With the LSU baseball season seemingly just around the corner, Coach Paul Mainieri feels like he discovered some things about his squad during fall practices.
The Tigers are coming off of a season that saw them reach the Super Regional finals and end their season one game away from the College World Series in Omaha.
One integral part of last year's team that is no longer around is pitcher Kevin Gausman, who departed after being drafted fourth overall in this year's Major League Baseball Draft. Mainieri explained recently to TSD that it is very difficult to replace someone like Gausman, but he is very happy that he got a chance to coach a player of his caliber, even if it was just for two seasons.
"Well, first of all, you get a Kevin Gausman-type player once every decade if you're lucky as a coach," said Mainieri. "He was the highest drafted pitcher in the entire draft. It would be unreasonable of me to think that I can replace a Gausman with another Gausman. You are just very fortunate when you get a kid like that to come to school, as it doesn't happen very often."
Even with Gausman gone from the Tiger's rotation, Mainieri feels the group is in a very strong position heading into this season because of the experience they have at the top of the rotation.
"Fortunately we do have two other outstanding pitchers that I think are capable of not being Kevin Gausman, but being something close to it," explained Mainieri. "They are both capable of becoming first-round draft choices. Ryan Eades pitched great last year at times and at other times it seemed like he tired a little bit as the year went on. He's had a tremendous fall practice after taking the summer off and he looks like he is ready to emerge as a frontline starter in the SEC.
"I have no doubt that Aaron Nola is already there. He had a tremendous year last year as a freshman and he's picked up right where he left off."
Mainieri believes that with two veteran starters leading the way, in Nola and Eades, that he will have a few more options of how he could handle the vacant third starter spot. He hopes to be able handle the Sunday starter just as he did during mid-week games last season, and Mainieri already has somewhat of an idea on who that starter may be.
"What I hope for is that Eades and Nola can pitch deep into games for us on Friday and Saturday because I do think that we have good depth on our staff," said Mainieri. "If we can get to Sunday and not really ask that third starter to go out there and pitch seven innings for us, but give us four or five good innings and hold the other team to three runs, then we can piece together the rest of the game with the bullpen. One guy I didn't mention, Brent Bonvillain, probably has the inside track on being that third starter for us."
While the question of who the third starter will be is very important for this squad, Mainieri feels that there is another, potentially more important, open spot in the pitching staff that was vacated after last season.
"We lost Nick Goody, our outstanding closer and relief pitcher from a year ago," said Mainieri. "In my opinion this role is as important as our three starters because you can't win games in this league if you can't finish games. I don't know if we have someone that can step into that roll as one person or if it will have to be a team effort.
"Certainly Nick Rumbelow showed last year that he can be an outstanding pitcher for us at the end of games. There's no question that Chris Cotton has done that. He has pitched well for us.If we kept those two guys in the bullpen, then they will have the best chance to close out games for us."
Aside from the holes in the pitching rotation, another part of the LSU baseball team with question marks is the batting lineup, and who will step up and hit for power this season. While it is early still, Mainieri has a pretty good idea of who will be those guys for his squad.
"You have to dance with who brung you," said Mainieri with a laugh. "We have the guy that returns with the most home runs in the SEC from a year ago in Mason Katz. If he hits 13 home runs again for us this year then I will be very happy. Overall, we aren't a power-laden team this year because of the equipment, and no one is anymore, really.
"That being said we do have several guys that can drive the ball out of the park. I already mention Katz, but Jacoby Jones is capable of hitting double-digit home runs. This freshman, Alex Bregman, is a guy that is going to have some power. The majority of the guys in the lineup will hopefully be good line-drive hitters that know what they're doing and can get on base."
After ending last season with a loss to Stony Brook in the finals of the Baton Rouge Super Regional, Mainieri said his team is hungrier than ever to get better and get past that loss.
"Every season ends with a tough loss unless you win the national championship," said Mainieri. "You have a lot of practice with seasons ending in a loss. I mean we were one game away from Omaha and that is a bitter pill to swallow. The stage was set and all we had to do was go out there and get the job done, and we just came up a little bit short. The result of that though is that the hunger and the desire to get better remained with this team and we don't take anything for granted."
Because of the way last season ended, Mainieri is thankful his team has moved on to this season. Mainieri feels that if they get their chance this year, they won't let a trip to Omaha slip away again.
"The most dangerous thing our team can think going into the 2013 season is that they were one game away from Omaha," said Mainieri. "If we are fortunate enough to be in that situation again this year, then I think we will kick that door down and take it."
Mainieri confident exiting Fall Ball
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