The 2009 LSU baseball season was topped off with the school’s sixth National Championship. Headed into his fourth year at the helm, head coach Paul Mainieri has already begun evaluations for next season’s starting squad.
While a handful of Tigers have begun summer ball, others are awaiting the decision to stay in Baton Rouge or sign on with a Major League Baseball club.
One player LSU is not waiting on is star slugger Blake Dean who informed Mainieri that he intended to return to LSU for his senior year. The Minnesota Twins drafted Dean in the 10th round, but a slap in the face signing bonus offer, well below the $150,000-200,000 that Dean was looking for, pushed the Crestview, Fla.-native back to Baton Rouge for one more year.
Dean is scheduled to have surgery on his shoulder in the coming days that will keep him out of fall practice, but if all goes according to plan he will be sidelined until mid to late October and will start throwing again in January.
Dean, who finished his junior campaign with 17 home runs and a .328 batting average while working mostly as the Tigers’ designated hitter, will be given a chance to earn a spot in the field for the 2010 campaign, whether it is in the outfield or at first base remains to be seen.
If Dean is going to win a job at first base then he will have to fend off junior college slugger Kyle Koeneman, who hit 50 homers in two years at Walter State (Tenn.) Community College. If Koeneman doesn’t occupy first base then look for him to be the designated hitter because Mainieri has to find a way to get his bat into the lineup.
Thus far, LSU has seen first baseman Sean Ochinko, outfielder Jared Mitchell and pitcher Nolan Cain sign professional contracts. Two other drafted underclassmen – Ryan Schimpf and DJ LeMahieu – have until August 17 to make the call.
LeMahieu and Schimpf, who were drafted in the second and fifth rounds, respectively, are expected to move forward with their professional careers.
With the possibility of Dean in the outfield, Mainieri could have his outfield lineup – Dean, Mikie Mahtook and Leon Landry – though whether Landry or Mahtook would play centerfield remains up in the air.
On the prospect side, the Tigers have already lost junior college outfielder Chad Stang and are likely to lose New York Yankees first-round pick Slade Heathcott.
Outside of the aforementioned, the nucleus is intact.
Rising sophomores Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover look to secure their spots up the middle of the infield, though Nola could move to third based upon the performance of Wet Delatte and Temple Junior College infielder Mike Lowery.
Grant Dozar should also get looks at the hot corner, though he will remain the backup to Micah Gibbs behind the plate until Wes Luquette can rehab from Tommy John surgery.
With Zack Von Rosenburg, Brody Colvin, Brett Bruening and Mitch Mormann still considering offers from professional teams, the pitching rotation remains up in the air.
If all four decide to join the Tiger program, they will file in behind Friday night starter Anthony Ranaudo. Austin Ross and Daniel Bradshaw, who combined for 21 starts in 2009, are additional options to the weekend starting rotation.
In the pen, the Tigers southpaw setup man, Chad Jones, returns for his junior campaign, barring an early entry into the 2010 NFL draft. Matty Ott, whose 16 saves were an LSU single-season record, will likely be back at the closer spot in 2010.
With the two corners of the infield open, the Tigers will likely hit the junior college circuit this summer in search of filling the void. While a current Tiger should fill third base, first base could welcome a new face to the program.
There are holes for Mainieri to fill, but if a few players turn down the money that will be presented to them, the Tigers and Mainieri have a legitimate chance to spend their third consecutive summer in Omaha.