2024 LSU Baseball Season Preview: Repeat After Me: 2023 Was Great! It’s Over. Next Step. Destination: Omaha

Tiger Rag 2024 Baseball Preview

The more things change, and they absolutely change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to third-year LSU coach Jay Johnson’s world where it’s out with the old and in with the new, and it all ages like a fine wine, according to his plan.

Roster Breakdown: LSU may have lost a ton of talent with the departure of Paul Skenes, Dylan Crews, Tre Morgan, and Ty Floyd from the 2023 Tigers – which Johnson says without making any bones about it was one of if not the greatest college baseball teams ever. And while the loss of arguably the best pitcher the college game has ever seen (Skenes), the best player it has ever seen (Crews) and two other crucial ingredients who will be on Major League fields sooner rather than later (Morgan and Floyd), that’s not all LSU lost from its seventh College World Series National Championship team. You not only would be grossly remiss, but also missing a major part of Johnson’s premise for fielding an Omaha-bound team at LSU year in and year out if you leave out or overlook the fact that also missing from last year’s juggernaut are wile veteran mainstays like Cade Beloso, Gavin Dugas and Bradyn Jobert. But, even still, Johnson’s 2024 LSU baseball roster is still overflowing with talent and potential – an offensive lineup that will most likely be at or near the very top when it comes to hitting and scoring runs and, which oh by the way, also includes the best hitter in college baseball and a fifth-year senior catcher-DH who arguably for a month-long stretch last season was the hottest hitter in the sport. But there’s more. Much more. This LSU roster is one with a pitching staff that is loaded with talent, nasty and hard throwing right-handers and southpaws, gobs of them. Starters, closers, middle relievers and matchup nightmares for darn near any strategic counter or obstacle opposing teams could try to hit the Tigers with this season are poised and primed, not to mention a brand new pitching coach whose actually an old running mate of Johnson’s and the man who was, in fact, Johnson’s first choice to be the pitching coach at LSU when he took over the program in the summer of 2021 and began planning in earnest to take back over the college baseball world and return it to its seemingly most natural home over at Alex Box Stadium nestled snuggly under the glaring shadow of the Intimidator overlooking Skip Bertman Field for all to see.

The ultra-competitive Tommy White, “the best hitter in college baseball,” Johnson says, is chomping at the bit after missing the fall with shoulder surgery to get to the season-opener against VMI. After that, White admits he doesn’t even know who’s next on the schedule, “I’m taking it one game at a time, for real. Not looking past the moment.” White, affectionately known by everyone as Tommy Tanks, will no doubt lead LSU on the offensive side. But he won’t be alone. You don’t replace a Dylan Crews with one person. No. You replace his offensive production with a lineup capable of executing the offensive plan to a veritable T. That’s exactly what LSU is doing for 2024.

Consequently, LSU should boast one of the more explosive lineups in the SEC once again.

Brady Neal, Jared Jones, and Paxton Kling learned from growing pains during last season and look to take a massive step forward in 2024.

Jones has massive power but needs to improve his strikeout rate. Kling, a speedster who makes some mean cuts at the plate, can be a true game-changer at the top of the lineup and in center field if he lives up to his potential. Neal battled injury and a rough SEC slide, but he has the makings of an All-SEC level contributor behind the plate.

Hayden Travinski and Alex Milazzo can rotate with Neal at catcher, but Travinski most likely will end up as the primary DH when Neal starts. Louisiana sophomore Ethan Frey has star power written all over him, and only upped his ante after blistering baseballs in the fall. With huge power, the only question with Frey has also been his strikeout rate. Josh Pearson moves from the outfield into the second base position after what he probably considers an underwhelming 2023 season. He has a depth of experience, and he was more valuable than his .226 batting average and minimal power numbers might indicate.

Transfers Mac Bingham (Arizona) and Michael Braswell (South Carolina) will be plug-and-play guys for the Tigers, with Bingham (left field) being the more offensive of the two, although Braswell (a shortstop that Johnson went out and got “because he fits what LSU plans to do defensively perfectly,” he said) has made significant strides offensively this fall, according to Johnson. And then there’s freshman Jake Brown, who has the inside track to start in RF, although he may be eased into the lineup as LSU explores everything it has early in the season.

On the mound, the mission to replace Skenes and Floyd begins. But if the fall is indicative of what to expect, LSU is literally loaded on the mound this season. That’s putting it mildly.

Thatcher Hurd has added about 15 pounds to his lower body, added a mean changeup to his pitching arsenal, and increased his ceiling velocity and his floor velocity. In other words, Hurd is probably going to lock down the Friday role after an up-and-down 2023 season that saw him emerge late in the season into the best pitcher in the game statistically during a six-week stretch, Skenes included.

