There’s one common trait among high achievers.
No matter what unexpected challenges they are given or unforeseen obstacles plopped directly in front of them, they don’t shirk from the task at hand.
Instead, they find what it takes to excel in a foreign situation, which is where Cade Beloso finds himself heading into his junior season as one of the veteran leaders of an LSU baseball team hoping to make its annual expected run to the College World Series.
When the Tigers opened preseason practice January 29, Beloso was a lesser man than he used to be, which is a good thing for someone who suddenly has been shifted to left field to make room for hotshot freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan.
Realizing he needed to shed pounds to cover a wide expanse of outfield grass instead of small patch on infield dirt, Beloso ditched hamburgers and chicken wings for a high-protein diet.
“I’ve lost about 25 pounds,” said Beloso, who now weighs 212. “I feel quicker, I’m moving better, I just feel better every day. When you put the right stuff in your body, you have more energy and more focus. I feel three times better than my first couple of years.”
That’s not good news for Tigers’ opponents, who’ve seen Beloso sport a .296 career batting with 64 RBIs and 11 home runs in 79 LSU games.
Adapting to change is nothing new for Beloso.
The Metairie native was just five years old when he and his family fled to Houston from New Orleans just before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the family home in August 2005 with 11 feet of floodwater.
The Belosos didn’t move back to New Orleans until 2016, just in time for Cade to become part of the legendary athletes produced by John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge.
“Some of my closest friends are in Houston and I still love that city,” Beloso said. “But John Curtis is a phenomenal school, athletically and academically. J.T. Curtis (the school’s headmaster and legendary football coach) is one of the best people I’ve ever met. He’s taught me so much about life, how to be a man, how to have integrity and true values.”
Beloso led John Curtis to two straight Division 1 state baseball championships and was selected as Louisiana 2018 All State MVP, Louisiana’s Mr. Baseball and Louisiana Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year.
His transition to college baseball as an LSU freshman in 2019 seemed seamless, batting .279 with 10 homers including two game-winners and 52 RBI. His calling card was delivering clutch hits as he batted .344 (21-for-61) with runners in scoring position.
Also, Beloso flipped on the switch in the postseason. He hit .333 (5 for 15) in the SEC tournament and then was named to the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional All-Tournament team after hitting .375 (3 for 8) with one homer and three RBI.
But behind the scenes, Beloso was putting in extra work and soaking in as much knowledge from his coaches and upperclassmen such as Antoine Duplantis, Josh Smith, Zach Watson and Daniel Cabrera.
“Those guys all played at a high level,” Beloso said. “I asked them what worked for them, just kind of picking their brains. They helped me understand the things you have to do to be successful.”
Last March, Beloso, armed with a year of experience facing college pitching, was batting .312 with four doubles, one triple, one homer and 12 RBIs when the COVID-19 pandemic put the 2020 season on the shelf.
It took Beloso a few days after the shutdown to come to grips with his new reality, which was taking all classes online and finding a place to safely workout so he wouldn’t lose his swing or conditioning.
By the time June rolled around, Beloso was itching to play.
He had been ticketed for a summer league that got canceled and replaced by another summer league which met the same fate. But LSU assistant coach Eddie Smith kept digging to find many Tigers summer league destinations, knowing they needed games before returning for fall practice.
Smith placed 21 LSU players in summer leagues, ranging from Florida to the Midwest and even in Baton Rouge. Beloso ended up with the Phipps Park Barracudas in the South Florida Collegiate League.
He didn’t really care where he played, just as long there was an umpire, an opponent and nine innings. Even with the steamy Florida June weather, the six-week league was cathartic for Beloso, who described last year’s A.W.O.L LSU season as “the weirdest thing I’ve been through.”
“It was so awesome to get out there and play in the summer,” said Beloso, who was chosen to the All-SFCL first team as a first baseman after finishing fifth in the league batting .412. “I was a bit rusty the first couple of games, but then I fell into a groove and started playing Tiger baseball even though I wasn’t playing for LSU. I thank those guys in the South Florida League for allowing us to play. I’d never been more excited to play in the summer.”
Another challenge awaited Beloso when the Tigers finally re-convened for fall practice in September. After starting 61 games at first base in his first two seasons, he was being moved to make room for a freshman.
Morgan, a standout from New Orleans High Brother Martin, not only hit just about every LSU pitcher he faced in the fall, but his fielding was so dazzling that Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri felt he had to have Morgan in the lineup at first base.
