Restocking the baseball roster

Mainieri unveils 2012 recruiting class featuring 15 players and plenty of hope

Restocking the roster is a part of college sports every season – a challenge to a coach in any sport and perhaps a little more invigorating to baseball coaches.

Because of the waiting-game nature attached to the Major League Baseball draft, LSU coach Paul Mainieri opts to hold off on revealing his program's haul until the deadline has come and gone.

Paul Mainieri

That day arrived this year a little earlier than in the past seasons, and with the exception of some unexpected last-second drama with Kevin Gausman, the process went about as expected for the Tigers.

LSU announced a 15-player signing class Friday, anchored by 3-5 position players who could vie for starting jobs right away and a seven-man crew of pitchers that will look to replenish a staff that lost Gausman and closer Nick Goody but not much else from one of the SEC's top staffs.

Nine of the newcomers are from Louisiana, 10 are freshmen and five are junior-college transfers.

The only incoming players LSU lost were Joey Gallo (first-round pick), Jesmuel Valentin (supplemental round pick) and Hayden Jennings (sixth-round pick).

Among the cornerstones of the class, the first full crew put together under the direction of Javi Sanchez and Alan Dunn are utility man Alex Bregman, catcher/first baseman Chris Chinea, outfielders Matt Laird, Sean McMullen and Andrew Stevenson and potential starting pitchers Will LaMarche, Mitchell Sewald and Hunter Newman.

"We are very excited to see what kind of impact this class will make upon our program," Mainieri said. "I truly believe we've addressed our needs in all phases of the game."

Perhaps the two biggest area of need were finding players ready to step in and start right away and speed – particularly in the outfield.

Bregman has been one of the top prep stars in the country the last several years and was projected as a possible first-round draft pick before the 2012 high school season began. A finger injury cost Bregman most of his senior season, though, and caused pro teams to cool on him. He was picked by Boston in the 29th round, but he was quick to declare he was headed for LSU.

Chris Chinea

Now that Bregman is bound for Baton Rouge, he will vie for a starting job on the left side of the infield, which is empty after seniors Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover graduated.

Chinea will get a chance to be the backup catcher and claim a starting job at first base or DH.

Laird, McMullen and Stevenson will all battle for jobs in the outfield.

The outfield trio are all an upgrade speed-wise, especially Laird and Stevenson.

"I thought that was a weakness of our team," Mainieri said. "We just didn't have enough speed in the outfield.

"There's no question in my mind that one of the improvements we need to make in our team is becoming more athletic in the outfield."

Filling Nola's shoes at shortstop looms as the biggest challenge facing Mainieri and his coaches. Bregman is a candidate for that job, as is junior-college transfer Christian Ibarra. As a sophomore at Rio Hondo College, Ibarra produced surprising offensive numbers – .396, 6 home runs, 50 RBIs – and Mainieri said he was excellent in the field.

Gausman's exit – expected all along once Baltimore snagged him with the No. 4 pick in the draft – leaves a gaping hole in the weekend rotation.

Sophomore Aaron Nola is the likely candidate to take over the Friday spot and junior Ryan Eades will be given every opportunity to get right and fill another weekend spot after he wobbled to the finish line in 2012.

Will LaMarche

The third starter's job, as well as a mid-week starter position, will be a battle among a handful veterans and newcomers and there are plenty of combatants.

Among the newcomers, LaMarche is the most intriguing. He spent his freshman year at Long Beach State, left after needing elbow reconstruction (Tommy John) surgery and toiled for a season at Chabot College in California last season.

This summer LaMarche has thrown 16 innings in 14 appearances for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League and has consistently been clocked in the mid-90 mph range. He projects as a starter after he is fully recovered, but he also could operate in short relief if needed.

"He's continuing to develop," Mainieri said. "He throws consistently in the mid-90s and has got a pretty curve ball. I don't know that he's as far along as Kevin Gausman when he arrived here, but he certainly has the same kind of physical tools."

Sewald may not be as ready as a healthy LaMarche, but he may have a higher ceiling.

From his junior to senior season at Rummel, the lanky 6-foot-5 right-hander increased his velocity from the mid-80s to the low- to mid-90s as he grew into his body.

As was the case with Chinea, Sewald priced himself out of being drafted and is poised to take a spot as the next freshman pitcher with a chance to contribute quickly.

2012 signing class

Gausman inks a deal with the O's

2013 schedule

Tiger Blitz Top Stories