BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU baseball team held its annual Media Day activities and opened preseason practice on a sunny Friday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
LSU, ranked No. 11 in preseason polls, opens the season at 7 p.m. CT on Friday, February 14, when the Tigers play host to Indiana in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who led the Tigers to the 2009 College World Series title, enters his 14th season in Baton Rouge eager for the challenges the 2020 season will present. Mainieri has directed LSU to five CWS appearances and nine NCAA Tournament National Seeds over the past 13 seasons, and the Tigers have won four SEC regular-season championships and six conference tournament titles in that span.
“I’m excited about our team this year,” Mainieri said, “we have a lot of great kids and a lot of young kids and a veteran pitching staff. It hasn’t been often in the 14 years I have been here where there are so many unknowns about a team as we have this year with our position players. However, our pitching staff is a veteran staff; we have 16 pitchers on the team, and we only have three new pitchers, so 13 guys are veterans.”
The pitching staff features 11 Tigers who recorded innings last season, including three-weekend starters – right-handers Cole Henry, Landon Marceaux and Eric
Walker. Right-hander Devin Fontenot, who posted seven saves in 2019, and right-hander Matthew Beck, who was 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA last season, are back to lead the LSU bullpen.
Right-hander Jaden Hill, who began 2019 as a weekend starter but suffered an early season-ending injury, will return to the mound this season, along with experienced right-handers AJ Labas, Ma’Khail Hilliard and Trent Vietmeier. Left-handed pitchers Jacob Hasty and Brandon Kaminer are newcomers that will bolster the staff.
“While we are trying to figure out the right combination and put the pieces of the puzzle together in our batting order,” said Mainieri, who is in his 38th season as a collegiate head coach and ranks No. 2 on the NCAA Division I wins list for active coaches with 1,455 victories. “I think our pitching staff is going to be at a level that allows us to win games even while we are learning about our team.
“One of the keys for us, as last year proved to be true, is our ability to keep the guys healthy. Rather than push a starter to work an extra inning, it’s a good feeling knowing we can go to the bullpen and bring in a guy that is a veteran pitcher and has pitched well for us in the past.”
LSU returns five position players who started at least half of LSU’s 66 games in 2019, including outfielder Daniel Cabrera, catcher Saul Garza, first baseman Cade Beloso, outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo and infielder Hal Hughes.
Other returning veterans who filled part-time starting roles last season are first baseman/outfielder CJ Willis, infielder Gavin Dugas and outfielder Drew Bianco.
The Tigers’ talented class of newcomers includes 10 position players, and it contains four players that have been chosen in an MLB Draft – infielders Zach Arnold, Zack Mathis and Cade Doughty, and outfielder Mo Hampton Jr.
“We have a lot of new position players that complement our veteran players,” Mainieri said. “I’m still waiting to see which players are going to rise above others and make a statement that they should be starting players. As we went through fall practice, all of them showed great things, just not consistently. These next three weeks are going to be interesting to see. Even after the season begins, there is going to be some fluidity to our lineup.”
***Courtesy LSU Athletics