Fresh of his stint coaching Team USA, LSU coach Paul Mainieri met with reporters Monday for the first time since prized shortstop signee Brice Turang agreed to terms with the Milwaukee Brewers.
At least one MLB Draft analyst felt that landing Turang would’ve been a bigger heist for LSU than getting Alex Bregman a few years ago, which is saying something.
Turang signed with the Brewers for $3.4 million, a good bit below his pre-draft asking price, but Mainieri said there were no hard feelings on his end — nor plans to downgrade expectations for 2019 due to losing the highly-touted Californian.
“I know he talked about larger numbers than what he actually agreed to,” Mainieri said, “but I just can’t blame him for taking the opportunity that he had. In all honesty, if he had come to school, he would have had to compete for a starting job. We have a couple of pretty good shortstops already here.
“I wish Brice would have come to school here. He didn’t, so we’re going to play with the players that we have and I have no doubt in my mind that we have a championship-caliber team personnel wise.”
Losing Turang means that LSU must hope more than ever that Josh Smith is able to fully recover from the back injury that caused him to miss all but six games last season. He went on the shelf after opening weekend and lasted less than a week once he returned to the lineup midseason.
LSU elected to not rush Smith into anything by giving him the summer off. Trainer Cory Couture visited with back specialists around the country earlier this summer in order to devise a back strengthening program for Smith to follow.
He hasn’t yet resumed baseball activities as of Monday, Mainieri said, but he has been running of late and hasn’t felt any pain in his back.
“The bottom line is he’s doing great,” Mainieri said. “He told me yesterday he hasn’t had an ounce of pain in three-or-four weeks. He hasn’t felt anything at all … At this point, cross our fingers, but everything looks great. Obviously having Josh back will be a real key to our season.”
The backup plan at shortstop, should Smith be slowed by the back, will be Hal Hughes. The slick-fielding infielder slid into Smith’s place at shortstop and performed admirably, though he only hit .221 in 65 games as a true freshman.
The LSU staff has been optimistic that Hughes can develop into more of an offensive threat as he matures physically. He’s hitting .281 with 15 RBI in 25 games this summer playing for the Rockford Rivets of the Northwoods League.
LSU returns second baseman Brandt Broussard and utility man Chris Reid from last season’s roster and signed two infielders in Drew Bianco and Gavin Dugas. Both Bianco and Dugas are playing for the Danville Dans of the Prospect League this summer.