LSU Baseball primed for another run at Omaha - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

LSU Baseball primed for another run at Omaha

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) -

For LSU Baseball it's always Omaha or bust. With another preseason top ten ranking handed to the Tigers, the goal won't change in 2016.

LSU held their baseball media day Friday, and this is what Head Coach Paul Mainieri had to say about the upcoming campaign. The following is a transcript of the press conference provided by LSU Athletics. 

Six of our returning players will be in the starting lineup on opening night. Of course, Jake Fraley is our lone returning starting player and I think one of the best players in the country. Very capable of being an All-SEC, All-American-caliber player, high draft choice. He's ready to take the mantle, so to speak, and be our leader.

Kramer Robertson, even though he was not considered one of the starting nine last year at the end of the year has started an awful lot of games for us. I want to say he started close to 30 games in his freshman year, 42 including last year. I think he started about a dozen last year.

We decided to move Jared Foster into second base and that took Kramer out of the lineup. And then he ended up getting a very sore elbow which caused him to not even be available to us for almost the last two months of the season.

But he went off and had a really good summer in Cape Cod. He's played well this fall. If he were out there at all for the Purple Versus Gold World Series games, Kramer shined brighter than anybody. He hit a couple of home runs, hit a couple balls off the wall, played terrific defense. I hope Kramer is ready to take that starting job at second base and run with it and really give us a very good, solid veteran player there, as well.

The other returning player to not play that much last year, I guess Michael Papierski might be the one exception to that. Papierski did start probably a dozen games, I'm not sure exactly. Probably appeared in 30-plus games as Kade Scivicque's backup.

Last year at this meeting, I think I told everybody, I thought Michael Papierski was ready to be our starting catcher last year. But for the amazing development of Kade Scivicque throughout the year and his two years here, but specifically last year where Kade became a Johnny Bench Award finalist, an All-American and fourth-round draft choice, it kept Papierski in that sub role, that reserve role.

But I felt Papierski was ready to play last year and had he been our starting catcher, would have done a fine job for us. He's an outstanding defensive player and has made a significant improvement in his hitting as we go into this next season. It's going to be a theme that you're going to hear from me a lot today. The work that Andy Cannizaro, our hitting coach has done with several of our hitters, to see the improvement that they have made from last year to this year; even throughout the fall from the beginning of the fall to the end of the fall; and even now as we have done individual work with the kids.

Of course this afternoon is our first full squad practice but we have been able to work up to two hours a week with individual skills-related stuff. Andy has had an opportunity to work with these guys and we have seen so many of them improve. And I put Papierski right there at the top of the list as far as how much he's improved as a hitter.

When we work our way around the field, you've got Greg Deichmann is going to be our first baseman. Greg is going to hit in the middle of the order and he's got a chance to be awesome. I mean that sincerely. He's a tremendous athlete, perhaps the fastest guy on our team and that's saying something with some of the other guys we have. But Greg is capable of stealing 30 or 35 bases. He's that fast. But he's also our most powerful guy. He can hit them as far as anybody I've ever had here, and they are usually real towering type of balls.

His problem, Greg's problem there this year was he swung and missed a lot. But again, Andy Cannizaro has made some adjustments with his stance, with his approach at the plate. Plus adding some experience, I think Greg is ready to take that role of being a middle-of-the-order hitter for us and do a really good job at first base, as well.

It's a great story about Deichmann in that he went away last summer to the Northwoods League and the first 20 games or so, he was hitting about .200, swinging and missing a lot, striking out a lot, just not playing great. But after about 20 games, it just kind of clicked for him and the last 40, 45 games he played last summer, he hit about .300 with half a dozen home runs and a boatload of RBIs and he didn't strike out as much. He brought that confidence back with him this fall and I think he's ready to be outstanding for us.

Two other returning players that I believe will be in the starting lineup on opening night are the Jordan boys, the Jordan twins, Beau and Bryce. Beau is probably going to be our starting left fielder on opening night. I say probably, because we also have a fourth outfielder by the name of Brennan Breaux that I consider a starting player, although we can only play three starters in the outfield. But Brennan is going to play an awful lot. He just may not be in there on opening night.

But Beau Jordan in left field, I've kind of got him tabbed to be our clean-up hitter. He's not the most picturesque outfielder, but he finds a way to get the job done and makes the catches. But he's certainly not as speedy as some of the other guys I mentioned, Beau and Fraley, and I'll talk in a minute about another outfielder.

But Bryce had a great summer. I think he'll probably be our designated hitter on opening night. Beau will be in left field. So when you look at all those returning guys, it keeps us from being that young.

We will count on one junior college player right out of the gate, and that would be Cole Freeman out of Delgado Junior College. Is he from Mandeville High School? Lake Shore High School, on the north side obviously. But Cole Freeman went to Delgado two years ago, developed as a player. He actually was a Gold Glove winner for the junior college level at second base. But I'm going to flip him over to third base. I'm going to leave Kramer at second.