Mainieri also knew he needed Beloso’s experience and powerful bat in the lineup, thus the switch to the left field.
Some veterans may have balked at making room for an untested freshman, but Beloso accepted the move in which the spirit it was intended.
In fact, he made it a point to help Morgan, who Beloso said he knew from playing against him in New Orleans Catholic leagues and from sporadic hitting sessions.
“Our friendship has evolved from back in the day,” Beloso said. “We’re really good friends who root for each other. We both have the same goals. You see Tre and the capability he has at first base and you want to help him in anyway possible.
“Having been here two years, I know the way Coach Mainieri likes things done. So, I was just trying to teach Tre the same things guys ahead of me taught me.”
Morgan has been grateful for the help.
“Cade gave me techniques they do here I wasn’t really accustomed to,” Morgan said. “He told me exactly what I needed to do to play first base the way I’m supposed to here.”
Meanwhile, Beloso is working hard to become a solid, dependable left fielder.
“I’m going to try to be the best left fielder in the country,” said Beloso, who has played outfield in summer league baseball as well as his first two years in high school in Houston. “Whatever is best for our team and maybe playing left field also helps me (professionally) in the future.
“It’s a bit different than playing first base, a bit more slow-paced than first base. You’re on your own in terms of making plays, you’ve just got to go make them.”
The Tigers have an interesting mix with their starting outfielders. Their left fielder is the most experienced position player on the team. Yet, he has never started a single game in the outfield in an LSU uniform, just like the true freshman who will start in right field.
Sandwiched between them is a starting centerfielder who’s primarily in the lineup for defensive purposes, though he was the Tigers’ leading hitter when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NCAA to shut down the 2020 season after 17 games last March 12.
Junior CADE BELOSO has 75 starts in his first 1¼ seasons, with 61 at first base and 14 at designated hitter. So why has he moved to a starting spot in left fielder?
Because incoming freshman first baseman TRE MORGAN is such a complete package, especially with his glove, that LSU coach PAUL MAINIERI wants him in that spot and nowhere else. Mainieri also needs Beloso’s bat and leadership on the field in every out of every game. Beloso, a .298 career hitter with 11 homers and 64 RBI, is a clutch power hitter who lost weight to improve his quickness in transitioning to the outfield where Mainieri just wants him to hold serve as a fielder. “I don’t think he’s going to be a Gold Glover out there by any stretch of the imagination,” Mainieri said of Beloso, “but as long as he catches the ball and doesn’t let it hit him the head, I’m going to be happy. If he gets to the ball and catches, I’m going to be happy. He’s gotten himself in much better shape, he moves around much better.”
“Moving around” has never been a problem for junior center fielder GIOVANNI DIGIACOMO. From day one as a freshman two seasons ago when Manieri’s need for speed often was filled by DiGiacomo, his blazing base running and the ability to cover a bunch of outfield grass in a hurry won him the CF start last season. His .291 career average received a major boost last season when he batted .471 (8-for-17) during LSU’s five-game win streak to end the season and raised his cumulative batting average from .261 to a team-leading .351. “Gio and (catcher) (ALEX) MILLAZO are like the two peas in a pod,” Mainieri said. “They are both in the lineup because they are both such excellent impact defensive players. At least, Gio has been streaky (at the plate). If he puts the ball on the ground, he’s got a chance to get a hit because of his blazing speed.”
True freshman DYLAN CREWS of Longwood (Fla.) Lake Mary High was penciled in as a first-round 2020 MLB draft choice until he decided to honor his commitment to LSU. “My ultimate dream was to go to LSU, be an icon, be a dude there,” Crews told Tiger Rag this past summer. “Throughout this whole process I wanted to go to LSU. It’s something I always wanted to do.”
The Tigers appear to be thin on outfield depth. Once the season starts, Mainieri hopes to get a healthy MO HAMPTON, a sophomore who started in three games last season before getting hurt and then was injured again as a safety in LSU’s 2020 football season. Freshman BRODY DROST and sophomore MITCHELL SANFORD are other OF options.
NEXT MAN UP
True freshman Dylan Crews, the 13th ranked pro prospect in 2020, bypassed the MLB draft and is a day one starter who can play multiple outfield positions
6 LSU outfielders have been first-team All-Americans, the last being Gregg Deichmann in 2017
12 Consecutive years LSU has had at least one outfielder selected in the major league draft
75 LSU career starts for Cade Beloso, 10 less than the combined career starts of all of the Tigers’ projected position starters