The good news: LSU is returning almost the entirety of their 2020 infielders.
The not so good news: most of those returning starters were freshman who had their first season cut short, missing out on crucial development through conference play.
Cade Beloso, Alex Milazzo, Cade Doughty, Collier Cranford, Zach Arnold, and Gavin Dugas all return for the Tigers. But the catch is that Beloso is the only player who has more than 100 ABs, and he’s not even playing in the infield anymore.
That’s because he has been supplanted by freshman Tre Morgan from Brother Martin. According to those on the team, the 6’1” Morgan showed up in the fall and put on a defensive showcase at first base, leading Beloso to a quick understanding that first base was no longer his. So Beloso imparted with all the knowledge he possessed before going over to left field for the first time since high school.
“I want to help this kid out in any way possible, because it’s going to make our team better in the long run,” Beloso said.
Morgan is so good defensively that LSU coach Paul Mainieri said that if was brave enough, he would make Morgan the first left-handed shortstop in SEC history. Morgan is also a great hitter who as a freshman batted third throughout LSU’s fall scrimmages and consistently put balls in the gap.
So, it looks like the most solid returner to the infield might be sophomore catcher Alex Milazzo. Milazzo came to LSU with the potential to be the best defensive catcher in program history, and in the shortened 2020 season we saw flashes of what makes him a game changer behind the plate. Milazzo ended the short season batting south of the Mendoza Line, but he wowed everyone with his great defense and absurd arm, routinely making the throw from home to second in less than two seconds. Of 10 attempted steals, he threw out half of them and even recorded two pick offs. Read that again: he recorded two pickoffs in 16 games as a catcher.
It’s going to be difficult to unseat Milazzo as the starting catcher, but LSU does have options behind him with Hayden Travinski and freshman Jake Wyeath. Travinski doesn’t have the raw defensive skills Milazzo does but has a strong arm and an even stronger bat, with his lone hit in 2020 being a home run. Wyeath is a junior college transfer from Cisco College by way of Baylor, where he payed behind Atlanta Braves first round pick Shea Langliers. Wyeath only played 11 games in 2020 but hit .433 with three doubles and a home while throwing out 13 of 32 base stealers.
Braden Doughty, older brother of Cade, rounds out the catching corps and will float around the infield as necessary.
Up the middle we get two players who emerged as starters at the end of the 2020 season with Cade Doughty at second and Cranford at shortstop.
Doughty was a shortstop in high school but was moved to second as a freshman to better suit his defensive skillset. Second baseman are traditionally meek contact hitters, but Doughty brings a considerable amount of pop to the right side of the mound. As a freshman he had some bad BABIP luck but before the season’s premature end his luck started to even out, finishing with a .278 batting average and a .407 slugging percentage.
Cranford also got hot at the end of the season, more so than Doughty. During LSU’s last five games of the season, Cranford’s average shot up from .067 to .286 by virtue of going 7-for-13 at the plate. Cranford doesn’t have as much pop as Doughty does, but he is a more consistent fielder and an easier hand at short.
With the departure of Zack Mathis to professional ball, the biggest open vacancy is at third base. Last year Zach Arnold was envisioned to be the shortstop for the season, but a rib injury in the fall took him out for the start of the season and he didn’t get a chance to meaningfully contribute to the team before the season ended.
Joining the bevy of sophomores and juniors are a pair of highly touted freshman, Will Safford and Jordan Thompson.
The right throwing, left swinging Safford was a four-year starter next door to Alex Box at University High, where he was a two-time All-District and All-State selection and set the U-High stolen base record with 38.
Thompson was ranked the 53rd best prospect in the country by Perfect Game and came to LSU from Chula Vista, Calif. as a result of the shortened draft. Listed at 185 pound after gaining forty pounds, he is very much a great defender and contact hitter but does have the ability to launch a home run to the Left Field Landing on occasion.
So, who starts on Opening Day?
That’s a tough questing given how LSU returns a lot of players who started but not a lot of starters, but giving the returning players an edge for experience, here’s what I would bet on if I were a betting man.
C: Alex Milazzo
1B: Tre’ Morgan
2B: Cade Doughty
SS: Collier Cranford OR Zach Arnold
3B: Zach Arnold OR Collier Cranford