Jake Slaughter bristled at the question like a high and inside fastball.
LSU’s sophomore infielder was asked about the slide that cost LSU the potential game-tying run in the decisive game of the College World Series Finals against Florida. Specifically how many times he’d watch the replay since last June.
“I don’t re-watch it,” Slaughter replied. “It doesn’t really matter.”
That’s music to the ears of LSU coach Paul Mainieri.
Mainieri and the LSU staff are working with the Slaughter to be a bit less volatile this season as he takes on the everyday job at third base. He’s got as much ability with a bat as anyone on the roster and plenty of athleticism, but LSU wants him to hone in his white-hot intensity to find more consistency in his game.
Slaughter tended to run hot and cold during his freshman season. He came out of the box smoking as LSU’s opening day first baseman, but lost his job to Nick Coomes after a cold spell started to bleed into his defense.
He re-gained the job during the NCAA Tournament, launching a critical three-run homer during the College World Series, but his season ended on a sour note with the controversial illegal slide call against Florida.
“I’m just a very intense person and a competitive person,” Slaughter said. “It’s just learning how to hone it in. Be intense, but be under control. Last year I played a little bit out of control at times because I was a freshman and that’s one of the things I have worked on.”
“He’s still kind of in that mode, to be honest with you,” Mainieri added.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been signs of progress this spring.
New hitting coach Sean Ochinko has been working with Slaughter to be more “quiet” at the plate in terms of his stance and swing mechanics. Ochinko has preached less moving parts to his swing and trusting his preparation to identify pitches earlier and swing easier.
Slaughter has a world of power as a dead-red fastball hitter — “when he hits them, they go as far as anybody on our team,” Mainieri said — but at times swung out of his shoes at breaking balls last season. Ochinko has drilled him on letting the ball travel deeper in the zone and driving those off-speed pitches to right field.
“A big key for Jake is being able to take those off-speed pitches that are going to be balls in the dirt,” Ochinko said. “He’s working on seeing the ball earlier and having the right rhythm to lay off those pitches.”
The coach continued: “It comes from preparation and timing when they’re in the dugout or on-deck circle. You study the curveball machine or live pitcher to know when to get your swing ready. When it’s early, things can be easy. When it’s late, things are rushed and become a bit more tense. It all stems from having the proper timing.”
The progress hasn’t translated into tangible results yet this spring, but Mainieri is encouraged nonetheless. He’s seen Slaughter go from taking wild, out-of-control hacks in the cage to smooth swings in intra-squad scrimmages, even if he hasn’t started hitting quite yet.
“It hasn’t necessarily translated into great results in the first few intra-squad games, but the swing looks better. He’s close to locking in, I can tell,” Mainieri said. “He’s just missing balls and flying them out to the outfield. But the biggest thing is he’s not coming back to the dugout slamming helmets and getting down on himself. He’s showing a greater maturity in how he’s handling some failures, at least in this period of time, and that’s encouraging. That shows me maturity.”
Given Slaughter’s considerable talent, if he sticks to the more relaxed approach at the plate, Mainieri is cautiously optimistic the rest will take care of itself in due time.