Beginning on the infield grass, three of four starters return, excluding first round draft pick Aaron Hill.
"On the infield it is relatively an easy job," Laval said. "Ivan Naccarata can play third base and second base. When we open up, he (Naccarata) will be at third base. A gentleman by the name of Bryan Harris just had knee surgery, and he may have to redshirt this year. If he cannot play, the starter will be Blake Gill. He will move over from second base to shortstop. Then Matt (Horwath) would go play second."
If Brian Harris can't go, sophomore Will Harris, younger brother of Clay Harris, could get the nod. Horwath, who is still on the rebound from an arm injury, might have to move to second anyway, shortening his throw, which would place Gill at shortstop.
"Blake Gill will start at second; he is a three-year player, with a lot of leadership qualities," Laval said. "At first base it will be Clay Harris. He has a preseason All-American nomination, and his brother Will (Harris) will back him up."
Harris, also a 2003 first-team all-SEC selection, tied Patterson for the team lead in home runs with 16. Harris hit .332 (70-for-211) with 16 doubles and 62 RBI, and he was voted second-team all-Louisiana by the LSWA.
Behind the plate, Matt Liuzza returns after a stellar freshman campaign. In fact, the Tigers have a steady squad of quality catchers, who all could see playing time.
"We have four very good catchers, one of the things that's great is the depth that we have. Matt Liuzza is our number one catcher; he did a great job as a freshman," Laval said. "He only had five passed balls for the year. He will be the starter as a sophomore this year."
However, it may be Liuzza's backup that holds the key to LSU's offense. When he isn't catching, Nick Stavinoha will serve as the designated hitter.
"Nick Stavinoha, led the country in home runs the last two years in junior college," Laval said. "Our third catcher is Dustin Weaver who amazingly has spent three years at LSU and has not used up a year of eligibility. That is kind of hard to do; I guess we have to talk to our compliance director about that. Dustin Weaver is a great catcher, and he is continuing to develop as a hitter. Ty Jensen, who is a senior, will be our fourth catcher. He will probably get a little bit of work. We have a great catching staff. It is great to have the depth that we have there with Liuzza being our number one guy."
In the outfield, the talent overflows. The trio of Holt, Patterson and Zeringue combined for 34 home runs last season and gives LSU arguably the best outfield in the nation.
Zeringue earned second-team all-SEC honors last season as the Tigers' right fielder, batting .339 (77-for-227) with 15 doubles, 13 homers and 45 RBI. He was LSU's leading hitter during the second half of the season (34 games) with a .382 average.
Holt, the 2003 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional Most Outstanding Player, hit .299 last season with 11 doubles, two triples, five homers, 36 RBI, 51 runs and 16 stolen bases. The Tigers' center fielder was also voted in August the MVP of the Cape Cod League, the wooden-bat summer league for the nation's top collegiate players. Holt batted a league-high .388 (52-for-134) in the CCBL with six doubles, one triple, one homer, 19 RBI, 25 runs and 13 steals.
Patterson earned first-team all-SEC honors last season as the Tigers' primary designated hitter, batting .350 (92-for-263) with 20 doubles, one triple, 16 homers and 51 RBI. He was voted to the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional all-tournament team, and he was named the state's Newcomer of the Year by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association.
If you want to talk power, this is the lineup LSU fans have been waiting on since the days of Furniss, Cresse and Larson. There is no doubt the Tigers will score runs.
"Our line-up, you can really switch around the batting order, it really does not make any difference," Laval said. "Nick Stavinoha will be kind of like the guy that will take Aaron Hill's place in the line up. He will be the guy that hits homers, and the rest will just fall into place. J.C. Holt was MVP of the Cape Cod league. Jon Zeringue is back and better. Ryan Patterson may be the best we have had. Ivan Naccarata is back and playing with a lot of confidence. If we stay healthy it should be a good run, but we will start out slow. That is a rule here so you might as well say it now."
Sprowl, Stewart may sit out in 2004
By Matt Deville
LSU head coach Smoke Laval is faced with a difficult decision.
"There is a good chance they will redshirt," Laval said. "Baseball is a little bit different because of the professional draft. The three guys in the outfield (Jon Zeringue, J.C. Holt, Ryan Patterson) are all better than Sprowl and Stewart, right now."
Laval said it is a tough decision to make
"I mean Sprowl started like 55 games, he can play," Laval said.
As for Stewart, an extra year may give him time to heal a sore arm.
"Stewart had that bad arm," Laval said. "I think him resting a whole year with his arm may be the best thing for him.
The problem is with the sticks LSU has in the outfield, there might not be enough at-bats to go around.
"As soon as you have one at-bat, you can't redshirt," Laval said. "You have a guy like Stewart or Sprowl, who can play. Then you have three all-Americans in the outfield who are going to play most of the time, it is not fair to take a year away from these guys."
Is there a future for Stewart and Sprowl – you bet.
"Stewart can hit in the middle of the lineup and Sprowl can lead off and play defensively as well as anybody we've got right now," Laval added.