By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
There’s probably not a more inconvenient intersection of sporting events in the calendar than the annual conflict of the NCAA Super Regionals and the MLB Draft.
This year’s draft gets underway on Monday, June 12, the very same day LSU and Mississippi State will be playing a winner-take-all game at Alex Box Stadium (if necessary).
While players attempt to block out the distraction, focusing on the task at hand, coaches don’t have that luxury. For programs like LSU, it’s like a second National Signing Day, monitoring where high school and junior college signees could be drafted and the chances they actually make it to campus at all.
Through conversations with coaches, players and draft experts, here’s a realistic picture of where things stands with LSU’s draft-eligible current players and blue chip signees from a loaded 2017 class.
- RHP Alex Lange
LSU coach Paul Mainieri has said publicly since before Opening Day that he fully expects this to be Lange’s final collegiate season. He’s projected to be taken some time in the back half of the first round, likely from No. 17 on back. It’d take a monumental and unforeseen drop through the draft for Lange to be back, given the lack of leverage that college seniors have in negotiating their contract.
- OF Greg Deichmann
The slugger turned down a decent signing bonus from the Minnesota Twins last year to return to college, and a prolific season should make that gamble pay off. While he’s unlikely to be a first-round pick, Deichmann’s undeniable power, athleticism and strong throwing arm should have him go somewhere on day one, possibly in the supplemental ‘Sandwich’ picks. Expect him to sign barring an unforeseen slip in the draft.
- C Mike Papierski
A switch-hitting backstop with power, plate disciple and plus defensive tools, Papierski will have the toughest decision of LSU’s current players. If a team falls in love with his defensive skill set, he could get taken somewhere in the 7th-10th round range. He’d sign in that case, in all likelihood, but could find himself with a similar to Jared Poche’ a year ago if he goes closer to Round 20 than Round 10.
- RHP Hunter Kiel
The hard-throwing right hander has already left the program and has been attending pre-draft workouts ever since. His mid-90s fastball alone will get him drafted at some point.
- 2B Cole Freeman
Freeman turned down the most money of the three high-profile juniors who came back for another run at Omaha. Since he’s a senior, eliminating his leverage in negotiations, he could end up going as high as the third round. That’d allow the team in question to save money from that slot value to allocate toward harder-to-sign players taken somewhere else in the draft.
- SS Kramer Robertson
The MLB Draft is the furthest thing from Robertson’s mind at this exact moment. Asked about it Tuesday, he laughed that his only ambition was to be taken ahead of Johnny Manziel this time around. The troubled quarterback came off the board before him last year, as Robertson made it clear to team he’d turn down six-figures to come back for his senior year.
- LHP Jared Poche’
Nobody expected Poche’ to return for his senior season, but the lefty came back after negotiations with the San Diego Padres broke down last summer. He was a 14th round pick in 2016, and his stock probably hasn’t fluctuated over the course of this season.
SIGNEES TO WATCH
- RHP Blayne Enlow (St. Amant High School)
LSU will sweat it out with Enlow right on through draft day. He ranked No. 33 in Baseball America’s Top 500 prospect list and No. 14 on Keith Law’s Big Board for ESPN. It could go either way on this point depending on how much money Enlow insists on and if a team is willing to pull the trigger. If he makes it to campus, he could be a weekend starter for LSU from day one.
- OF Jacob Pearson (West Monroe High School)
Another unclear situation that could go either way depending on how the draft falls. Pearson could be a day-one starter in the SEC if he chooses to go the college route, but he’s ranked as a top-100 prospect according to Baseball America and ESPN. It’ll come down to Pearson’s asking price.
- OF Daniel Cabrera (Parkview Baptist)
Another top 100 prospect, meaning there’s always some sweating out to be done on the part of the LSU staff come draft day. If a team falls in love and meets a high asking price, he could sign. However, there’s a prevailing optimism that the local product will play college baseball for his hometown team.
- RHP Nick Storz (Poly Prep County Day | Brooklyn, NY)
Scouts have been known to drool over 6-foot-6 right handers who possess fastballs clocked in the mid-90s, so LSU is going to sweat this one out. It’ll depend on the asking price, as that’s the nature of these things, but there’s confidence that the Brooklyn native will wind up in purple and gold.
- C Mason Doolittle (Jupiter High School | Jupiter, Fla.)
Between the athletic 6-foot-3 frame and rocket for an arm, those who’ve studied Doolittle describe the Florida prospect as looking Papierski-like behind the dish. He’s expected to compete for time behind the plate right away if he chooses the college route.
- RHP Nate Pearson (College of Central Florida)
LSU is going to be holding its breath on this one. Pearson, who Perfect Game rated as the Top JUCO prospect in the 2017 class earlier this year, is a flame-throwing right hander who has been clocked at triple digits in workouts. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Florida native looks like a professional. Keep an eye on how high he’s drafted next week.
- INF Andrew Bechtold (Chipola College)
Bechtold may be the last player listed here of the guys LSU will be sweating out next week, but he’s one of the more important. With Robertson and Freeman out of eligibility, infielders who can play right away come at a premium for LSU in this cycle.
I rooted strongly for USM to win their regional. I was disgusted in the wee hours of Tuesday morning when the USM 2B and RF let a popup off the bat of Brent Rooker drop in the top of the 8th. Instead of going into the 9th with a 5-4 lead and Rooker out of the way, the Golden Eagles trailed by one and lost the game.
Playing Mississippi State makes me think of football 2011. We beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa on our way to what many writers considered the greatest regular season in college football history. Our reward? Play Alabama again in the BCS Championship Game.
Now we must play again a team we swept on their field several weeks ago. (I’m not by any means equating MSU’s 2017 baseball team with Alabama’s 2011 football team. Talent-wise, coaching-wise there’s no comparison. But an upset by a team with inferior talent is much easier in baseball than football.) All the psychology is in MSU’s favor. If they beat us two out of three in the Super Regional, LSU’s being co-champs in the SEC regular season and champions of the SEC Tournament is washed down the drain. It’s hard for our team to go into this series without thinking, “We can’t lose to a team we already beat three times.” In other words, we’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose. The Tigers must fight against overconfidence, which they certainly showed in the first two games of the regional, and also play their usual aggressive game.
I’ll try to be positive and think that we have a fundamentally better team than MSU and should be able to beat them on our home field.