And Cole is going to remind you a lot of Tyler Hanover. You all remember Tyler hand overplayed for us a few years ago, a little bit undersized but a real pesky, hard-nosed ballplayer. And that would define Cole. I would probably say Tyler is a little bit more powerful with the bat, but I tell you that Cole is a lot faster than Tyler. But the tenacity and the hard-nose attitude, the hustling type of ballplayer; that would define both of them. So I'm real excited about Cole. I think he'll do a good job for us over at third base.

And then we're going to have two freshmen in our starting lineup at shortstop and in right field. Obviously losing Alex Bregman after last year is a huge loss for us, and you know, to think that we are going to go out and get another Alex Bregman would be pretty wishful thinking. Alex Bregmans come along not very frequently to college coaches.

Those guys are usually signing for several million dollars coming out of high school and never see a college baseball field and three years after he came here he did sign for several million dollars, I think about six to be exact. You know, Alex was just one of a kind offensively, defensively, the way he ran and so forth, a great leader of our team. But we have to move on without him now.

Those are big shoes to fill, and you get nervous about somebody coming in and trying to be the next Alex Bregman. I do think that Trey Dawson is going to be a very steady shortstop. He's a very confident kid, very sure-handed, probably doesn't swing the bat at the level that Bregman does right now. Maybe doesn't even have the range or the ability to steal bases, but he's a very good, solid baseball player.

One of the unique things about Trey is when he was in high school, in Hurricane, West Virginia, where basketball is pretty big, his basketball team won the state championship one year and he's the all-time leading point scorer for his high school.

So he's a kid that's been used to being in the spotlight, in front of big crowds. And you know, even though you might not think there's a correlation between baseball and baseball, I do, because a young man that stand at the free throw line having to make both ends of a one-on-one to send the game into overtime can certainly handle hitting with the bases loaded in front of 12,000 people in, is the way I see it. We are looking forward to Trey being our shortstop and I think he's going to do a good job.

And the last freshman is our right fielder, Antoine Duplantis. Duplantis is really a center fielder but we're going to go with Fraley in center, and I think Jake will do a good job there. But putting Duplantis in right field is kind of the same as putting Mark Laird in right field. Mark could have played center field; but for the fact that we had Andrew Stevenson out there.

So the more speed we have in the outfield, the more ground we are going to cover and I tell you, Antoine Duplantis is the same caliber of outfielder as those two guys that we lost from last year, Laird and Stevenson. He's going to be a real impact player for us with the bat. He's a guy that knows how to handle the bat. He's going to put the ball in play a lot. He's going to hit to all fields and he's got some surprising power.

In fact, this fall in the Purple Versus Gold World Series, he missed a Grand Slam off of Alex Lange by about six inches that hit the top of the wall. So I think Duplantis is going to be a really good ballplayer.

So that's pretty much the starting lineup as I see it three weeks from Opening Day, certainly things can change from now till then. Guys that have covered -- guys and girls that have covered our program for years, know my philosophy about starting players. I like to have about a dozen guys that I can count on to put into the game at any time. So therefore, I like to bring along another three or four players, and the next guys in that group, obviously we have to have a second catcher.

I think Jordan Romero is going to be a really good player when he's in there. He was actually a Gold Glove at his position like Cole Freeman was at second base. Romero played at Catholic High School and then went to LSU Eunice for two years. I tell you, he's made some significant improvements with the bat, as well, I can tell, since fall practice.

I've mentioned Brennan Breaux, a speedy outfielder from St. Thomas More. Brennan is going to play a lot of baseball here at LSU and going to be a really good player.

And then finally, I'm really excited about a kid by the name of Brody Wofford. Wofford is a left-handed hitter from Georgia, was a high school shortstop, pretty good athlete. I don't necessarily think he's going to be a left-side of the infielder for us. Probably a first baseman and maybe a corner outfielder. But his big tool is his bat. He's put on already about a dozen pounds from the time that he's arrived here on campus in the fall and he's already hitting the ball with more authority.

So you know, those three guys are probably the next three reserves. The rest of the roster are talented kids that are probably going to have to wait their turn a little bit more. So that's pretty much the position players. Wait for any questions -- figured I'd just go ahead and let them have it.

From a pitching standpoint, of course, we have Lange and Poche' heading up our staff. What a great advantage that is to have two veteran pitchers now. Last year when I stood up here and talked to you about the season, we didn't know what was going to happen with our pitching staff. The only one we really knew we could count on was Poche' but then as time evolved, obviously Lange had a season for the ages going 12-0 as a freshman, National Freshman of the Year and All-American. Guys like Jesse Stallings and Bugg and Hunter Newman and Austin Bain and a bunch of other guys started to evolve and we ended up having, I believe with the lowest earned run average in the Southeastern Conference and our pitching coach was named the National Pitching Coach of the year because of it.

I feel very confident that we have a veteran pitching staff. I think this lineup is going to be good as time goes on. Initially I just want them to make sure they catch the ball behind this pitching staff. As time goes on, I think their hitting will continue to improve. But I feel confident we can still win games while we are going through that growth process because our pitching staff is going to give us a chance to win right out of the gate.

