Mainieri anxious for MLB Draft

Paul Mainieri is optimistic he'll retain his entire 2014 signing class, but he admits the next couple of days will be long for him and his coaching staff.

The MLB First-year Player Draft begins in a matter of hours, with the first two rounds (compensatory selections included, 74 picks total) beginning tonight at 6 p.m.

The Draft will continue Friday with the rest of the first 10 rounds starting at noon, and the whole thing will finish Saturday starting with the 11th round, which begins at noon.

The next three days should be an incredibly eventful time for the LSU program, with several players from the current team and a large portion of the 2014 signing class that could be drafted at some point. Building a recruiting class in baseball is far different than any other sport, as not only do the coaches have to convince a kid to commit in the first place, but they also have to fend off professional suitors.

That leads to a bit of anxiety for LSU coach Paul Maineiri throughout this process.

"They're young, and they all think they're going to be that one player that makes it to the major leagues," Mainieri said. "Many of them jump at the opportunity, and obviously it affects our program because they're the kids we've invested our time recruiting. When they don't come to school, it hurts us."

But before we get into the signees, let's focus on tonight's headliner — Aaron Nola. Thursday night will be a celebration at Alex Box Stadium, with family and friends of the program joining Nola to watch the first-round of the MLB Draft.

The junior righty should be selected within the first 10 picks of tonight's first round, in contention to be the first college pitcher selected. Kevin Gausman received that honor in the 2012 MLB Draft, and now Nola seems poised to follow in those footsteps.

Most projections have either Nola or North Carolina State's Carlos Rodon coming off the board first in terms of college pitchers. Some experts even report that Nola's still being considered for the first overall pick by the Houston Astros.

The general consensus on Nola is that he has the highest floor of any prospect in the draft, that he's the closest to being MLB ready. But some worry that he may not have the highest ceiling, that he may peak as a No. 3 starter.

"I wouldn't sell Aaron Nola short," Mainieri said. "He could be a No. 1 starter in the major leagues and an All-Star. He's the most ready to play in the major leagues of anybody coming out of this draft, he'll get to the major leagues faster than anybody, and when he gets to the major leagues, he's going to stay there for a very long time."

But once Nola finally learns his fate, Mainieri's celebration will turn to anxiety as he waits to see where his signees are selected.

Top pitching prospect Mac Marshall will be the one to keep a close eye on tonight. Considered a lock through most of the process to be taken early, projections have started to drop Marshall recently with teams concerned about their chances of pulling him from LSU. Marshall has even told the LSU coaching staff that he'll be coming to school unless he's taken in the first round.

Scout's Kiley McDaniel does not project Marshall to be taken that early, and he's spoken with scouts recently that only have a third round grade on him, at best, largely because of those signability issues.

Mainieri expects to get Marshall to campus if he's not selected tonight.

Mainieri's anxiety will really start to kick in on Friday though, with the majority of his signees projected to fall in Rounds 3-10. Some of the prospects — like Greg Deichmann and Grayson Byrd — have told the professional clubs to not draft them because they're 100 percent committed to school.

There are still others that Mainieri's considering a toss-up at this point, and that's what will make Friday a long day.

"If you see them drafted, they're probably going to sign because the clubs won't draft them unless they believe they're going to sign those players," Mainieri said. "My perfect day tomorrow is to see none of our prospects drafted."

The two to keep the closest eye on are RHP Jake Godfrey and power-hitter Bobby Bradley.

Projections don't have either prospect coming off the board until the second day of the draft, but it's possible that teams still produce a large enough offer to get them to spurn college.

"I think they have an interest in wanting to sign," Mainieri said. "It will all depend on whether a team's willing to draft them where they think they should be drafted and if the investment is significant enough."

Godfrey was once considered a sure-bet to sign professionally after a monster fall in which he soared up prospect rankings. But then he committed to LSU and saw the experience awaiting him should he opt to come to college. He also didn't have a stellar spring, which started to bring him down a bit on draft boards, which now have him projected to go somewhere between the third and fifth rounds.

Bradley may be the biggest draft risk of the bunch. His projections are similar to Godfrey's in that his talent pegs him as a possible third-round selection. With above-average power, Bradley has a big-time bat but is likely limited to first base on the next level. Some teams simply don't value that as much anymore, and that's something that could affect his draft stock.

But Mainieri said it only takes one to fall in love with a player's ability.

"It just takes one team to pop you in the third round and offer you $1 million," Mainieri said. "The other 29 teams may not hold you in that high of esteem, but if one does, he could go."

But even with all the nerves and uncertainty these next couple days will produce, Mainieri still has high hopes for what he'll ultimately collect in his 2014 signing class.

"I'm very optimistic," Mainieri said. "I don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility to hold on to all 12 guys. I also don't think it's beyond the realm of possibility to lose a couple…It's been a perfect class that we've put together. We've identified really good players that fit exactly what we need, and we've done our work at trying to convince them that college is their best route."

But it won't just be signees that Mainieri's tracking in the draft through these next few days. He'll also have his eye on a handful of underclassmen from his current roster that could hear their name called.

Two that Mainieri described as "50-50" in terms of staying for another year or opting to go pro are Joe Broussard and Tyler Moore.

Broussard has seen his projections land him anywhere from the fifth round to the 15th round. Broussard is already 23-years-old though, so clubs may not be willing to make a large financial investment in a player his age.

Tyler Moore could also fall in that same range, considering he's a versatile defender that can play catcher of first base. And he also has power potential in his bat.

"They're not going to just sign for the opportunity to sign," Mainieri said. "They're both going to make intelligent decisions for themselves."

Mark Laird is a draft-eligible sophomore, and some clubs have noted his tools, particularly his speed in the outfield, and have shown interest in taking him in the early rounds. But Laird has given the LSU coaches assurance that he'll return for another year, so the odds aren't likely for him to be drafted until the late rounds at best.

One player that Mainieri does expect to lose is Jared Foster. Some teams consider him a Top 20-round talent based on his tools and athleticism. Despite his lack of production at the plate, clubs hope that getting him to play everyday will be what it takes to get that bat going.

Maineiri said in his meetings with Foster, he's encouraged him to sign professionally.

"He needs to go pro," Mainieri said. "Because I can't assure him he'll be an everyday player here. He needs to play everyday to see if he's good enough. He just needs to hit consistently."

Stick with TSD throughout the night as we track the first two rounds of the MLB Draft, and our coverage will continue throughout the weekend. We'll also have much more from our sitdown with Mainieri, including a look at what awaits the team this summer and some early thoughts looking ahead to fall practices.

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