Mainieri needs to restock his bullpen after losing seven pitchers from last year's team. He also has to replace Ty Ross, who started all three years of his LSU career behind the plate.
With fall practices now officially concluded after last weekend's Purple & Gold World Series, the depth chart across the board is starting to become clearer. There are a lot of new faces but players are starting to discover their roles.
After speaking in-depth with Mainieri about the team, TSD's Hunter Paniagua has a complete breakdown of how the Tigers are looking for the 2014 season.
THE PITCHING STAFF GOES 13-14 DEEP
Mainieri's concern for the pitching staff grew strongest at the start of fall practices. The offense dominated the early scrimmages, and he feared replacing all those arms would be harder than originally thought.
But Mainieri said the pitching really picked up as the fall wore on. That became pretty clear in the P&G World Series, which had scores of 2-1, 1-0 and 2-1. He knows it's possible that the offense instead dropped off toward the end, but he said he was still amazed at how much improvement the pitchers showed.
"Those are the things you don't know coming out of fall practice,"Mainieri said. "But if I had my choice, I'd rather see the pitching dominate, because then you know you have a fighting chance."
PLENTY OF COMPETITION FOR THE ROTATION
Mainieri said there are seven pitchers vying for the three weekend rotation spots. Of those seven, Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn have a pretty firm grasp on two of the spots. Neither pitcher threw this summer, so there was some expected rust to shake off for both.
Nola struggled through his first couple of outings, but by the third or fourth time out there, Mainieri said Nola was back to being Nola.
Coming out of the fall, sophomore Hunter Newman and freshman Jared Poche are the two favorites to complete the rotation. Mainieri said Newman was much improved from his freshman form, but they had to shut him down for the final few weeks of fall because of a shoulder strain.
Poche, Louisiana's 2013 Mr. Baseball, needs to add some to his velocity, but he has a chance to be in the rotation.
Mainieri said he'll likely start the season with these four starting, with Poche and Newman either in the weekend roles or midweek. Also in contention are transfer Kyle Bouman, Joe Broussard, who missed all of the 2013 season to injury, and senior Kurt McCune.
Mainieri said both Broussard and McCune really excelled late in the fall, each throwing four scoreless innings during the P&G World Series.
"I would love to see those two kids finish their careers here with a flourish," Mainieri said. "That would be huge for the team. I'd love to see them go out in a blaze of glory."
Mainieri added that whichever players don't crack the rotation will form the foundation of the bullpen. With so many options though, Mainieri did say there will be a bit more experimentation in the first few weeks of the season.
That may lead to a couple early losses of some of these untested pitchers have bad games, but Mainieri is anticipating that. He said he would like to have the rotation set by the Purdue series, which is the last nonconference weekend before the SEC schedule starts.
ROUNDING OUT THE BULLPEN
Making a strong showing for the job of closer is former LSU-Eunice pitcher Brady Domangue. Though he missed time with a knee injury, Mainieri said he has the repertoire and bulldog mentality that lends itself well to that role.
"I think that's something he'd embrace," Mainieri said.
Mainieri also mentioned transfers Zac Person and Henri Faucheaux as guys that impressed during fall, as did sophomores Mitch Sewald and Hunter Devall. Of the freshman class, Parker Bugg and Alden Cartwright earned the most praise.
Mainieri compared Bugg to McCune, "but with more there," particularly in the fastball. Mainieri said Cartwright reminds him of four-year reliever Paul Bertuccini because of his strong curveball and command.
LSU also has Nate Fury, who didn't work in the fall after undergoing surgery this summer to relive shoulder/neck pain. It's not certain that he'll back for the start of the season, but he will contribute to the depth if he returns.
LSU's been spoiled for the last six years having two reliable catchers like Micah Gibbs and Ty Ross. The Tigers don't have that this year though, and right now Tyler Moore, Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque are all in the mix for that position.
Mainieri said he doesn't have that one outstanding defensive catcher this year, so he said it's probably going to be more of a platoon situation.
"You might not see a catcher catch consecutive games for us this year," Mainieri said.
He said if the season started right now, Moore would be the starting catcher against right-handed pitching and Chinea would get the nod against left-handed pitching. Scivicque is "real close as well," Mainieri said, but he's behind the other two at this point.
He added that Chinea has the strongest arm of the group — he threw out four base stealers in the P&G World Series — and Moore has the quickest, most accurate release. Scivicque needs more refinement in his skills, but Mainieri said all three are an improvement offensively over Ross.
Mainieri also said that right now he doesn't think these guys can handle the physicality to endure being the everday catcher, so that's another reason why they'll utilize a platoon.
FINDING A NEW FIRST BASEMAN
Another position with a lot of competition is first base. Mainieri said he doesn't have a true one-dimensional first baseman this year. That would have been Nick Longhi, who decided instead to go pro.
Instead, Mainieri said he's working with some versatile defensive guys that can man that position and add another offensive weapon. All three catchers are in the mix, as is transfer Connor Hale and freshman Kramer Robertson.
"I know the other guys are athletic enough that I can switch somebody else over to first base," Mainieri said. "As long as they can handle themselves defensively, then you just put your next best hitter there.
Hale was someone Mainieri said made a lot of improvements at the plate this fall. He said he was always making solid contact and hitting the ball hard, but just not driving through. The coaches made some adjustments to his swing, and Hale started hitting with more authority as the fall wore on.
ROBERTSON, ZARDON TWO TALENTED FRESHMEN
The two freshmen position players most likely to start the opener are Danny Zardon and Kramer Robertson. One of those two will be the starting second baseman, but Mainieri said he'll find a place for the other.
"Both of them could be two of our ninth or 10th best players," Mainieri said. "If they are, I'm going to find a way to get them in the lineup."
Mainieri said Zardon is the "more steady" fielder of the two, not as flashy or rangy. He said Robertson, who could also play first base or left field, is a little more erratic but has a better chance of making an above average play.
As for the rest of the infield, Alex Bregman and Christian Ibarra are very much entrenched at short stop and third base. Mainieri did say that he's expecting even more production out of them to replace some of the offense that left with Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes.
LSU's top three outifelders are Andrew Stevenson, Mark Laird and Sean McMullen.
Mainieri said he has high expectations for Stevenson, who has shown notable improvement at the plate after struggling in 2013.
"He hit .190 last year," Mainieri said. "He had nowhere else to go but up."
Though Stevenson spent most of last season in the leadoff spot, Mainieri said he'll likely be in the middle of the lineup this year. Mainieri compared him to past players like JaCoby Jones and Jared Mitchell, who had plenty of athleticism but didn't take many pitches and hit a lot of flyball outs.
Mainieri said hitting Stevenson sixth or seventh will allow him to be a freer swinger, which will help his production. Sean McMullen looks like the leadoff hitter for this coming season, and the only question will be whether he plays LF or is the DH.
If he plays the field, that provides Mainieri more options at DH. If McMullen can't handle the outfield role, Chris Sciambra or Jared Foster will man left field. Mainieri said freshmen Cade Stone, Jake Fraley and Jarrett DeHart are a year away from being major contributors.