Mainieri names Walker and Hess leading candidates to be Sunday starter
By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
While this may sound like something of a running gag at this point, perhaps this is the season Johnny Wholestaff no longer occupies a spot in LSU’s starting rotation.
Paul Mainieri is determined to develop a third and possibly fourth starter this season, particularly given the fact Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ will both be pitching professionally this time next year. A trio of true freshmen will be given Sunday and midweek starts during the season’s first three weeks to prove they deserve a rotation spot once Southeastern Conference play begins.
“You know, I’ve wanted to do it every year quite frankly, and it just hasn’t quite worked out the way we wanted it to over the last two or three years, but this year I think it’s virtually essential to do it,” Mainieri said Friday. :We know we’re going to lose Lange. He’s probably going to go in the first round. We know we’re going to lose Poche’ for sure because he’s a senior. I don’t want to go into the 2018 season with nobody with any starting pitching experience.”
Mainieri announced at LSU Media Day on Friday Eric Walker and Zack Hess are presently the leading candidates, but there’s a long way to go, and he remains high on fellow rookie Todd Peterson.
Here are scouting reports on all three:
- Eric Walker
The Measurables: 6-0 | 172 LBs | Arlington Martin HS | Arlington, Texas
The Arsenal: Fastball (89-91 mph), Curveball + Changeup
The Skinny: While he doesn’t possess the overpowering stuff featured by his two fellow rookies, Walker is considered the most poised and polished pitcher of the trio. Mainieri and teammates who’ve stepped into the box about Walker rave about his ‘pitchability,’ describing a pitcher who can throw any of his three pitches for strikes in any count. He pitched to a 27-5 record with 295 strikeouts during his varsity career on the mound. Mainieri also considers his makeup as a two-sport star to be a plus. Walker was a three-year starting quarterback at a Texas 6A powerhouse.
The Quote: “He throws a lot of strikes. You know he’s going to throw strikes with all three pitchers. He can go out there and compete just like everyone who’s come out here.” – LSU catcher Mike Papierski
- Zack Hess
The Measurables: 6-6 | 216 LBs | Liberty Christian Academy | Forest, Va.
The Arsenal: Fastball (93-96 mph), Power Slider
The Skinny: Hess, who was viewed by coaches as a risk to sign professionally out of high school, decided to go the college route after being selected in the 35th round of the MLB Draft by the New York Yankees. Much like Alex Lange — a comparison Mainieri noted — he’s a lanky right hander with a mid-90s fastball and a hard-breaking slider. Hess has swing-and-miss stuff and the potential to be overpower a lineup if he’s in a groove, but his success this season will depend on how consistently he can throw the ball over the plate. Could be LSU’s Friday night starter of the future.
The Quote: “Hess is a big dude. More of a power guy. Very aggressive in the mound. Attacks the zone and has really started to get a feel for his mechanics. He’s started to figure out how to take his stuff and fine tune it where he’s in the strike zone more consistently. I saw a big jump from that stand point during the final two weeks of fall.” – LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn
- Todd Peterson
The Measurables: 6-5 | 224 LBs | Lake Mary HS | Lake Mary, Fla.
The Arsenal: Fastball (91-94 mph), Curveball
The Skinny: While he begins the fall running third among the three, Mainieri says there’s still a chance Peterson could pitch himself into the mix for the third and fourth starter spots if he impresses during winter scrimmages. Another power arm, Peterson’s fastball reportedly topped out at 96 mph during his decorated prep career in Florida. He was named a Perfect Game All-American during a senior season in which he posted a 0.74 ERA in 11 starts and struck out 79 batters in 57 innings.
The Quote: “He’s a big guy. Got a nice arm. The thing that jumps out with him is that, for a young guy, very good tempo on the mound. He gets the ball and he wants to go, which tells you that he’s not afraid of contact. He attacks the strike zone with a quality fastball. Secondary stuff is the area that we need to get a little better, but I like his demeanor on the mound.” – LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn