Paul Mainieri introduced his baseball team Friday afternoon as LSU went through its annual Media Day on a picture-perfect January afternoon.
With eight everyday starters gone from last season’s regular lineup, most of the attention centered in on the fresh faces new to the mix.
But, as Mainieri would repeatedly point out during his 58-minute state of the program opus, the 10th opening night lineup he constructs in purple and gold won’t be as young as some would expect.
“Everyone has this assumption that we’re going to be freshmen-oriented, but that’s not the case,” Mainieri said. “There will only be two true freshmen and one JUCO player in our lineup. The other six will be returning players.”
While Mainieri is far and away the most transparent of LSU’s coaches, announcing a lineup three weeks shy of opening day is aggressive even by his standards. It sounds like the early-season lineup tinkering he’s done in recent years will be reined in as to allow the inexperienced players to find a groove.
He revealed some combination of veteran second baseman Kramer Robertson and true freshman outfielder Antoine Duplantis will fill the top two spots in the order. Centerfielder Jake Fraley, left fielder Beau Jordan and first baseball Greg Deichmann will bat 3-4-5. Catcher Mike Papierski, designated hitter Bryce Jordan, shortstop Trey Dawson and third baseman Cole Freeman complete the lineup.
“I don’t think it’ll take too long for people to start recognizing new names,” Robertson said. “We’ve got some really good players. But I just think seeing so many new faces is overwhelming for a lot of people, but like I said earlier, I don’t think there will be too many growing pains.”
Hoping to give his team a crash course in the expectations that accompany putting on the purple and gold, Mainieri took the team on a tour of the program’s Hall-of-Fame within Alex Box Stadium. The long-time mentor even joked some of his younger charges didn’t know who Skip Bertman or Ben McDonald were.
“That’s just a blessing,” Fraley, the long returning starter, said of the HOF trip. “It’s even cooler because I’ve gotten to meet some of those guys. Some of the former major leaguers who still come around the program and all these events. We’re in the same footsteps of what those guys went through, so hopefully the Lord has the same favor of our plan.”
The one secret Mainieri has kept close to his vest is at the top of the rotation. There’s no doubt Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ are the backbone of a team in the midst of widespread turnover, but a decision on which will get the ball when Cincinnati comes to town on Feb. 19 remains up in the air.
LSU begins preseason camp with 31 of its 34 eligible bodies healthy. Jake Godfrey, who transferred to Arizona State over the winter, cannot be replaced on the 35-man roster.
– Mainieri said Bryce Jordan, penciled in as LSU’s opening-day designated hitter, has been unable to run in recent weeks as his surgically-repaired meniscus has flared up. He’s expected to be full go by the season opener.
– Right-handed starter Austin Bain is “all the way back” from the shoulder surgery to clean up a bone spur that caused him to miss fall ball. Bain says he’s feeling no residual discomfort and is better able to repeat his delivery.
– After having a screw inserted in his left elbow back in November, left-hander Jake Latz is expected to begin throwing off flat ground in the next week or two. Latz said it’s “a relief” to finally be pain free after more than a year or repeated setbacks. Mainieri remains hopeful Latz could make return in late April.
– A “freak injury” suffered after the conclusion of fall practices will keep Cody Ducote out indefinitely, Mainieri announced. The Delgado product fell down and cut his hand on a broken bottle that was under some leaves. The injury required surgery that’ll prevent his from holding a bat for at least a month.
– Freshman left-hander Nick Bush will miss the entire 2016 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL, Mainieri announced.
Chris Blair won’t be the only new face in the LSU radio booth this baseball season.
LSU spokesman Bill Franques confirmed Friday that former Tigers Doug Thompson and Buzzy Haydel will be joining the broadcast booth as analysts.
Charles Hanagriff, who served as Jim Hawthorne’s right-hand man in years past, tweeted “(LSU Sports Properties) and I could not agree on terms. We therefore agreed to part ways. A strictly business decision both ways.”
PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP
1. Kramer Robertson (2B)
2. Antoine Duplantis (RF)
3. Jake Fraley (CF)
4. Beau Jordan (LF)
5. Greg Deichmann (1B)
6. Mike Papierski (C)
7. Bryce Jordan (DH)
8. Trey Dawson (SS)
9. Cole Freeman (3B)
PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION
1. Jared Poche’ (LH)
2. Alex Lange (RH)
3. Riley Smith (RH)
4. Austin Bain (RH)