But I think you're going to see this team is going to be a lot better like I promised on February 19th than they were through the fall. But I have no doubt in my mind they are going to be a much better team as we get into April and May and June than they even are on Opening Day.

Okay. (Sighing). Tired. No questions? I'll see y'all later.

Update some injuries in the fall. You mentioned Bryce, he's recovered from the meniscus okay?

Yeah, it's flared up a little bit. So right now we are limiting him just to DH'ing and a little bit of catching. We don't want him to do any running or playing first base right now. He had the surgery. We thought he was good, but it's gotten a little bit irritated. So we just need to give it a little bit of rest from running and those type of things. But I anticipate he'll be full go by Opening Day.

And then Bain and Nick Bush?

Bain is all the way back. He's been pitching on a regular turn. He's a little bit rusty, which would be expected having not really pitched except for one outing in the summer and didn't pitch at all in the fall after having surgery. But I'm hoping that he'll continue to make great progress.

Nick Bush is out for the year. Unfortunately Nick had a surgery in the fall where they -- I don't know what they call it, but they moved a nerve from one side of the elbow to the other side of the elbow. Sounds awful. It's almost become fairly routine. We thought that would solve the problem and after he rehabbed that and came all the way back, the first bullpen that he threw, and they realized that the ligament needed to be repaired. So he's had Tommy John surgery and he will miss the entire season.

I might as well just keep going.

Jake Latz this fall had a screw inserted into his elbow. He should be ready to start throwing a baseball here in the next week or two. I don't know when he'll be ready to pitch. I'm still holding hope that maybe by late April into May that he might be able to contribute to the team. Obviously it's been frustrating for everybody, most particularly that young man. Very talented left-handed pitcher. He actually pitched 11 innings this fall, didn't give up a run in the inner squad games. Had one outing where he went four innings, struck out seven and really dominated. And then his 11th inning, started not to feel so great.

So we sent him back to the doctor. He actually went and saw several doctors around the country and ultimately everybody agreed that the best course of action would be to put a screw in there to solidify that bone. We've just got to wait it out a little bit and let him progress at his own pace and when he's ready to go, we'll know it.

One other injury. Cody Ducote had a freak injury after fall practice was over. He fell down and cut his hand on a broken bottle or something that was under some leaves. He actually had to have surgery on his hand and he won't even be able to grip a bat until next month sometime. So I don't anticipate that he'll be ready to play for at least a month going into the season. We'll see how that plays out.

Outside of that, I think everybody's healthy. We have a 34-man roster with Jake Godfrey's transfer, we can't fill that position. So we have a 34-man roster. We have Latz out, Bush out, Ducote out -- and who was the other one I mentioned? Was there somebody else? And Bush. We're basically going with about 31 players right now.

Bryce Adams, where can he fit in as things move forward? And how quickly do you want to settle on starters, three, four, five, however many?

With regard to Bryce Adams, Bryce is a big, strong right-handed hitter. He actually went to Dunham High School and then spent three years at Delgado. Bryce came on as fall practice -- he had a very poor summer last summer in the Northwoods League on the heels of an All-American season at Delgado. When you look at a sample, you're not sure which sample to place more emphasis in.

Came back in the fall and he struggled a little bit early in the fall and then as the fall went on, he started to have some very good at-bats. Swings a little bit long, but with Andy's help, he's shortening up his stroke. He's taking some good individual work, batting practice sessions. But for the most part he's limited to DH.

At first base, I'm going to go with Deichmann and Brody Wofford would probably be the backup there. So Bryce would be battling Bryce Jordan probably for the third spot there. But he's also battling Bryce Jordan for the DH spot. And I'm going to give Bryce Jordan a good look and a good chance to see if he's the guy -- so Bryce Adams will have to wait his turn a little bit but he's somebody that I've not given up on by any stretch of the imagination. He's a big, strong guy and when he hits them, he can hit them a long way.

The other question was about?

Three, four, five starters.

I get that question a lot. It's funny about that question. I was doing an interview this morning on the radio and somebody asked me about developing a four-man rotation. And I said, you know, when you think about Major League teams, how many Major League teams are dissatisfied with their fourth and fifth starters. How hard is it? You've been part of Major League teams, right, you always hear the managers complaining that they don't have a good fourth and fifth starter.

When you think of a Major League organization, how many pitchers are available to them? What does a Major League organization have, 150 pitchers in their system, plus they can make trades and so forth.

We have 15 pitchers in our system and we can't make trades. So to develop four really good starting pitchers is a difficult task. There's not many schools in the country that have that luxury. This may be a year that we're able to do that and we're hopeful that we can, because we do have some experience. We do have some quality guys. I mentioned Lange and Poche', Poche' and Lange -- I'm sure that question is coming up, who is going to be pitching on Opening Day, but we'll save that one for later.

The third starter, the fourth starter, we still have some candidates we are going to let battle out for that. Riley Smith is a junior college transfer from San Jacinto who we are extremely high on. Real bulldog on the mound. Got a great arm. Has always had a good changeup and Alan Dunn has taught him to spin that ball and throw a breaking ball, and now he's added that to his repertoire.