Transfers Gage Jump (UCLA) and Luke Holman (Alabama) will be tasked with filling out the rotation behind Hurd, and both have All-SEC upside. If Johnson wants to look internally for additional starters, Nate Ackenhausen and Griffin Herring are likely his best options after impressive 2023 performances out of the bullpen.

Look for sophomore Gavin Guidry to be a staple in the back-end of the bullpen, along with transfers Justin Loer, Fidel Ulloa, and Kade Woods, who give new pitching coach Nate Yeskie plenty of options. And that is not even factoring in freshman phenom Cameron Johnson, who throws major league heat from the left side. Also look for Javon Coleman, Micah Bucknam, and Sam Dutton to take steps forward in 2024 as well.

LSU’s Ceiling: The offense hardly misses a beat as Jones, Kling, Neal, and Frey step right in and ball-out from the get-go. Hurd and Jump, who Johnson and Yeskie are very high on, should quickly round into the best 1-2 punch in the nation, and LSU hardly misses a beat all year.

LSU has a strong chance to be the first team to repeat as National Champions since South Carolina accomplished the feat in 2010-11.

But defending their national championship is not part of the vernacular LSU. Instead, Johnson has them thinking another way all together. 2023 was great, but it is in the past. New team. New season. Next step. Lather, rinse, repeat.

2024 LSU baseball is buying, by the way, what Johnson is selling. He’s got the cred, after all.

Floor: It’s conceivable, not likely, but conceivable that LSU’s fresh faces don’t mesh into a cohesive offensive unit, that pitching is inconsistent, and the Tigers take a step back from their 2023 campaign. Even in the worst-case scenario, LSU makes a Regional, but, worst-case, it would be a short stay.

Prediction: There are going to be some growing pains early, as newcomers carve out playing time, but Johnson’s Tigers in 2024 will once again be the class of the SEC West. Look for LSU to finish its season in Omaha again.

And, don’t be the least bit surprised if the season ends with Tommy Tanks, Hayden Travinski, Thatcher Hurd, et al, at the bottom of a dog pile.

It’s just the way Jay Johnson rolls.

Here’s what D1Baseball.com’s Kendall Rogers said about LSU on Tiger Rag Radio and in a TigerRag.com Audibles podcast in January:

All of the following are true of LSU as it stands right now:

It brought in the No. 2 transfer class in the country

In Cam Johnson, it has the highest-ranked prep recruit not to sign last summer

It returns arguably the best all-around hitter in the country in Tommy White

It lost pitching coach Wes Johnson to the head coaching job at Georgia but simply replaced him with Texas A&M’s Nate Yeskie, another elite college pitching coach

It arguably has the most engaged head coach in the country in terms of hands-on recruiting, paired with a dogged recruiting coordinator in Josh Jordan

There are nicer facilities in terms of amenities, but in terms of atmosphere, there’s still nowhere like Alex Box Stadium when it’s packed

Does all of that guarantee anything? Of course not, but it means that LSU is operating from a position of strength unlike any other right now.

Rogers and D1Baseball.com also provided an Anonymous college baseball coach’s preseason scouting report on LSU.

Anonymous Coach Scouting Report:

“LSU has everything you need in spades starting with tradition. Nobody has more tradition at this point than LSU. Rabid fanbase and a lot of excitement around the program with the national championship. I don’t expect them to be going anywhere.”

“They are older on the mound, their starters on the mound are all transfers. They took two of the three from UCLA. It’s a different look LSU team. Last year their pitching was a work in progress most of the year and their offense kind of carried them. I think this year their starting pitching is their strength and offensively they are going to have to find some guys around Tommy White. It is a little bit of a different team.”

“Their starting pitching is elite. Offensively it is not the same team but has a chance to be pretty good, especially with their starting pitching.”

“Thatcher Hurd had a phenomenal fall according to the scouts. They are going to be really deep on the mound. I think they could struggle offensively at the end of the day, at least compared to what everyone expects from them.”

“Gage Jump is another real one, and Holman, too. Just don’t screw it up on the mound. And Cam Johnson, we can go on for hours.”

“Because you have so much, you have to make sure you keep them happy.”

“If they hit at all, watch out, they can win another title. Jay does a phenomenal job. I think they have all they need, assuming their hitters come through.

“You are going to look up and they will win some games 3-1. And they’ll blow a few out. But they have the pitching to win differently.” 

2023 Record: 54-17 (19-10 in SEC).

Coach (Record at school): Jay Johnson (94-39 in two seasons).

Ballpark: Alex Box Stadium (Capacity: 10,500).

Postseason History: 35 regionals (active streak: 11), 19 CWS trips (last in 2023), 7 National Titles (Last: 2023).

Grading LSU

Source: D1Baseball.com

D1Baseball.com explanation: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.

LSU Hitting: 60

LSU Power: 65

LSU Speed: 55

LSU Defense: 45

LSU Starting Pitching: 60

LSU Bullpen: 70

LSU Experience/Intangibles: 65

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Todd Horne

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