By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU will begin the season without one of its promising young arms.
Freshman right-hander AJ Labas underwent back surgery in December and is expected to miss the start of the season, LSU coach Paul Mainieri told Tiger Rag on Friday. He’s scheduled to resume throwing in late January provided there’s no setbacks along the way.
“That’s going to delay his availability this spring,” Mainieri said. “I’m not sure exactly when. I guesstimate around April 1 he’ll be available to pitch in games, but it could be earlier than that. We just don’t know yet. His back feels great, but he’s still got the recovery period and then he’s got to start throwing.”
The Florida native was a late addition to LSU’s signing class after being selected in the 17th round of the MLB Draft by the New York Mets. His low-90s fastball and plus changeup figured to make him an immediate contributor to a pitching staff light on returning veterans.
But Labas arrived at LSU with a bad back in the fall, which delayed him starting the throwing program. LSU treated the injury with a conservative approach of rest — similar to the way Hunter Newman recovered from a back injury last season — and it worked, allowing him to complete the fall practice season.
However, the injury flared up again following the conclusion of the fall. Labas followed the same prescribed recovery plan again, Mainieri said, but this time the discomfort persisted.
“It didn’t work as well in December when his back started to bother him, so he ended up having to have back surgery,” Mainieri said. “I just don’t know what the timeframe will be.”
The news is more positive for two other freshmen right handers who sat out the fall due to injury.
Trent Vietmeier is “100 percent ready to go” for the spring after undergoing thoracic outlet surgery in the fall and Nick Storz is throwing again after undergoing shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur. Storz is set to throw his second bullpen session on Friday afternoon, according to Mainieri.
“He’s a little bit more behind schedule, but there’s an outside chance he’ll be ready for the start of the season,” Mainieri said of Storz. “If everything goes according to plan, he’ll pitch in one scrimmage before the start of the season. Vietmeier will be full go.”
Storz, a Brooklyn native, was one of LSU’s highest-rated signees in the 2017 class and came to school after being selected in the 31st round by Detroit Tigers. Vietmeier is an athletic, 6-foot-3 pitcher from Pittsburgh.
It’s nearly impossible to project potential roles for either pitcher until Mainieri and Alan Dunn get a chance to put them through a throwing program and see them pitch.
“All three have the potential to be in the mix,” Mainieri said. “I just don’t know when and where.”
LSU will open camp later this month and Opening Night is set for Feb. 16 at Alex Box Stadium against Notre Dame.