He was drafted last year, I want to say around the 30th round. We thought we might lose him, actually, because they were going to overpay him, but he stuck with his commitment. He came to school and we're happy that he did. He's got a chance either to be a third starter or perhaps even a back end of the bullpen guy for us.

Austin Bain, of course, is another guy, if we were to start the season tomorrow, probably Smith and Bain would start the Sunday and midweek games. But we still have other candidates. The left-handed pitcher from -- well, he's from Fort Lauderdale but he came by way of Akron University. They discontinued their program after last season and so because of NCAA rules he was immediately eligible. Didn't have to sit out a year as a transfer. He's a crafty left-hander.

I'll tell you, when he pitched against our guys in the fall, he carved them up a lot. He's not a strikeout pitcher but he does -- hit a lot of balls hard off of him. He's your prototypical Jaime Moyer, Ryan Bird -- I'm even going to throw a South Carolina Kid, Michael Roth, guy that knows how to pitch both sides of the plate, changes speed and so forth. So I don't know if I'm going to use him as a lefty out of the pen or perhaps a midweek starter at some point.

Doug Norman is another guy that has started games for us in the past that I think is probably in the hunt for one of those starting jobs, as well. But I would really like to see us have four starters. And if we get four starters, you'll be the first to know.

You talked about the youth and having the pitching to be able to sustain their growth a little bit early in the season. How do you feel like the schedule lends itself to this young team, learning to play the college game?

Well, the schedule for non-conference games, we don't really like to go on the road in the preseason. We get an awful lot of fans here. It generates a lot of revenue for our athletic department. Our fans love to see our team play. And we have a unique situation here where we are able to play a lot of games at home.

Occasionally we'll go on the road. But when you don't want to enter into a home-and-away agreement, it's hard to get some of the premiere programs to come here to play. And so we do get a lot of calls from schools from different parts of the United States that want the experience of coming to play at Alex Box Stadium, and quite frankly I think it's neat to play a lot of different teams. I don't know how many teams we've played since I've been the coach but I have this unofficial goal, try to play all 300 teams before I'm finished.

Some of these teams our fans may not have heard a lot about, but I can tell you threw personal experience that these are really good teams. Particularly you take Sacramento State, you don't hear much about them, they have a fastball program, they are out opponent the West Coast. This is a team that's going to be in the regionals next year. They are going to win their conference out their on the West Coast.

Their coach, Reggie Christianson, I know him from my days at Notre Dame. I coached against his team when he was a coach at South Dakota State, and we didn't play a team that played with a more hard-nosed, confident attitude than that team. And I'm sure Sacramento State is going to be a very formidable opponent.

During my days at Notre Dame we coached against Ball State. Listen, one year Ball State had two first-round pitchers coming out of their program. They have got -- I think they have got four players in the top 150 prospects in the country this year. So Ball State is going to be a very talented team and a very good team, probably will win the mid-American conference.

Fordham is a school out of New York, I don't know much about. Cincinnati, of course, they have one of most beautiful facilities in the entire country and they hired a new coach last year who is trying to turn this program around. They had a first team All-American last year that's no longer with them.

We look at all those teams that come in here with the greatest amount of respect. Our midweek schedule, we are going over to play LaMar and Beaumont, that's going to be a very challenging game. The next week we go to Thibodaux, they beat us last year, and they won 35 games or something last year, was the most wins they have had in many years.

I think we have got a good balance of teams that because we're able to play at home that our players can feel confident when they go out there and play the game and know that they are in a comfortable environment, so to speak. But at the same time, it will be challenging. We'll be ready to play when the SEC schedule comes around, I'll guarantee you that.

Can you tell us who you have right now, looking at for setup and for your closer?

I can't really say for certain there but I could tell you that the guys that are going to be pitching from the sixth inning on are pretty much the same guys as last year that I thought did a really fantastic job for us. Hunter Newman, for example, I think he only gave up a couple of runs if I'm not mistaken in 40 innings pitched last year. Stallings had some terrific moments, I think he had 12 saves. Obviously needed to develop some secondary pitches. Parker Bugg, who came up with a great slider last year did a terrific job for us.

I think those three guys to start with, I mentioned before Riley Smith was a candidate, maybe for the back end of the game if we don't use him as a starter. What we do with Austin Bain is still a little bit up in the air, and what we do with John Valek, does he become a situational lefty or a midweek starter. Not 100 percent certain what we are going to do yet with those guys but those are pretty much the names. You have guys like Cartwright and Reynolds that are going to be ready to contribute. I like the depth of our team. I hope we don't have to start from inning one and try to piece it together like we had to do a few times last year. But what I'd like to do is have a good, solid pen from the sixth inning on.

Where so many freshmen, do you have a message to them about the situation, how big the box is, the program, or when they sign on, they know what they are getting into as far as what LSU baseball is?

That's always the 64,000 question: How quickly does a freshman adjust to the environment here with the bright light.

