A lot of focus has been given to how freshman Alex Bregman can follow Austin Nola at shortstop.
But not much attention has been paid to the other position on the left side of the infield that lost a four-year starter. LSU must replace Tyler Hanover, who started 236 games in his career, and it will be JUCO transfer Christian Ibarra's job to step in at third base.
From a simply physical standpoint, fans won't notice a big difference between the two. At 5-foot-7, Ibarra stands only an inch taller than his predecessor, and when he flashes the leather, Paul Mainieri expects him to show the same reliability as Hanover.
"We don't have a whole lot of tall players in our everyday lineup anyway," Mainieri said. "I've never been one for eye candy. I'm a coach that believes in players that get the job done. I don't really care how they look in a uniform."
Ibarra wasn't familiar with any LSU players before he arrived this past fall from Rio Hondo College in Whittier, Calif. He has since been told of Hanover's legacy at third base, and what he'll need to do to fill his shoes.
"He could pick it," Ibarra said. "He had good hands. He was a scrappy kid, and that's all I am too. We're going to be alike out there."
Coming out of South Hills High School in West Covina, Calif., Ibarra did receive some Division-I attention, but his grades sent him on the JUCO route. Ibarra's biggest goal was to land at a D-1 school, he just never expected it to be LSU.
Late in his sophomore season though, Ibarra's coach informed him that Javi Sanchez was coming to see him practice. The rest was history as Ibarra signed with LSU in July 2012.
Ibarra primarily played shortstop at Rio Hondo, committing six errors in 229 chances last season. But with Bregman locked in at shortstop, Ibarra earned the spot at third base, and he said his skills at the corner are in his genetics.
"I've been playing infield my whole life," Ibarra said. "Us Latins have quick hands, so I'm confident at [third base]."
Mainieri said he's anticipating having two players with the defensive skillset of a shortstop on the left side of the infield.
"Nothing is routine on that side," Mainieri said. "Those are all difficult plays. Ibarra just brings a lot of shortstop-level skill to the left side of the infield, and his defense is going to be needed."
But Ibarra is more than just a glove. Mainieri praised his ability at the plate as well. Ibarra hit .396 last year for Rio Hondo, including six homers and a .469 on-base percentage.
"What surprised me over the fall was how good of a hitter he is," Ibarra said. "He's got bat speed. He hit three home runs in fall practice, so I guess I shouldn't have been surprised."
And while bringing two newcomers to one side of the infield would be a major concern for most programs, Mainieri doesn't appear fazed. With freshman phenom Bregman assuming the load at shortstop, Ibarra has the duty of shoring up third base.
And though Mainieri would expect a growing pain here or there, in the end he sees Ibarra picking up where Hanover left off.
"It's good that because we have to replace two guys, at least one has a couple years college experience under his belt," Mainieri said. "But the game is a little different here when you put a lot of people in the stands, and the bright lights are going. It'll be an adjustment for him, but he'll handle it well."
Ibarra steps in
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