Draft Day Awaits

The LSU baseball team is in the thick of their postseason run – topping Rice this past weekend to secure their return trip to Omaha. Two days prior to their flight out on Thursday, however, close to a half-dozen Tigers will have their eyes on the Major League Baseball draft.

Louis Coleman – head coach Paul Mainieri’s “old man” on the staff – had his time in Baton Rouge play out as planned.

To follow, you have to go back four years – back to Coleman’s farm outside Schlater, Miss.

Handling duties on the family tractor, the high school senior – one of the Magnolia State’s top arms – fielded a call that he had waited his entire life for.

“The Atlanta Braves told me that they had taken me in the 28th round; it was an incredible feeling,” Coleman said. “That moment, just sitting on my tractor and thinking about the chance of playing pro ball, was one I won’t ever forget.”

Yet, he would be forced to forget the offer – or at least put it aside for the time being.

Headed to LSU, the right-hander passed on the big leagues for an education and additional experience.

Three years later, the draft was back. This time, the Washington Nationals made Coleman their selection in the 14th round.

“Turning that away for another year was something that I debated long and hard on, but in the end I wanted to help this team get back to Omaha,” he said. “That is the only thing that mattered to me.”

The gamble, once again, paid off.

The Tigers are headed to Omaha after capturing SEC regular season, SEC tournament, Regional and Super Regional titles.

Coleman – the SEC Pitcher of the Year – led the way with a team-best 13 wins and 2.76 ERA.

On Tuesday, the draft should prove the icing on the cake (outside of a World Series crown, of course).

“I think that Louis is ready to pitch in AA baseball right now, which makes him pretty attractive,” said head coach Paul Mainieri. “Coming back for his senior year made all the difference. His development under [pitching coach] David Grewe has been remarkable.”

Grewe, who joined the Tiger staff after serving as head coach at Michigan State, said that scouts are salivating over the chance to nab his staff’s ace.

“He has amazing control, and he can get after you by pounding the zone,” Grewe said. “That is what we want to develop here, and Louis has done amazing with it.

“He should land with someone with a lot of picks early in the draft,” he added. “As a set up guy, he will move fast through an organization. If the fourth and fifth rounds come and go and Louis has not been drafted yet, I will be very, very surprised.”

Jared Mitchell should be long gone by the time Coleman’s name is drawn.

The New Iberia native, who turned down a shot with the Minnesota Twins in 2006 after the organization came up short on the seven-figures he was looking for, is the highest projected Tiger on the board – pegged as a first rounder by some.

“The scouts love my speed and athleticism, and that is keeping my name in the discussion for a higher pick,” he said. “My ceiling for development is pretty high too, because I have not spent a lot of time with the baseball because of football.

“I have heard first and second round, and it is amazing to be considered in that light,” he added. “But, when you never know what will happen, you have to toss it on the backburner. I have to stay concerned with what we are doing as a team.”

No worries, for by the end of Tuesday, the junior should have his seven-figures.

The trickiest of situations, as Mainieri will tell you, is that of DJ LeMahieu.

The sophomore infielder, who turns 21 in less than two months, is draft eligible.

After verbally expressing his commitment to head to LSU out of high school, the Michigan-standout was drafted in the 41st round by his hometown ball club – the Detroit Tigers.

Two years later, LeMahieu is being tabbed as landing as high as the second round.

With Omaha in front of him, the undecided sophomore remained tight-lipped – like the rest of the Tigers forced to battle draft week.

“I will take whatever comes my way, but I am trying not to worry about it too much,” LeMahieu said. “It would be great to land in the top couple rounds, but it is not something that I need on my mind right now.

“When Tuesday comes I will give it some thought, but I am about playing baseball for LSU right now.”

Mainieri, whose team is faced with the tall task of juggling thoughts of the MLB the week prior to their final stretch of the season, said that the timing could not be worse.

“I wish there were a better system,” he said. “I wish the players had to declare and then sign long before the school year started.”

Even for the Tigers who face uncertainty in Tuesday and Wednesday’s draft proceedings, from Ryan Schimpf to Blake Dean to Sean Ochinko, the distraction is there.

“You try to avoid everything, different lists and things like that,” Dean said. “Coach Mainieiri has made it a point to pull everyone aside and let us know to keep our eyes on the prize.”

Yet, there will be the uncontrollable.

Take Zachary High pitcher and LSU commitment Zach Von Rosenburg – who was recently named Mr. Baseball in Louisiana for the second year in a row.

Projected to land in the top rounds, Mainieri might be out of luck on his best prospect before he ever steps foot onto campus.

All part of the plan, a Mainieri would say.

“You have to take some risks, and pitching is the big thing,” he said. “If you want a Ranaudo, you run the risk of losing him to the draft. There is no getting around that.”

Fortunately for the LSU skipper – in a week in which his cupboard might get cleaned – he still has Ranaudo.

“He’s not eligible, is he?” said Mainieri with a smile.

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