DALLAS — Outside it was a scorching hot Texas afternoon as the college football season got underway across the country, but inside the Omni Hotel Fort Worth, LSU coach Paul Mainieri sat by a burning fire glowing about the baseball season to come.
Mainieri chatted at length with reporters after making his scheduled appearance for the LSU Coaches Caravan here in Dallas. LSU’s bumper crop of freshmen arms dominated the conversation, but it ended with a bit of news regarding one of the returning stars.
Junior center fielder Zach Watson broke his hand in an “accident,” Mainieri said, but he’s expected to make a full recovery by the time LSU begins fall practice on Sept. 23. Watson was spotted sporting a cast on his hand recently.
“He had an accident,” the coach said. “He broke his hand the other day. He’s going to be ready to play on Sept. 23, so let’s just leave it at that.”
Watson is coming off a summer during which he played for Mainieri on the Collegiate National Team. He turned down professional baseball to patrol center field for LSU in 2019.
THE BIG THREE
It’s too early to make any proclamations — players have only had individual workouts to this point while pitchers have thrown bullpen sessions — but three of the rookie arms have stood out to Mainieri up to this point.
Here’s a sound byte from Mainieri on each of the big three:
- RHP Landon Marceaux: “The guy who I look to the sky and say ‘Thank you Lord that he showed up to school’ is Landon Marceaux. I’m not saying he’s the next Aaron Nola, but he has a chance to be. Great command. Every fastball is 92-93 mph. He’s got a curveball with great tight spin. It looks like a Ma’Khail Hilliard curveball with a 93 mph fastball and impeccable control. He’s got a good changeup, too.”
- RHP Jaden Hill: “Jaden Hill told me he’d never thrown a bullpen in high school. He played infield when he didn’t pitch and played quarterback in the fall. So Alan Dunn has had him throw two bullpen sessions so far, and I sat behind the catch the last time he threw, and I was sitting here like this (mouth open). And you think he’s raw? People just make this stereotype that because he played football in the fall and he’s a big guy that didn’t get drafted, that he must be raw. His control was impeccable, he had a great changeup and he was throwing the ball in excess of 90 mph. Not sure what else you look for. He’s got a chance to be something special.”
- RHP Cole Henry: “Cole Henry has thrown the hardest of anybody and he’s got a good feel for his breaking ball and a changeup. I think Alan Dunn is going to sprinkle a little bit of the Dunn magic on him and he’s going to be something really good.”
– The rave reviews continue to pour in about Eric Walker as he’s begun throwing bullpen sessions. His command has returned quicker than usual following Tommy John Surgery, Mainieri said, and his velocity is almost back to where it was during his freshman season in 2016. “If I didn’t tell you he had Tommy John Surgery, you wouldn’t know he was hurt,” Mainieri said. “He might be better than he was two years ago.”
– Catcher CJ Willis is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a high school injury and has been cleared to start hitting, Mainieri said. The freshman still won’t be able to throw during fall practice, but he could hit in scrimmages and catch bullpen sessions.
– LSU is delaying the start of throwing programs for a handful of pitchers due either to injuries from last season or busy summers: Zach Hess, Nick Storz, Ma’Khail Hilliard and AJ Labas. Mainieri said there was no cause for alarm on any of them.
– Right-hander Matt Beck has been shut down for the time being after experiencing some elbow soreness late in the summer, Mainieri said. LSU hopes its nothing serious, but Beck may not pitch this fall.