Today is going to be a unique experience for all of those freshmen, when you all go out to the box and want to talk to them. This will be more people than they would have seen at their high school games and it's the media asking them questions.

So how do they adjust? We'll see. I wish I could tell you absolutely for certain. I'm sure some will handle it better than others. But they had better handle it because this is the way it is at LSU.

We have tried to prepare them mentally in our own unique ways of doing that for the scrutiny that they will be under for the fan -- for the fans to have access to them, with autographs and conversation and so forth. Just when you have a lot of people coming to the games, they want to see you do well. Sometimes when you don't do well, they let you know about that and you've got to learn to deal with that, as well. Criticism, praise, keeping everything in the proper perspective.

But the unique thing about playing baseball at LSU, coaching at LSU, being part of LSU is you're under the spotlight here and if you're afraid of it, you came to the wrong place. So you just have to embrace it and you have to enjoy it, you have to do the right thing, but you have to have beyond everything else, great composure and poise and self-confidence, and that will carry you through.

So we have tried to prepare them well, and I think they are going to handle it fine. As I mentioned, we are going to have probably two freshmen in our starting lineup on owning night. If I had probably six or seven, I would probably be a little bit nervous but I think the two freshmen are going to be able to handle it.

The other six returning players are going to be fine. The junior college kid, Freeman, I'm sure it will be a little bit of an adjustment for him but he's got a couple of years of age under his belt. He's a 21-year-old junior instead of an 18-year-old freshman. I think as time goes on -- I had a question about the schedule.

One of the things, I think back to 2009, when we won the National Championship, we started that year with Austin Nola and Mikie Mahtook and Tyler Hanover as reserves. But because we were able to play a lot of home games and those players were on the roster and on the bench, when we had a victory or game that was on its way to kind of a one-sided victory, it allowed me a lot of opportunities to put those guys into the games and they become more accustomed to speed of the game and the bright lights and all that type of stuff.

So that by the time we're 20 games into the season, I can feel confident plugging a Tyler Hanover in at third; or 30 games into the year, Mikie into the outfield; or 40 games into the year, Austin at shortstop, knowing they are a little bit more prepared than they would have been at the beginning of season.

I wasn't going to talk about the freshmen, but the sophomores. Normally when you have sophomores breaking into the lineup, you may have three and you have three or four juniors or seniors that are there. One of the Jordans may be in the middle of lineup. Are those guys mentally ready for that responsibility?

Again, we don't have a choice. Last year we started the season, and we had a couple of underclassmen in the lineup. Because I could see a year from then, now, that there was going to be a lot of guys leaving. We had a lot of seniors last year, we had a lot of underclassmen that were eligible for the draft. But as the season progressed, it became obvious to me that Jared Foster should be in the lineup. He was just bringing too much to the table, rather than having a platoon with him and Fraley, I thought we'd be a stronger team with Foster playing every day.

Chris Sciambra when he got an opportunity did some tremendous things. Gave him a chance at Arkansas his first night, he drives in four runs, three with a bases loaded triple and next day he plays and gets four hits. What was I going to do, take those guys out of the lineup? We were a beater team with them in the lineup. I thought we had a shot to go for the National Championship and we went for it. I knew that I would have to pay the piper this year a little bit.

But at the same time, sooner or later, guys have to take the big plunge. They have to jump in and whether you feel like they are 100 percent ready or not, they have to be ready -- they have to do it. And so Deichmann and the Jordan boys, Papierski, those are guys that they have been around here, so it would be different I think if they had not been around at all.

Papierski is the only one that's an out-of-state guy. The others have been to games here. They know the atmosphere. All that stuff helps them to be mentally ready. We recruited those kids here for a reason. We thought we were good ballplayers, and now they are going to get their opportunity to show why we had confidence in them.

At the polls, you're in the Top 10 and then you look and say, but you're fourth in the conference and second in your own division. Have you ever seen something like this where you have so much competition?

Yeah, every year I've been here actually. Seems like it's that way all time.

A couple years ago, I remember we had six teams from the SEC West in the top 15 teams in the country. This year, of course -- Brian is speaking of Florida seems to be the consensus No. 1 team in the country; Vanderbilt is pretty much a consensus two or three team; and Texas A&M is a consensus three or four team. We are five in two polls and seven I think in three others and 11th in one.

Yeah, I thought we might fly under the little bit this year, but I don't really care -- actually I do care. I'm glad we are ranked where we are. Do you think our fans or the people that care about LSU baseball want to hear about a rebuilding year? Come on, that doesn't exist at LSU.

Every year you're expected to compete and we're going to do that. We are just going to have some younger players on the team. In our league, if you can compete favorably in the southeastern conference, then you know you can compete favorably for a National Championship and certainly getting to Omaha, because we have the best teams in the country right here. As Brian mentioned, you're talking about we're fifth in the country and fourth in the SEC in the preseason poll. That's really amazing when you think about it.

But you wouldn't want it any other way. This is why coaches come here, this is why players come here, they come here to be tested against the best players or best teams not named LSU. And that's what we are going to do. So bring it on. Let's go. Let's have some fun.

