Strange thing happened the last few days, though – especially Wednesday.Mainieri not only has reason to sleep well, there’s also an awful lot of optimism looking ahead at the future.
Outfielder Raph Rhymes was the biggest name taken Wednesday on the final day of the draft. The New York Yankees snagged the Monroe native late in the 30th round, 10 rounds earlier than he was taken in 2011 by Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t early enough to sway Rhymes, though.
“I was a little surprised that I didn’t get picked a little earlier with the season I’ve had,” said Rhymes, whose .452 average leads the country. “But everything happens for a reason. I’m gonna come back to LSU and make another run at it.”
With those words, Rhymes put a much different spin on the Tigers’ hopes next season. The 2012 SEC Player of the Year will again be the anchor of the batting order and gives LSU an outfielder to build around.
And Rhymes comes back knowing he’ll have plenty of help.
First baseman/right fielder Mason Katz wasn’t drafted at all, giving LSU its three-hole hitter back after he led the team with 63 runs and 11 home runs, while ranking second to Rhymes with 49 RBIs.
On top of those two returning, the Tigers will also have a major building block from their 2012 recruiting class in Alex Bregman. The New Mexico prep star said Tuesday he is LSU-bound, although he was drafted late in the draft by Boston.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri called keeping Bregman as part of the class “a coup.”
Same might be said of retaining Rhymes.
For a three-week stretch, Rhymes batted around .500 and captivated the college baseball world with his chase. He cooled off down the stretch, but still leads the Tigers with 52 RBIs and delivered a huge two-run home run Sunday against Oregon State in the regional championship game.
Now he is ready to log one more season as the most decorated returning senior in recent LSU history and joins a list of players under Mainieri who have eschewed pro baseball for one more college season that includes Louis Coleman, Blake Dean, Tyler Hanover and Austin Nola.
All four improved their draft stock, none more dramatically than Nola, who was taken by Miami in the fifth round on Tuesday.
“I talked to Austin about it and he told me it was best decision of his life,” Rhymes said. “I thought it was going to be a real tough decision to stay, but it would’ve been a lot harder to leave.
"This place is great and it gets in your blood and you want to stay as long as you can.”
Hanover grabbed by Detroit
The Tigers’ other senior infielder also upped his stock, going from the 40th round in 2011 to the 33rd this season when the big-league Tigers picked Hanover. The North Carolina native’s batting average dipped this season to a career-low .288 with 34 runs, 13 doubles and 28 RBIs. His four-year stats put him in the top-10 all-time in LSU history with 271 hits, and he has scored 164 runs and produced 43 doubles.
Aaron Nola lands on All-American team
Freshman pitcher Aaron Nola was named as a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball on Wednesday, marking the sixth time in seven years at least one Tiger has landed on a freshman All-American team.
Nola is 7-4 with a 3.66 ERA, 83 strikeouts and only seven walks in 83.2 innings of work. He began the season as a reliever, emerged as a Sunday starter by the time SEC play began and has moved into the No. 2 spot.