Loaded outfield

This past Friday sophomore Chad Jones found out that he had earned a spot on the Tigers' 2009 roster. With the news came the final piece of the Bayou Bengals' outfield. With the rotation of Jones and Blake Dean in left field, and the return of Leon Landry in center and Jared Mitchell in right, the Tigers boast one of the most talented outfields in the country.

Chad Jones played in five games in 2007, starting just one in left field, batting .154 (2-for-13) with one double and two runs scored.

 

Yet, head coach Paul Mainieri hopes that the sophomore standout steps into a bigger role this season, giving the Tigers a third outfielder with the athletic ability needed to make the sure out.

 

"I certainly feel great with Jared in right and Leon in center," he said. "But left field is still up in the air. Certainly Blake will play some there, but Chad will be playing a lot in left also."

 

With Matt Gaudet being dropped from the line up due to the numbers game, the Tigers lose their other DH threat opposite Blake Dean. Look for Jones to get a majority of the starts in the field during his time with the team, which has been cut down to 32 of the 56 games due to spring football.

 

At the plate, however, Dean remains the Tigers most lethal threat.

 

A First Team All American in 2008, the Crestview, Fla.-native started in 67 of the Tigers' 69 games during his sophomore campaign, batting .353 (95-for-269) with 18 doubles, three triples, 20 homeruns and 73 RBI.

 

Dean blew up in the run to Omaha, hitting .407 (22-of-54) in LSU's 13 postseason games with five doubles, one triple, seven homeruns and 25 RBI. The sophomore outfielder was named Most Valuable Player of both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional.

 

In center, the Tigers' skipper could not be more excited about the development of Leon Landry.

 

"Leon has come such a far way, and it is pretty remarkable to see," Mainieri said. "When I think about freshman right now, and I love them and they will be great players, I can't look at a single one and say that he is ready to jump right in there and play at the highest level. Yet, last year, I threw Leon into that situation."

 

Mainieri points to the sophomore's growth through the trial by fire method as one of his greatest strengths.

 

"The difference between being a freshman and a second year guy who is physically stronger and has been through the battles, you just can't measure that," he said. "And the strides Leon has made are just off the charts.

 

"I can't say he will be better defensively, because he was great for us last season. But offensively, no question; it is almost like two different people. He showed glimpses of his talents last year, but I think he will do it on a consistent basis this season. He is going to lead off for us, and I think he will be real terror."

 

Landry had a summer performance that will not soon be forgotten, named the No. 1 prospect in the Cal Ripken Sr. League by Baseball America Magazine. He earned MVP honors in the league's championship series en route to leading the Youse's Maryland Orioles to the title. The Baton Rouge-native hit .304 (21-for-69) with four doubles, two triples, 16 RBI and 17 runs in 20 games.

 

The dynamic summer campaign came after an equally impressive freshman outing last spring, hitting .271 (58-for-214) in 57 starts with 10 doubles, five triples, five homeruns, 26 RBI and 12 steals.

 

In right, the Tiger lineup is strengthened by one of the most dynamic players in the country. After spending two years juggling football and baseball in the spring, Jared Mitchell has taken a new approach to the 2009 season, electing to pass on spring football and stay on with the Tiger baseball team all season.

 

Mainieri said that the decision by Mitchell is one that he cannot praise enough

 

"I am glad he went ahead and made the decision," he said. "It would have helped him to play more last summer in the Cape, because a week and a half is not enough. He has been through three seasons with football and two with me. If he were to participate in spring football, then sign a pro contract, then Les [Miles] is wasting a lot of time when he could have been giving looks to some other receivers."

 

With the MLB draft approaching in the summer, the ability to hone his baseball skills without football on his plate is something that Mainieri feels will carry the junior's career a long way.

 

"I think the staff knows what Jared can bring them, whether it is good enough or not," he said. "But I think it behooves them to let him focus on baseball, because it is beneficial for Jared. When he was participating in both, he wasn't a very good baseball player. This year, he will become the best player he can become and he will find out what type of player he really is. I think he will be a great one and get drafted high in June and then won't be back with the football team in the fall."

 

Mitchell played in 52 games (42 starts) last season, batting .297 (52-for-175) with 10 doubles, one triple, six homeruns, 29 RBI, 44 runs and 16 steals. The high point of the New Iberia-native's postseason run came at the World Series, driving in the winning run over Rice on June 17 to give the Tigers the 6-5 victory.

 

Nick Pontiff, Johnny Dishon and newcomer Mikie Mahtook – a 39th round MLB draft selection by the Marlins last summer – will serve as relief for the Tiger's in the outfield.

 

Pontiff played in 35 games (13 starts in right field) last season, batting .239 (17-for-71) with four doubles, one homer and eight RBI.

 

Dishon played in 41 games (11 starts) during his freshman campaign, batting .240 (12-for-50) with three doubles, two triples, two homers, 12 RBI and four steals.

 

Mahtook, a freshman, earned 2008 First Team All-State honors at St. Thomas More, batting .450 with 13 home runs, 45 RBI and 25 stolen bases.

 

The 2009 season should be a good one for the Tiger faithful, as three of the nation's most touted talents come from LSU's outfield depth chart. With speed in the field and power at the plate, a more experienced unit will take to the field for the Tigers as one of the best in the NCAA.

 

Projected Starters

 

Left Field

4  Chad Jones 6-3, 222  So. Baton Rouge, La. (Southern Lab HS) 

.154 BA, 1 2B, .231 SLG%, .214 OB%, 1 SB

or

34  Blake Dean 6-1, 208  Jr. Crestview, Fla. (Crestview HS) 

.353 BA, 18 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 73 RBI, .665 SLG%, 4 SB

 

Center Field

6 Leon Landry 5-11, 197  So. Baton Rouge, La. (Baker HS) 

.271 BA, 10 2B, 5 3B, 5 HR, 26 RBI, 38 R, 12 SB

 

Right Field

3  Jared Mitchell  6-0, 192  Jr.  New Iberia, La. (Westgate HS) 

.297 BA, 10 2B, 1 3B, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 44 R, 16 SB

 

Reserve Outfielders

8 Mikie Mahtook  6-1, 195  Fr.  Lafayette, La. (St. Thomas More HS) 

.450 BA, 13 HR, 45 RBI, 25 SB (High School)

 

18 Nicholas Pontiff  5-11, 179  Sr.    Metairie, La. (Jesuit HS) 

.239 BA, 4 2B, 1 HR, 8 RBI, .338 SLG%, 15 R

 

21 Johnny Dishon  5-11, 183  So.  Beaumont, Texas (Bridge City HS) 

.240 BA, 3 2B, 2 3B, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 20 R, .500 SLG%, 4 SB


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