The LSU baseball squad accomplished almost everything they set out to this fall. Coach Paul Mainieri said that only a couple of questions remain for this team, namely who the third starter and closer will be for the pitching staff.
With fall practice being wrapped up with a Purple victory in the Purple vs. Gold World Series, Mainieri explained that the mindset of the team is now in the right place. The LSU head coach is also happy to see his team come together as a group, after the intense competition they faced from one another in the fall.
Tuesday of this week was an opportunity for Mainieri to see that developing cohesion, while also giving the team one last chance to have a little fun and pay the price for losses in the fall.
"We had our final team meeting yesterday and had a team meal," said Mainieri. "The losing team from the Purple vs. Gold World Series had to pay off their losses and serve the winning team their steaks at dinner, while they got to eat hot dogs as their meal.
"What we have done is basically come to an end of the competition between the team now. The shift of attitude has moved from competing with each other for roles on the team, to now, we are pulling on the same end of the rope. It's time for us to put it all together in a way that is going to allow us to go out and beat the teams that we have to play."
Mainieri explained that the coaching staff has decided to go in a different direction on how they have handled teams in the past, mainly to instill a different mindset on the players heading into the season.
"This is a different mindset than we have had in the past," explained Mainieri. "What the players do over their Christmas break, either mentally or physically, gets them into that mindset that they know they will be prepared for the opener against Maryland. We have also made it clear to them that they will have a month to get ready once school starts. It has really encouraged them to work harder."
While there are still some questions to be answered on the team, Mainieri is very happy with where his team is at the conclusion of fall practice.
"I couldn't be more pleased with where we are," said Mainieri. "We had a good fall and we saw some really good things happen that answered a lot of the questions that we had going into the fall. I think we have a good plan going into the spring, but there is still a little bit of decision to be made, like who the third starter and closer will be. But, I think we will be right in the thick of everything this year."
One thing that Mainieri is looking forward to this season is the leadership within the team. Leadership is something that Mainieri believes is crucial to the success of a ballclub, and he explained that the LSU coaching staff has put the veterans in the best position to lead. With eight seniors returning to the squad, Mainieri has confidence in the ability of the veterans to handle the team this season.
"I have always believed that any successful team has had great leadership within the ranks," said Mainieri. "Obviously, as a coaching staff, you try to set the road to success with a lot of the things that you do. The truth of the matter is that if you don't have the leadership in the ranks, you aren't going to make any progress.
"You look at the veteran players first, and we are very lucky this year. We have eight seniors, and that is much larger than normal. I think you start with [Raph] Rhymes and [Mason] Katz as the true leaders of this team, based on what they have done in this program over the last few years. When you look at the pitching staff, you have four seniors that are going to contribute there as well."
Mainieri is very confident heading into this season because of the leadership abilities of his veterans.
However, Mainieri believes that Alex Bregman, a 5-11 170-pound freshman infielder from Albuquerque, NM, will have a tremendous impact in a leadership role for the Tigers. Mainieri feels as though Bregman brings more to the team than just statistics. Bregman, Mainieri says, leads by example and is a great teammate.
"Quite frankly, I think a player like Alex Bregman, as a freshman, brings an aura and a lot of confidence to this team because of his talent and his attitude," said Mainieri. "He is either going to lead off or bat three-hole for us, and play shortstop as a freshman. He brings out the best in his teammates and he isn't a selfish player. He is a very team-oriented guy and he works as hard as anyone I've ever seen in the game."
Bregman isn't the only first-year player that Mainieri expects to contribute in a big way this season. Mainieri believes that he has found a big bat for his lineup that he has been missing.
Christian Ibarra, a junior college transfer from Rio Hondo College in La Puente, CA, showed Mainieri this fall why he needs to be in the lineup, not only for his bat, but also because of his defensive abilities. While Ibarra is not a big guy (listed at just 5-7 155 pounds), Mainieri fully expects him to produce in the power department for the Tigers, something he things the LSU fans will enjoy.
"Christian Ibarra is another guy that I expect to contribute in his first year," explained Mainieri. "He is going to be our third baseman. He is going to be a very important player for us. I think he is a very outstanding defensive player and he has a free-swinging hitting style that LSU fans will love because he will swing for the long ball. He is going to get some big hits for us this year."
Mainieri updates team post-Fall Ball
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