Paul Mainieri and his players will meet with the media for an hour prior to the start of practice, where the 2015 Tigers will officially take the diamond for the first time. TSD’s Hunter Paniagua will be in attendance for this first practice and several more throughout the next month.
To get you set for fall ball, here are some things to watch:
LSU looking for a new third baseman
The Tigers lose two-year starter Christian Ibarra at third base, and they’ll be experimenting with his replacement this fall. LSU has a trio of candidates to take over — senior Conner Hale, sophomore Danny Zardon and freshman Greg Deichmann. Hale came to LSU from junior college as a third baseman but moved to the right side of the infield last fall. He still has the most experience though and was a stable force in the heart of LSU’s lineup last season. He hit .306 with 29 RBI and four homers in 2014.
Both Zardon and Deichmann have loads of potential though. Zardon spent some time at both third and first base last year. He hit .268 in 56 at-bats last season, and the staff thinks his offense should turn the corner in his second year. But don’t rule out Deichmann from having a major role this season. He was one of the Tigers’ top signees and would’ve been a high draft pick had he not told MLB teams he was definitely coming to college.
Searching for Bregman’s heir-apparent
Alex Bregman isn’t going anywhere yet, but he’ll likely be a first-round pick in next summer’s draft. So LSU already has its sights set on who’ll man shortstop in 2016. The Tigers will take this fall to experiment with a couple of players currently on the roster to serve as the next in line — sophomore Kramer Robertson and freshman Grayson Byrd.
Robertson started 30 games last season at second base, and he’s one of the Tigers’ best defensive infielders. LSU will want to see if that translates to shortstop this fall to ensure he can handle that position. He’ll also need to show a bit more at the plate this fall after hitting just .200 in 100 at-bats as a freshman. LSU has high expectations for Byrd as well. He was a late-round pick in the draft with a major league pedigree. The lanky Byrd will have a shot at significant playing time as a freshman.
These two will also split time at second base as well. Robertson would be the incumbent starter at that position, but look for Byrd to make a push. Going back to shortstop though, if LSU isn’t quite comfortable coming out of fall, look for them to sign a junior college prospect in the 2015 class to provide a bit more insurance at that position.
A big rotation at catcher and first base
LSU regularly used three catchers last season and even more first baseman in 2014. Look for the Tigers to again use a big rotation at both positions this fall and going into 2015. The Tigers have four catchers on the roster, and all will spend time at first base as well.
Senior Kade Scivicque and junior Chris Chinea enter the fall with the most experience, with the coaches also excited about freshmen Mike Papierski and Bryce Jordan. All four will get plenty of reps at both C and 1B, so LSU will have several guys ready to go in the spring. And keep in mind that both Hale and Zardon played first base last season, so the Tigers will have plenty of options there in 2015.
The best outfield in recent history?
LSU enters the fall with three players solidified as starters in the outfield — LF Jake Fraley, CF Andrew Stevenson and RF Mark Laird. This might just be the Tigers best defensive outfield in recent memory, and this trio has potential at the plate to be even more dangerous. Laird and Stevenson’s defensive ability is well documented, as there aren’t many with their combination of speed, range and ability to make the highlight-reel catch. But both were dynamite at the plate this summer in the Cape Cod League — Laird hit .358 while Stevenson hit .327.
Fraley also has a ton of potential after emerging as a starter during his freshman season. He hit .372 in 121 at-bats in 2014, and the Tigers will expect him to continue improving all aspects of his game.
Can freshmen emerge for the weekend rotation?
Outside of sophomore Jared Poché, the rest of the weekend rotation is up for grabs. A veteran like Kyle Bouman or guys coming off injury like Russell Reynolds and Hunter Newman will have the opportunity to take those spots. But after them, the Tigers’ impressive 2014 class of pitchers will all compete for a starting role on the weekend.
The one most expected to emerge — Mac Marshall — is no longer with the program, opting to go the junior college route after a month of school. But rumblings out of summer workouts were that Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey were even more impressive than Marshall. Those two could have a claim to a weekend spot, as could someone like Jake Latz, who was taken in the 11th round of the MLB Draft and turned down more than $1 million to come to school.
The Tigers have a very deep pitching staff for the 2015 season, and this fall will give the coaches an idea of which ones are up to the challenge. This experience will be vital for many of the newcomers, but the potential is there for this team to be dominant once again on the mound.