LSU coach Paul Mainieri officially introduced 17 new members of his team Monday, as the deadline for draftees to sign professional contracts has come and gone.
Only three LSU recruits signed professional contracts, leaving Paul Mainieri with some fresh material to mold, in his words.
"I feel like I’ve been handed this big pile of clay, and as the sculptor of that clay, it’s my responsibility to make something beautiful out of it,” Mainieri said.
Offensively, it might be more about who the Tigers have returning from last season’s team than the new faces coming in, though Mainieri did drop one incredibly interesting piece of information at the tail end of his nearly 40-minute press conference.
He’s concerned about who will play catcher this season, and if either sophomores Chris Chinea or Michael Barash don’t prove capable, a certain award-winning shortstop could find himself back behind the plate after playing there in high school.
“I hope that one of those guys emerge … but the ace in the hole has always been Alex Bregman,” Mainieri said. “I don’t want to move Alex Bregman off shortstop. Believe me, I know it would seem kind of crazy to take the Brooks Wallace Award winner and move him off the position … but that catching position is so vital that we have to have someone that does a great job there and can throw base stealers out.”
“I hope Chinea or Barash can do a good enough job, but if need be, we might have to move Alex back there. I don’t want to do that, believe me.”
If Mainieri did find himself playing Bregman at catcher, rising senior Christian Ibarra would slide over to play shortstop. But Mainieri wasn’t clear on who might play third base.
Rising sophomore Andrew Stevenson, who was by far the weakest link in a strong LSU offense last season, is currently tearing it up in the summer leagues.
Mainieri recently talked to him after a four-hit game, and found out he’s finally starting to understand hitting coach Javi Sanchez’ methods.
“If this kid could just hit .270 or .280, he’s going to be a dynamic player in the Southeastern Conference, because you’ve seen what he can do defensively in center field and how he can affect ball games,” Mainieri said.
One of the biggest concerns for Mainieri with this recruiting class was developing depth in the infield. The Tigers lucked out last season when they only lost one infield starter to injury (JaCoby Jones), and it wasn’t for an extended period of time.
Even with the right side of the infield departing for the pros, LSU should be deeper as an infield this coming season.
Four of the seven signees introduced Monday were listed as infielders and figure to be competing along with Tyler Moore for playing time at first and second base.
Mainieri was especially pleased that both Danny Zardon and Kramer Robertson made their way to campus, saying, “I thought we’d lose one of those guys, but we ended up holding on to both of them.”
Mainieri is counting on his new pitchers to make the most immediate impact. Seven of the top 11 pitchers from last season’s team that posted the NCAA’s third-lowest ERA are gone, five of which are now pitching professionally.
“I told the players that we recruited that we need players to come in … and if they’re ready to pitch right away, then they will,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri wasn’t ready to anoint any of his new players as the next great thing, but he did have nice things to say about junior college transfer Brady Domangue.
Domangue earned NJCAA All-American honors last season when he went 14-2 with a 1.34 ERA. He struck out 118 batters in 114 innings, and showed some of the command LSU coaches love by walking only 32 batters.
“Brady’s a young man that had two phenomenal years at LSU-Eunice,” Mainieri said. “Brady broke the (LSU-E) record last year for lowest earned run average and most strikeouts. He led the whole country in wins for junior college.”
Though Domangue, a junior, might be the most ready newcomer in LSU’s ranks, Mainieri orchestrated this signing class with the future in mind.
Of the 10 pitchers in the class, eight were pitching for their high school teams a year ago. They’re also evenly split with five left-handers and five right-handers.
“We want to develop these young pitchers so they can have long careers here at LSU,” Mainieri said. “Who knows? A couple of these kids could emerge and be outstanding contributors as freshmen.”
It was far too early for Mainieri to try to nail down specific roles for pitchers, though.
“I don’t want to pigeonhole kids,” Mainieri said. “Say, ‘This kid’s a bullpen guy,’ or ‘this kid’s a starter.’ We want to see what they can do.”
One of the best candidates to fill Ryan Eades’ position as a weekend starter is junior pitcher Joe Broussard, who was on the shelf all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Before his injury, Broussard was pegged to compete as either the weekend starter or as a closer last season. He went 4-1 with a 3.73 ERA as a sophomore.
“I’ll be anxious to see what he looks like this fall,” Mainieri said.
LSU won’t have all available pitchers at its disposal next season, however. While the word is not completely official yet, Mainieri didn’t make it sound as though rising sophomore Russell Reynolds or freshman right-hander Jesse Stallings would be ready to pitch this season. Both had Tommy John surgery in 2013.
Reynolds impressed in a midweek role last season, holding opponents to a .176 batting average before his injury.
“Russell thinks he’s going to pitch and wants to pitch … but I’m really not anticipating Russell pitching this year,” Mainieri said. “That shoulder injury is something that takes time, and I’ve seen kids rush back from it and all it does is more damage.
“We’re going to take the cautionary route with Reynolds and Jesse Stallings.”