You had so many veteran leaders on the team last year. Wondering where you expect to get that veteran leadership, especially in the lineup.

Depends how you define leadership, too. Are you talking vocal leadership or are you talking guys that can produce.

I'm a big believer that the best form of leadership is to go out there and play really well. Show the other players that you have great confidence in yourself. First of all, you prepared yourself well through your practice habits and how you went about your business each and every day. How you handle your success and failure with equal dignity. Coming through in clutch situations when your team needs you the best. For me, that's the best form of leadership. So really everybody is going to be a leader in their own way as long as they are going out there and producing.

Obviously when you have experienced players, they have a better chance to be successful because they have been through the rigors of an SEC schedule already. We don't have as many guys that have done that in our every day lineup. So it will just have to be one of those jobs in progress of who takes on a little bit more of a vocal role as a leader.

But clearly you can look at Fraley and perhaps Kramer Robertson, and certainly when you look at the pitching staff and see all those guys that I've already mentioned, the veterans, they are going to be leaders in their own way.

I'm not overly concerned about that. We as coaches have to provide a lot of leadership, as well, so hopefully we can handle that job.

Can you expand on Fraley a little bit?

His first fall here as a freshman was about the worst thing any of us had seen. We were wondering why we recruited the guy. He comes back in the spring, and it was like a light switch went off and all of a sudden he started showing all these remarkable athletic tools and the reason why we recruited him.

And from that point on, he's been such an outstanding player for us. But his sophomore fall was okay, it was better than his freshman fall but I can tell you that this past fall, he played like an All-American. He looked like a first round-draft choice. He hit the ball all over the park. He hit it out of the park. He ran balls down in the outfield. He stole bases.

We get a lot of scouts coming out to our inner squad games in the fall here and they were all raving to me about what they were seeing with him. And so I think Jake is ready for that bust-out season. He's had two really fine seasons for us. But I think he's got a chance to do something special. He's going to hit three-hole, he's going to play center field. He's that one veteran player that all the young guys are going to look at to provide that leadership that you asked about.

When did you realize that Antoine was going to be your starter? And three freshmen from the Lafayette area, is that a lot?

Let me answer the second question first.

The Lafayette area has become very vital to our LSU baseball program. Obviously ULL has developed a tremendous program, as well, and they have got plenty of good players in their program. But we have been able to dip into Lafayette and get some pretty good players. I'll refresh your memory in case you need me to: Mahtook, Stevenson, these guys were -- and now we have three.

So two of them are from the same school that produced Stevenson and Mahtook, St. Thomas More. And then the third one, Duplantis is from Lafayette High School. Brennan Breaux and O'Neal Lochridge are two boys from St. Thomas More that have been committed to us for a couple years. Wonderful young men that are going to contribute to our program in a very significant way. And I hope they keep producing players for us, okay.

But this Duplantis kid, his recruitment was a little bit different. We almost had our entire recruiting class finished and I went off in the summer to Atlanta, the summer before all of their senior years in high school, and I really went to see the guys that were already committed to us, to see them play for a few days as we were preparing for the next year, they were going to sign in November, and preparing for the future.

And Duplantis was on that team. Duplantis had come to our camp a few years ago and at the time he was just kind of weak and overmatched and we didn't really think much of his chance playing for us. But when I saw him play that summer in Atlanta before his senior year, he was like a completely different player. He had gotten stronger. He played with more confidence. And quite frankly when I watched the game, he jumped out to me like a sore thumb.

He comes from a lineage of athletes, LSU athletes by the way. His father was a great pole vaulter here and I believe he was an alternate on the '84 Olympic Team as a pole vaulter. His mother, who is from Sweden, came here and -- let me see any get this right, a penathlete, hepathlete -- not exactly sure what they do, and a volleyball player. So she was a great athlete. His older brother just finished last year as a senior as our best pole vaulter in the track team here at LSU. And he's got a younger brother who has the world record for pole vaulting for his age. He jumped 17'2 in a high school track meet the other day.

Antoine is the black sheep of the family. He's not the pole vaulter. He's a baseball player. His family doesn't know anything about the sport. It's great. Now I don't have any parents up there yelling at me because I don't know what I'm doing. He's the baseball player out of the group.

But he brings that athletic gene that the rest of the family shares, and when you watch him play, you'll see what I mean. He just looks like a gazelle out there in the outfield. He runs. He can run them down. He's got a good arm. He's got great hand-eye coordination as a hitter, but I also mentioned to you that he came about six inches away from a grand slam to deep right center field off Lange in the fall. So he has got bat speed that produces pop, as well.

Now I realize I'm giving this kid a lot of pump-up here and he has not ever gotten a college baseball hit yet. But I did the same thing with a kid named Bregman when he was going into his freshman year and it turned out all right. Let's see how Duplantis turns out. I have a sense that he's going to be a pretty good ballplayer for us. It's amazing, he was virtually the last guy in our recruiting class.

