With just a few weeks before the 2013 season begins, Paul Mainieri is in the process of making decisions regarding starting personnel. One aspect that has several questions is the LSU outfield. While Mainieri already has a left fielder in place, he explained that the competition for the other two spots is really beginning to heat up, giving the LSU staff four options to fill two spots.
Aside from senior Raph Rhymes starting in left, Mainieri is excited by the progress that two freshmen have made since the fall. The first, Mark Laird, is a 6-1 172 pound player from Monroe, La. The other freshman, Andrew Stevenson, is a 6-0 177 pound speedster from Youngsville, La. Mainieri feels great about what both of them can bring to the table for the Tigers, something that will more than likely result in significant playing time early in the season.
"We know Rhymes is going to be our left fielder," said Mainieri. "We have four good candidates to take over in center and right. All of them are left-handed hitters and they can all really run well. They are all very good players, with two of them being freshmen."
"Mark Laird is a little more advanced than Andrew Stevenson as a hitter and Stevenson is a little more advanced as an outfielder. Neither of them have very many weaknesses."
The third candidate is one that has been in the program for a couple of years. Sophomore Chris Sciambra is coming off neck injury that forced him to miss the better part of the 2012 season.
While it has been a while since he has seen action in a game, Mainieri explained that Sciambra is right in the thick of the competition for the remaining outfield spots after having a very productive fall.
"Chris Sciambra is a sophomore and has fully recovered from his neck injury from a year ago," said Mainieri. "He had a tremendous fall, and probably played the best out of any of our options for those two outfield spots."
"He isn't as fast as the two freshmen, but he is a very steady player. He gets great jumps on balls and he gives you good at-bats when he is at the plate."
The final option for Mainieri in the outfield is yet another newcomer to the LSU program. Sean McMullen, a junior transfer from Delgado Community College, is perhaps the favorite at this point to secure one of the remaining spots.
"Sean McMullen is probably the most talented all-around guy," said Mainieri. "He has power, speed, and experience. He was an All-American last year at Delgado and he also had a tremendous fall. He started slow, but he finished strong."
While Mainieri has yet to make any decisions regarding his starting outfield, he explained that playing experienced players is very important to him. Mainieri believes that all four of his options will make significant contributions from a number of roles this season.
"At this point, I'm just not sure how we are going to work it," said Mainieri. "When all factors are equal, the more experienced guys usually get the first shot with me, while the rookies wait their turn. At the same time, I really like Laird and Stevenson and I think they could really produce for us, even if that is from the DH spot."
As was mentioned, Raph Rhymes will be the starting left fielder for LSU in 2013. Last season, Rhymes had arguably one of the best seasons of any LSU player in school history. While it may be difficult for Rhymes to achieve a season like that this year, Mainieri believes anything is possible.
"I would sign up for another year like Rhymes had last year," said Mainieri. "If Rhymes has another year like last year, I think he would have to be considered on the list of all-time greatest players to come through LSU."
"He was an All-American and first-team SEC. Nothing is impossible for Raph, so I think there is a chance he could have another big year like last year."
Regardless of statistics and awards, Mainieri explained that Rhymes knows what is important for the success of the 2013 team. Mainieri is fully expecting Rhymes to be a big leader for the Tigers in 2013.
"The thing that is so great about Rhymes is that he has confidence in himself," said Mainieri. "However, he isn't a guy that gets caught up with statistics and accolades. He just loves to play and he loves to win. He is very humble and I think his focus will be on leading LSU to victory."
Position Preview: Outfield
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