BASEBALL: Report from The Box

Ten days after the baseball team returned to LSU campus, Tiger coach Paul Maineiri and staff still anxiously waits February when the first official practice and scrimmages begin. caught up with the second year coach Thursday to discuss the team's progress thus far.

In a complete turnaround from last year, the outfield looks to be the deepest part of this LSU squad. Part of this can be credited to the outstanding three outfielders that were picked up in this year stellar recruiting class – the number one ranked class in the country according to virtually every baseball recruiting publication.

But Mainieri is quick to point out that three Tigers that didn't have concrete positions last season are now cemented outfielders. "Last year I would have called our outfield a real weakness for us. We went from three outfielders to having eight outfielders," Mainieri said.

"It's a very deep area of our team now. Last year before the season began, Ryan Schimpf was an infielder when the season started. Blake Dean was more of a pitcher than he was an outfielder. And Jared Mitchell was still on the football field and I had never seen him. Now those three guys seem to be our three starters."

Mainieri said that he feels like Dean will be the Tigers everyday right fielder and that Mitchell is the best overall hitter in the outfield at center. Mainieri added that even though Schimpf shows he is a talented player and has made great improvements in the offseason, he has some stiff competition nipping at his heels.

One of those youngsters fighting for their spot on the field is two-sport athlete Chad Jones. Since finishing up his championship season on the gridiron, Jones has spent the past week working with batting coach Cliff Godwin, learning the team's hitting drills.

"Chad has shown in the very short time that he has been with the team that he has talent," Mainieri said. "In the batting practice, it shows that he is an outstanding athlete and he certainly has a high ceiling as far as how much improvement he can make."

Another change will be that last year's shortstop Michael Hollander will make the move over to third base this season to make room for true freshman DJ LeMahieu. In a move that Mainieri is ecstatic about, Hollander will take over at third base simply because he is able to handle the shift so well -- and that he had to find a way to get the talented freshman on the field.

"Hollander is a natural at third base," Mainieri said. "I think Tiger fans are going to marvel at how Mike (Hollander) plays third base this year. He is a gold glove caliber guy. He's going to go to the line and backhand balls and show off that awesome arm that he has."

He's not moving to third base because he did something wrong. He's moving to third because it's the best combination for us. The only way it was possible to be done is because of Mike Hollander's unselfishness and his willingness to help LSU win games."

Mainieri feels like LeMahieu could possibly be the lead off hitter for the Tigers by the time LSU host Indiana on February 22 in the season opener to kick off the last season in the current Alex Box Stadium.

"He has a temperament about him that you don't find in many kids," Mainieri said. "He's not a big talker, but he has a lot of self confidence."

For the next week, the Tigers will continue workouts and conditioning while preparing for the official beginning of practice on Feb. 1.

"I don't make many judgments based on these early practices," Mainieri said. "That would be like Les deciding who is going to play wide receiver just by watching a pitch and catch with the quarterback. In a couple of weeks, we will have a better idea of where we are at. I'm very optimistic by what I have seen so far."

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