Last season, the Tiger baseball team's run to Omaha was highlighted both by the long ball from the plate and a solid staff on the mound. Yet, after losing Jared Bradford, Ryan Verdugo, Jordan Brown and Blake Martin, head coach Paul Mainieri looks towards the youth of the program to carry the Tigers back to Nebraska next summer.
"I've been a coach for 27 years, and pitching is always the biggest question mark because you don't know how a guy will go until he gets out there," Mainieri said. "Now, it is not hard to take a guess at what someone like Anthony Ranaudo will do as he should make the leap to be a dominant starting pitcher. He just hasn't done it in a big game because he hasn't had a chance.
"With the way he is throwing now he will be an outstanding arm for us," added Mainieri. "[Austin] Ross and [Daniel] Bradshaw have had their moments as well, so I expect the three of them to step up and be starting pitchers for us on the weekends."
The six-foot-seven, 231-pound Ranaudo looks to be an intimidating presence on the mound for the Tigers, coming off of a freshman campaign that saw the New Jersey-native appear in eight games (one start), recording a 1-0 mark and a 0.00 ERA in 12 innings of work, allowing three runs (none earned) on five hits with six walks and 13 strikeouts.
An 11th round pick in the 2007 MLB draft, Ranaudo looks to make a splash early this season after battling elbow tendinitis last year, pushing his debut appearance back to April 15.
Austin Ross appeared in 21 games (two starts) last season en route to posting a 3-1 record and a 2.58 ERA in 52.1 innings with three saves, nine walks and 37 strikeouts.
Working behind his sinker and slider, the Shreveport-native pitched his way into the No. 2 prospect ranking by Baseball America magazine last summer in the Central Illinois Collegiate League.
Daniel Bradshaw pitched in 26 games (two starts) last year, recording a 4-5 mark and a 4.12 ERA in 54.2 innings with 13 walks and 52 strikeouts. The sophomore finished second on the LSU staff with four saves, trailing only Bradford (5).
The West Monroe-standout picked up over the summer where he left off in the spring, working 26.1 innings in the Valley League, recording 31 strikeouts and only four walks in the process.
Perhaps the biggest news to the Tiger baseball team, however, came from Louis Coleman when he announced his decision to forgo his MLB chances and return for his senior season.
A preseason All-American, drafted in the 14th round by the Washington Nationals last June, Coleman is scheduled to start the season opener before moving into the bullpen as the team's primary closer.
"When Louis decided to come back to school, it immediately gave a great deal of confidence to the team as a whole," Mainieri said. "We lost Blake, Ryan and two junior college pitchers that we had signed that we wanted as weekend starters. So Louis coming back made up for more than one of the losses of the junior college pitchers. We are still thin with Jordan [Brown] retiring, but Louis adds some great confidence."
The Schlater, Miss.-native appeared in 23 games (three starts) as a junior, recording an 8-1 mark and a team-best 1.95 ERA in 55.1 innings with two saves, 10 walks and 62 strikeouts. Down the back stretch – from April 15 to the end of the season – Coleman was 7-1 with a 1.91 ERA and two saves in 16 outings (one start) with 45 strikeouts in 42.1 innings of work.
In relief, the Tigers will look towards a mixture of rookie and veteran arms to get them through to the other side. LSU's skipper said that he expects a number of arms to step up, including some familiar faces.
"Nolan Cain is one name to watch out for," Mainieri said. "He is waiting in the wings to break out. He lost 30 pounds and improved immensely, so I think fans will like what they see from him."
Cain posted a team-high 24 appearances in 2007 before making 19 relief appearances last season, recording no decisions and a 2.37 ERA in 19 innings of work with 11 walks and 11 strikeouts.
Jordan Nicholson returns after providing middle relief for the Tigers during his freshman campaign, making 12 appearances, recording no decisions with a 4.26 ERA in 12.2 innings. The Ruston-native recorded two walks and eight strikeouts on the year, limiting opponents to a .265 batting average.
"Jordan has looked really great, so we definitely have some options," Mainieri said. "The key will be some of the freshmen pitchers. Chris Matulis, Randy Ziegler, Matty Ott and Shane Riedie are four guys that have a chance to contribute and step up and give us a deep staff."
A crafty southpaw, Matulis recorded a 10-0 mark on the mound in 2008 for Park Vista High, boasting a 0.41 ERA in 67.2 innings of work.
Ziegler looks to make a splash both on the mound and at the plate, posting a 10-3 record at Calvary Baptist High in 2008 with 129 strikeouts. The Shreveport-native also batted .512 with 12 home runs on the year.
Ott recorded a 9-2 record at Holy Cross in New Orleans during his senior campaign, while Riedie recorded an 8-3 record during his time on the mound at Slidell High.
