2008 SEC Baseball Preview: LSU

There was plenty of excitement heading into last season with new coach Paul Mainieri at the helm of the LSU Tigers. In his first year at the controls of the SEC's most storied program, Mainieri, who took over for Smoke Laval, warned that things might get worse before they get better in Baton Rouge.

He was right.

The Tigers, who were used to winning championships on the diamond, failed to make the postseason for the second straight season, finishing 29-26-1 overall. LSU posted a 12-17-1 record in the SEC and went 20-13-1 with what is generally regarded as the best home field advantage in college baseball – Alex Box Stadium.

But things are looking up for Mainieri and the Tigers in 2008. In the offseason, the second-year coach reeled in the nation's No. 2-rated recruiting class, and this year's squad returns the top three hitters and top pitching duo from last year and features two of the most promising young stars in the SEC.

The Tigers' 19-man class includes nine players who were selected in the Major League Baseball draft. The talented group also features eight high school All-Americans and three first-team junior college All-Americans.

Five of the recruits were among Baseball America's Top 200 Prospects, including outfielder Chad Jones of Southern Lab High School in Baton Rouge; righthanded pitcher Taylor Martin of St. Michael High School in Baton Rouge; righthanded pitcher Anthony Ranaudo of St. Rose High School in Jackson, N.J.; infielder DJ LeMahieu of Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and infielder Matt Clark of Riverside (Calif.) Community College.

Of the top returning players, the Tigers will be led at the plate by sophomore outfielder Blake Dean. Dean batted .316 a year ago with seven home runs and 46 RBI. He is followed by senior middle infielder Michael Hollander (.279, 5 HR, 26 RBI) and sophomore catcher Sean Ochinko (.277, 7 HR, 32 RBI), who was named a Cape Cod All-Star over the summer.

On the mound, senior Jared Bradford is back after turning in a 10-4 record last season with a 4.41 earned run average, while striking out 81. Ryan Byrd is the Tigers' second-leading pitcher from last season, a year in which he went 6-2 with a 4.74 ERA and 35 strikeouts.

Mainieri is quite excited about a pair of young stars, including sophomore outfielder Jared Mitchell. Mitchell, who plays wide receiver on the Tigers SEC champion football team, batted .258 last season with three home runs and 21 RBI. He was also 18-of-20 on stolen base attempts.

Chad Jones is the other bright young star on this LSU squad. Jones, who was a 13th round pick by the Houston Astros, also plays for the LSU football team where he stars at nickel back and on special teams.

"This was the best fall practice I've ever been involved with," said Mainieri, who is entering his 26th season as a collegiate coach. "The potential is there for us to have a super year, but we still have a lot of work to do. We have to continue to focus on getting better every day, and that means working hard in the weight room and in our conditioning drills.

"We have a long way to go before February 22, but I am very encouraged by our team's talent, chemistry and work ethic."

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