Fraley had the terrible fall -- I don't know how much of a sample size you have, but can you see similar -- young guys that came and had bad falls, went back and cleared their head and they are a little better now.

It's not as big a sample because we are just doing little individual work. This is kind of a pain-in-the-neck time. We had all these individual work -- limit of two hours and so forth.

But I think in the end, it actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we got to work with these guys on an individual basis that sometimes you don't get to do when you have your four-hour practice. You have a full batting practice session, scrimmage game and before you know it, your four hours for the day is up.

This gave us a chance to work individually with some guys, and I can tell that you Trey Dawson has made huge strides and I've given all the credit, besides to the kids to Andy Cannizaro. I watched Trey, the things he tried to do with him during the fall and it was a slow process. But it was an uphill climb but there were two steps forward and one step back. Just watching his batting practices now, he looks like a totally different hitter, more consistent and so forth.

Cole Freeman is another one. Cole Freeman has this huge gift. He can absolutely fly. This kid is capable of stealing 50 bases if he got on base enough, okay. But in the fall, he swung like he was 6-5, 220 pounds with big -- just trying to muscle balls. And Andy has absolutely helped him make a transition to be more of a handsy hitter where he's putting the ball on the ground and just on the line instead of hitting balls in the air and wasting his tremendous speed.

If this kid just puts the ball on the ground and keeps it out of the air, and he can hit .300, I'm telling you, he's going to be a real offensive force for us.

I think Papierski has made huge strides, even though he's not a freshman. Duplantis was already pretty developed in his hand-eye coordination. But I would have to say those are probably the huge guys I've seen human improvement. Jordan Romero is another one I thought made huge improvement from the fall to now, as well.

I mentioned also Brody Wofford, but that was more the result of added strength he has put on. He's gone from, he was skinny as a rail to now he's put on some beef on his body just from eating and lifting and getting stronger over the course of the last six, seven months and now he's starting to hit the ball with a lot more authority. He's got more in him, too.

Have you thought about your one, two, three hole hitters and how important is that to solidify at the beginning of the season --
I know everybody wants to talk leadoff hitters, but when I try to put a lineup together, I start with the middle of the order. It does no good for guys to get on base if we don't have somebody to drive them home.

So right now we are going to start out the middle of the order with Fraley, Beau Jordan and Greg Deichmann. There's not a lot of experience there outside of Fraley. It's kind of blind faith that I have in those kids. But Beau Jordan is just one of those guys, man, that you just want to see him up there in those clutch situations. He's going to compete as hard as anybody can possibly compete. And Greg Deichmann is a guy I think that can really hurt the other team. You make a mistake to him, he's going to lose it.

So you want to have some power in that middle of the order, as well. If you look at those three guys in the middle of the order, and I've raved about Duplantis so much, you have to assume he's going to be in one of those top two spots. And we'll probably give Kramer Robertson a chance as well. If he does it, we're going to have a nice combination at the top with a good middle of the order. Whereas, maybe at some point in the fall, I thought the lower half of our lineup might struggle a little bit. The.

Improvement that Dawson and Freeman and Papierski have made, I think the bottom of our order might surprise some people, as well. You throw Bryce Jordan in there or Wofford or somebody like that, not going to be bad.

Are you satisfied with what the new ball did for offense last year or do you feel like more needs to be done?

Well, I think it helped and I think I told y'all before the year last year it would make somewhat of a difference but not a huge difference. I think more can be done.

I wish we would go to the major league ball or at least the minor league ball where the core is a little bit more lively. They lowered the seams which helped. We hit a few more home runs. The pitchers actually like throwing the ball because of the lower seams. I was surprised but that was almost unanimously they liked throwing it more, less blisters. They felt like they could get more movement on the pitches.

I'm a guy that loves offense. I'm a fan of the game and I wish we could hit more home runs and so forth, and I think a more lively ball -- I don't see the bats changing but I wish the ball would. You know, at least it was better than it was before.

Poche' has been good the first few years. What is the next step for him?

If you look at the body type that Jared is, he's a stockily-built kid, and usually if you project a guy, you would rather see a longer-limbed, leaner guy, knowing that when he puts more bulk on, he's going to improve his fastball and those type of things.

So, really I just kind of felt all along with Jared, that what you see is what you get. There was not going to really be great improvement and velocity and those type of things. And yet this fall, his velo jumped up a tick. Where he's been 89 to 90, 91, touching 91 once in a while; at the end of the fall, he was throwing 91 to 93 miles an hour. So if he can maintain that, and I don't know if he can, but if he can, that will make him a lot better.

His command is continuing to improve because of experience and I tell you this, Alan Dunn has worked with him on cutting his fastball. It gives it a little bit of like slider action. He's always had that big curveball. But now in hitters' counts, he doesn't have to just lay that fastball in there. He can get a little bit of break action on it without giving up too much velocity or command, and I think that's going to help him, as well. I've got a lot of confidence in Poche'. He's like the ultimate warrior out there.

I see you added Brent Bonvillain as an undergraduate assistant. How did that come about and what do you think he brings to your staff?

