By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Greg Deichmann is no longer a bat searching for a position.
The slugger struggled defensively playing corner infield last season. So much so that before his prodigious postseason power surge, a dry spell at the plate made his glove too costly for Paul Mainieri to keep him in the everyday lineup.
Those days, Mainieri says, are long gone. Not only will Deichmann be LSU’s cleanup hitter and rank among the nation’s most feared power threats, but Mainieri believes the talented junior will develop into an all-around star as the Tigers’ right fielder this season.
The thinking behind the move is simple: Deichmann is an exceptional athlete.
He’s one of the fastest runners on the club and possesses a strong arm — the best among the outfielders, Mainieri says — but didn’t necessarily have the quick-twitch reactions or footwork to play infield. To quote one LSU player, he was like a bull in a china shop at first base.
Now, given ample room to roam, Deichmann looks at home in the spacious confides of Alex Box Stadium’s outfield.
“The first day out there it kind of felt like this is my position,” Deichmann said. “I feel comfortable, and obviously I had to work at it and get as many reps as I can seeing different balls, but this is the best I’ve felt on defense in a while.”
Deichmann made the full-time move to the outfield last summer, and thus far the reviews from coaches and teammates have been largely positive.
Mainieri even went so far as to invoke the position swap he oft references as his own gold standard for coaching decisions. It’s the same one he brought up upon flip-flopping Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman up the middle last season.
“When I put Deichmann in right field, after about a week, I told him ‘Greg, I have the same feeling about you in right field as I had in 2009 when I moved D.J. LeMahieu to second base,’” Mainieri said. “He’s a natural in right field. He looks really good out there.”
That ’09 club went on to win the program’s sixth national championship and LeMahieu has since developed into a Gold Glover and a reigning National League batting champion for the Colorado Rockies.
Mainieri isn’t guaranteeing a Gold Glove in Deichmann’s future, but with some seasoning, he could thrive in right field. The biggest adjustment will be reading the ball off the bat, but even that can be curtailed a bit by being fast enough to outrun initial missteps.
“He gets really good jumps and takes really good routes,” said assistant coach Nolan Cain, who works with LSU’s outfielders. “He likes to play shallow, too, which is nice. He feels comfortable going back on balls and he’s got a good arm — similar to Jared Foster’s arm — so we might throw some guys out at the plate this season.
“Everyone thinks about him as a bat with home run power, but he’s one of the best athletes on our team. I think he’s going to feel free out there and do really well.”
With Deichmann in right and sophomore Antoine Duplantis in center, LSU will deploy another in a growing line of speedy outfields in 2017. Even more so if Brennan Breaux manages to unseat Beau Jordan in left field, though Jordan proved a capable left fielder in his own right last season.
Outfield speed has been a priority for Mainieri ever since Stony Brock seemingly caught every fly ball imaginable during the 2012 Baton Rouge Super Regional. What followed was three largely brilliant seasons of Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird patrolling center and right field, respectively.
It’s certainly a high standard for the present unit to aspire to.
“(Duplantis) is just as good of a runner as Laird and maybe just a tick slower than Stevenson,” Cain said, “but Stevenson was as good of a defender as you’re going to see and will make it to the big leagues off of defensive ability. ‘Twanie’ gets good jumps and covers a lot of ground. We won’t miss a beat out there.”