Another freshman, Spencer Matthews, looks to add versatility to the Tiger rotation after earning a spot as a walk on during the fall, while Paul Bertuccini, Ryan Byrd and Ben Alsup all return to the staff looking to add seasoned arms to the mix.
Bertuccini, who ranked No. 8 in the SEC with 28 appearances last season, posted a 2-0 record and a 2.63 ERA in 27.1 innings of work. The Metairie-native recorded two saves, 12 walks and 30 strikeouts on the year.
A senior southpaw, Byrd developed into a weekend starter for the Tigers in 2007 and worked out of the bullpen in 2008, pitching in 13 games (six starts), posting a 2-1 mark and 6.82 ERA in 30.1 innings of work.
Alsup, a two-sport standout at Ruston High, made five relief appearances as a true freshman, posting no decisions and a 6.75 ERA in 5.1 innings of action.
Behind the plate, the Tigers return one of the nation's best.
Coming off a freshman season in which he took over the starting job on March 30, Micah Gibbs caught in 54 games, recording 48 starts. The Pflugerville-native batted .322 (56-for-174) on the year with 16 doubles, two homers and 35 RBI.
Last summer, Gibbs starred behind the plate for the United States National Team, winning a gold medal at the World Championships in the Czech Republic. Gibbs hit .264 (19-for-72) for the U.S. with three doubles, two homers and 17 RBI in 23 games.
"He is not far, defensively, from being able to catch in the majors," Mainieri said. "He continues to improve offensively and he gives us great protection behind Dean because he hits from both sides of the plate. He is simply one of the best players in the country at his position."
Ochinko, who will start at first base this season, spent time behind the plate in 2008 for the Tigers, playing in 47 games (30 starts) and batting .272 (37-for-136) with six doubles, four homers and 21 RBI.
Hoping to finish the season in Omaha once more, the Tigers will ride a slew of inexperienced arms into 2009. With the ceiling for potential nowhere in sight, Mainieri hopes that his staff will put together the pieces needed to make the coming season another dominant one from the mound.
Projected Weekend Rotation
23 – Anthony Ranaudo 6-7, 231, So. Jackson, N.J. (St. Rose HS)
8 games, 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 13 K, 6 BB
12 – Austin Ross 6-2, 190, So. Shreveport, La. (Captain Shreve HS)
21 games, 3-1, 2.58 ERA, 37 K, 9 BB
24 – Daniel Bradshaw 6-1, 211, So. West Monroe, La. (Ouachita Christian)
26 games, 4-5, 4.12 ERA, 52 K, 13 BB
29 – Louis Coleman 6-4, 190, Sr. Schlater, Miss. (Pillow Academy)
23 games, 8-1, 1.95 ERA, 62 K, 10 BB
10 – Ryan Byrd 6-1, 173, Sr. Denham Springs, La. (Denham Springs High)
13 games, 2-1, 6.82 ERA, 17 K, 8 BB
39 – Nolan Cain 6-3, 230, Sr. Cantonment, Fla. (Tate HS)
19 games, 2.37 ERA, 11 K, 11 BB
44 – Paul Bertuccini 5-11, 188, Jr. Metairie, La. (Rummel HS)
28 games, 2-0, 2.63 ERA, 30 K, 12 BB
38 – Jordan Nicholson 6-1, 175, So. Ruston, La. (Ruston High)
12 games, 4.26 ERA, 8 K, 2 BB
47 – Ben Alsup 6-3, 161, So. Ruston, La. (Ruston High)
5 games, 6.75 ERA, 6 K, 1 BB
20 – Shane Riedie 6-5, 243, Slidell, La. (Slidell HS)
8-3, 1.23 ERA (High School)
22 – Matty Ott 6-1, 180, New Orleans, La. (Holy Cross High)
9-2, 1.97 ERA (High School)
25 – Randy Ziegler 6-0, 160, Fr. Shreveport, La. (Calvary Baptist High)
10-3, 129 strikeouts (High School)
30 – Chris Matulis 6-5, 215, Fr. Lake Worth, Fla. (Park Vista High)
10-0, 0.41 ERA (High School)
58 – Spencer Matthews 5-11, 182, Fr. (RS) Lake Charles, La. (Barbe HS)
14-1, 1.05 ERA (High School)
Projected Starting Catcher
33 – Micah Gibbs 5-11, 214, So. Pflugerville, Texas (Pflugerville HS)
.322 BA (56-for-174), 16 2B, 2 HR, 35 RBI
14 – Sean Ochinko 5-11, 206, Jr. Parkland, Fla. (Douglas HS)
.272 BA (37-for-136), 6 2B, 4 HR, 21 RBI
27 – Beau Didier 6-2, 200, Fr. Federal Way, Wash. (Bellarmine Prep HS)
.430 BA in 2007 with 2 homers and 24 RBI (High School)