Brent was a pitcher on our team in 2012 and 2013. Pitched in the College World Series for us. Wonderful young man. He started at in this case he will state, transferred to Delgado and came to LSU. When he finished his eligibility, he was a semester short of graduating quite frankly and I'm a big believer in education. Guys' playing careers come and go, but education lasts a lifetime. So I want our guys to graduate and we've had pretty good success in our graduation of all of our players.

What Brent decided after he played pro ball and got released, well, I'm just going to go ahead and jump into the work force. He took a job and for two or three years, I've been haggling him to get back to school.

One day we were having our theirs morning academic meeting with our academic advisor, Kirsten DeFusco, and she said, "Hey, I got a call from a kid named Brent out of the clear blue."

I said, "You did?" I said, great, I'm going to call -- right as soon as the meeting ended, I called him and I said, "Get back to school."

He did. So he resigned his job and fortunately, our administration was very accommodating for him to help him a little bit financially to keep the scholarship that he had when he was a player here to help make it feasible for him to be able to do it.

So he came back. He joined our program back just this semester. He's got one semester to graduate and he's going to be our undergraduate assistant coach. What we'll do is have him coach first base for us, which we need. The last few years, we've had Christian Ibarra, Matt Edwards, Buzzy Haydel, Blake Dean.

It's a nice thing if you can put an undergraduate coach at first base because it allows to you keep your hitting coach in the dugout to be able to talk to your hitters in between at-bats and get a plan of how the -- what the pitcher is trying to do to him and to make mechanical changes and those type of things.

So I was really kind of befuddled as to what we going to be able to do. We might have had to put a player out there to coach first base. By Brent coming back it gives us an undergraduate coach to put out there but also, he's a good left-handed batting practice pitcher.

And so with those, especially with the guys we think are going to be in there every day like Fraley, Deichmann ask Duplantis, for them to be able to see a lot of left-handed batting practice, I think will help them when we face left handed pitchers.

Mentioned this before already, one of the big story lines and theme will be: Can the LSU Tigers withstand all of these big losses that they had with all these veteran guys, and your response is, we don't really have a choice. We have to do that. If I was going to ask you, what gives you the confidence that you can do that? Is it the talent, the confidence -- what makes you believe that you guys can do that?

There are several things. When you put that jersey on over your head and it says LSU across or Tigers across your chest, you realize what you're representing. You're representing a state. You're representing a university. You're representing a community. But you're also representing a lot of great ballplayers that came before you, and you expect yourself to perform at that level.

The other day we had a team meeting and I took the players into the Hall of Fame room at the Wally Pontiff Jr. Hall of Fame room, and I just spent a half an hour in there walking them around and telling them the story of LSU baseball. You know, these kids are 18 years old. Many of them don't know who Skip Bertman was for goodness sakes. They weren't born when Skip was last coaching practically.

So I had to tell them the history of who Ben McDonald was and this great game and that great game and these great players and they go in there and they start to -- their eyes get as big as grapefruits and they start to realize, wow, I need to step it up a little bit because we've got a great tradition here at this school.

And so that's one thing that gives me the confidence is them knowing the standard that we have here. Secondly, we recruited them because we thought they were good ballplayers, so I think they had the talent to play here. And thirdly, when we play at the box, and we have got 10,000 to 12,000 people there and people are so enthusiastic and we have media coverage and all this stuff, it just gives them another sense of confidence that they are next in line and it's their turn.

And so yeah, I get to know the kids. I watch them practice. I see how they are committed and what their skills are, the leadership on the team, all those things give me great confidence that we'll be ready to go. There's going to be some growing pains. There's no question about that.

But you know what, even if you've got a veteran team, no season is perfect. You're going to have ebbs and flows throughout the year. People have a tendency to everybody think the sky is falling in every time something bad happens or we lose a ballgame. But in this sport you just can't win them all and I remind our players all the time. When we won the National Championship in 2009, we lost 17 games that year. We lost two home series, one to the team that finished last in the SEC and one to a Big Ten team that was coming out of the snow. And yet we went on to win the National Championship.

So you just can't panic in this sport. You've got to stay the course. You've got to believe and you've got to -- we've got to keep making the decisions that give us the best chance to be successful.

Alex Lange, he's the ultimate trump card, isn't he?

We have to be careful about that. Because just because Alex went 12-0 last year with a sub 2.0 ERA doesn't mean that everybody is just going to lay down and let them do it again. He's not going to sneak up on anybody. He's talented, he's a wonderful kid and I think he's even better now than he was last year.

But he's got to go out there and execute his pitches and he's got to do the things that it takes to win. And sometimes, you know, we take people for granted just because they did well last year. I don't think you should take anything for granted, just because you won 12 last year doesn't mean he's going to win 12 this year. Just because Poche' won nine last year doesn't mean he's going to win nine this year. Just because Fraley hit .350 last year doesn't mean he's going to hit .350 this year. It's a day-by-day game. You've just got to be ready to play each day. But with that said, let had he just put it that way, I'm glad Alex Lange is on our team, okay.


 

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