Look ahead: Battles on the diamond

With an influx of talent coming in this week, here's a a look at how the baseball Tigers might line up in 2012.

I’m finally getting around to posting this after the LSU baseball press conference last week.

Here is where I see the battles for spots in the lineup for the Tigers’ baseball team when the season begins in February against Air Force.

Catcher

Starter: Battle should come down between Ty Ross and Tyler Moore. Both brimming with potential, but Moore hits left-handed and may be the better offensive option.

Don’t sleep on: Jackson Slaid. Had a very solid summer offensively and LSU coach Paul Mainieri has made it clear he wants to give him a shot to get on the field.

Isn’t going away: Jordy Snikeris. Could see time if younger guys falter

First base

Starter: Mason Katz. He established himself as a solid defensive player late last season and his bat will be invaluable in the middle of the batting order.


Mason Katz: Key to the LSU batting order.

Don’t sleep on: Jamie Bruno. If he gets his left-handed stick going, the transfer from Tulane could force some position shifting.

Isn’t going away: Mike Lowery. If (when?) he can stay healthy, his penchant for hitting line drives and finding grass are hard to ignore.

Second base

Starter: Tyler Hanover or Jake Barrios. Hanover could shift back to his most natural position and re-connect with Austin Nola to form a solid middle-infield double-play tandem if Barrios shows he is ready and capable of handling third base.

Don’t sleep on: Casey Yokom. May be as good a defensive player as LSU has here, but his bat needs to make progress.

Isn’t going away: Beau Didier. Has waited in the wings for two seasons. Would have to make an offensive splash – and show some extra-base pop – to be in the mix.

Third base

Starter: Jake Barrios or Tyler Hanover. Barrios has more power and run production potential than Hanover, which makes him the better fit if he can do the job with his glove. Hanover was steady at the hot corner last season, but his offensive numbers dipped a bit.

Don’t sleep on: Mike Lowery. Again it depends on his health, but he’s more comfortable on the left side of the infield and would give the Tigers reliable offensive numbers.

Isn’t going away: Tyler Moore. If he doesn’t land the catching job, Moore has the build and arm strength to be a good third baseman at the college level.

Shortstop

Starter: Austin Nola. Absolutely no debate here.

Don’t sleep on: Lowery, Didier. These guys are backups in name only unless Nola gets hurt and can’t play.

Isn’t going away: JaCoby Jones won’t get a shot at shortstop until Nola is gone, but shortstop is what he played all through high school.

Left field

Starter: Arby Fields of JaCoby Jones. Both have speed and athletic ability. Fields has been an outfielder most of his baseball career. Jones has the better arm from being an infielder.

Don’t sleep on: Jamie Bruno. Assuming Katz nails down the first-base job, and if Bruno proves to be a consistent hitter, he could climb into the mix in the outfield.

Isn’t going away: Raph Rhymes. He’s recuperating from elbow reconstruction (Tommy John) surgery right now, but if he heals quickly and well enough, he’s got the athleticism to be a factor on defense.


JaCoby Jones: Figures to land a starting OF job

Center field

Starter: JaCoby Jones or Arby Fields. With huge shoes to fill here, Mainieri needs to find out who the best athlete is to anchor the outfield. Jones made the transition to the center in the Cape Cod League and drew rave reviews. The only question might be whether Mainieri wants to utilize his arm in a corner spot instead.

Don’t sleep on: Really this appears to be a two-man battle at this point, but freshman Chris Sciambra is also cut from the same athletic cloth and could push for time as the season progresses.

Isn’t going away: Rhymes, Katz and Bruno are all emergency candidates in center if the top three are hurt or miss the team bus.

Right field

Starter: Alex Edward or Chris Sciambra. Edward could also be qualified as ‘isn’t going away,’ because he simply sticks around and plugs away despite a career full of ups-and-downs. He has shown some offensive punch at times, though not consistently, and has improved enough defensively to nail down the job. Sciambra could displace him if he proves he can hit college pitching.

Don’t sleep on: Mason Katz. If other hitters emerge who might be better fits on the infield, Katz is the kind of versatile player who could transition well back to the outfield.

Isn’t going away: JaCoby Jones. Hard to think Mainieri would completely discount using Jones in right simply because he’s an assist machine waiting to be unleashed.

Designated hitter

Starter: Raph Rhymes. A .360 debut season in 2011 with 18 doubles and 42 RBIs makes this a no-brainer, especially coupled with his elbow problem.

Don’t sleep on: Jackson Slaid. Should Mainieri feel that Rhymes is ready to move to an outfield spot, and if that becomes a necessity to bolster the offense, Slaid could slip into the DH role very well.

Isn’t going away: Grant Dozar, Mike Lowery and Beau Didier. Any of these three veterans would give LSU an experienced stick in the batting order from the left side.

Starting pitchers


Cody Glenn: Look for freshman southpaw to be a weekend starter

Weekend rotation: Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades, Cody Glenn. Yes, this bumps Kurt McCune – who led the Tigers with 7 wins last season – into a mid-week spot, but if Glenn is as good as it appears he could be, it’s a perfect chance to sandwich his left arm between the hard-throwing tandem of Gausman and Eades.

Mid-week starters: Kurt McCune, Joey Bourgeois, Jordan Rittiner. McCune would be the obvious first choice after his freshman-season performance. But Bourgeois and Rittiner have both started SEC games for the Tigers and, assuming they’re healthy, would be solid mid-week options.

Bullpen

Middle relief: Jordan Rittiner, Joe Broussard, Christian Trent, Carson Baranik, Nick Rumbelow, Jimmy Dykstra. Mainieri should have more options than he’s had in a while from both sides of the mound to use in bridge-type situations when starters struggle early in games.

Situational relief: Joey Bourgeois, Chris Cotton, Christian Trent, Brent Bonvillain. Bourgeois gives LSU a hard-throwing alternative if a strikeout is needed to end an inning, and the three lefties could help staunch rallies.

Late-inning relief: Nick Goody, Aaron Nola, Kevin Berry, Joey Bourgeois. This is where the influx of pitching talent was needed most, plus the return of Bourgeois is a boost. Goody is poised to be the primary closer, but Nola could also finish games with his variety of pitches, Berry has some value as a one-inning setup man with a slider that could especially be effective after hitters see Gausman or Eades for 7-8 innings and Bourgeois has the kind of bulldog mentality that could work well in late innings with the game tied or a narrow lead.


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