’s face it, guys who likely can’t make it as weekend starters.

It’s about finding the best arms for the best situations and this year, LSU has more certainty than it usually does in the preseason. Also, with a bevy of arms competing for three weekend rotation slots, you can expect some pretty talented pitchers ending up in the bullpen if everyone stays healthy.

BULLPEN ACE

Jr. RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard 5.32 ERA, 44 IP, 57/16 K/BB

A former Freshmen All-American, Hilliard struggled deeply in his sophomore year as he lost velocity off his fastball. However, he started to turn things around late in the year, and was one of the team’s most effective relievers come the postseason. He’s an odd duck to be a relief ace because he relies heavily on his curveball, which may be the best on the team, which is a difficult pitch to rely on with runners on base. Still, if you need an out, he’s the guy you trust.

CLOSER

Jr. RHP Devin Fontenot 3.71 ERA, 51 IP, 54/25 K/BB, 7 Saves

Now, there is a slight distinction between bullpen ace and closer. The closer is restricted to the ninth inning, instead of going in whenever there is danger. But don’t take this to mean that Devin Fontenot is not the best pitcher in the Tiger bullpen. Fontenot doesn’t have the best stuff in the world, but he is a hardcore competitor. He rocketed up the staff and took over the one-inning gig by early April. Despite being a one-inning guy, he gave a heroic 6.1 inning relief performance in the loss to Florida State in the Supers. Fontenot is the classic bulldog type who, if his right arm fell off, would show up on the mound next inning to throw lefty.

THE LEFTIES

Jr. LHP Brandon Kaminer
Fr. LHP Jacob Hasty

It’s seems like every year, we are saying the same thing: there are no lefties in the pen. This year, there are some actual options. Kaminer is a JUCO transfer who once was one of the more touted high school pitching prospects in the nation. He was a high school All-American and the Miami Herald Broward County Pitcher of the Year. Things didn’t work out at Miami, but he threw for 68 strikeouts in 65 innings last season. He’ll be relied on as the veteran arm.

Jacob Hasty isn’t quite as highly touted, but he was a 2019 Texas All-State selection. He can hit 92 on the gun and has a plus curve, making him a future candidate for the rotation. He’ll get his first exposure to college hitters this year, and should be used primarily for matchup purposes so he can get his feet wet with favorable matchups.

THE RIGHTIES

So. RHP Nick Storz – 2017 Baseball America Top 100 Draft Prospect
So. RHP Matthew Beck 2.05, 44 IP, 39/25 K/BB
Jr. RHP Trent Veitmeier 5.24, 34.1 IP, 34/11 K/BB
So. RHP Chase Costello 8.84, 19.1 IP, 10/12 K/BB
So. RHP Rye Gunter 6.75, 6.2 IP, 6/7 K/BB
Sr. RHP Aaron George 6.49, 26.1 IP, 31/19 K/BB

Nick Storz was a tremendous get for Paul Mainieri and his staff in 2018. He pitched all of three inning in 2018 before suffering an injury which required surgery. He has now missed two seasons due to injury and the question is whether he will ever be the same guy who was such a highly sought after prospect. If he is, forget relief ace, he might make it back to the rotation. He’s got a big-time fastball and a slider that serves as his out pitch. He’s a question mark, but he could be a total star. I don’t think they will risk the starter workload, even if he’s untouchable.

Speaking of untouchable, that was Beck last season. He well outperformed his underlying numbers, but he ended up with a minuscule ERA in some difficult innings. I’m not sure it is totally sustainable, but he is super reliable. Beck is a guy who throws strikes, and that’s what you need.

Veitmeier is sort of the opposite of Beck when it comes to pitching luck. Veitmeier well under-performed his underlying numbers, and you’d expect a guy with that K/BB ratio to have a much lower ERA. He is another reliable arm who will come into any and every situation. Mainieri is lucky to have two guys he can rely on like this in the pen. They aren’t stars, but they are the kind of pitchers that can anchor a staff.

The bullpen is deep, experienced, and possesses serious top end talent. It has also an X-factor in Storz coming back from injury who could take the SEC by storm. And then the bullpen will likely inherit another arm from whoever loses out on the Sunday starter competition.

It’s 2020, and pitching is the strength of the LSU baseball team. I’m confused, too.