By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
- Real Deal
Seemingly every year of the Paul Mainieri Era there’s at least one true freshmen who arrives on campus ready to play in the Southeastern Conference. At least one normally stands out as a guy who be a significant contributor from day one.
It started with DJ LeMahieu in 2008. Alex Bregman and Mark Laird were integral parts of a College World Series team in 2013. Jared Poche’ began his freshman season as LSU’s No. 2 starter and never gave up the job. Alex Lange was arguably the best pitcher in the country during his freshman year in 2015. Antoine Duplantis, Josh Smith, Eric Walker and Zack Hess followed with more of the same in the recent past.
Those standouts all shared some common traits in Mainieri’s mind, and through a few weeks of fall practice, he recognizes the same indicators in outfielder Daniel Cabrera.
“Daniel is one of those unique freshmen that come to LSU and are ready to jump right in there,” Mainieri said. “He’s got great confidence and great ability. That’s a great combination that the great ones have had here when they come in as freshmen. So he’s done nothing to discourage me at all.”
Cabrera, considered a top-100 prospect nationally coming out of Parkview Baptist, appears the odds-on favorite to win the left field job. He could also play a role on the mound — and be the designated hitter on days he’s slated to pitch — but it’s his offense that’s been the talk of the fall.
Coaches have raved about his quick swing and power to all fields from the left side. He batted leadoff and smoked an opposite-field single to left off southpaw Brandon Nowak in a scrimmage Monday.
Cabrera homered three times in the first two weeks of live scrimmages and has consistently registered batted balls in excess of 100 mph (translation: he’s hit the ball awfully hard).
“I think it’s a combination of things,” LSU hitting coach Micah Gibbs said. “He’s got a very advanced approach. He knows what kind of hitter he is and he doesn’t get out of that. And he’s very aggressive. It’s one of those things where we just let him do what he’s doing. His mechanics are also very advanced. It’s not just grip it and rip it, there’s some fluidness to it. It’s a beautiful swing.”
- A leader emerging in catcher race?
JUCO transfer Hunter Feduccia appears to be taking an early lead in the race to replace Mike Papierski behind the plate.
Obviously LSU is a long way from many any decisions about the position, as freshman Mason Doolittle remains very much a factor, but Feduccia has impressed so far this fall.
Anybody is likely to be a defensive downgrade after an utterly brilliant season from Mike Papierski, but coaches are impressed with the way Feduccia has hit this fall. Mainieri said he may be more complete offensively than the catchers LSU has signed in recent years.
Playing with the gold team, which is comprised of presumed starters, the catcher cranked a lefty-on-lefty home run off Nick Bush in Monday’s scrimmage that would’ve carried an estimated 357 feet had it not banked off the foul pole in right.
“Feduccia is one of those guys that you can tell comes in with college experience,” Gibbs said. “He’s simple, he knows what he’s good at and he’s a guy that you know what you’re going to get from him. I think he can help us and be a guy we lean on after losing Pap.”
Doolittle has shown tremendous upside for his part, but the 6-foot-4 true freshman is understandably raw at this point. Coaches say he may have the most natural power on the team, routinely hitting balls off the scoreboard in batting practice, and possesses a strong arm behind the plate.
- Same old same old
Coaches say Bryce Jordan finally looks like his old self after recovering from the knee surgery that cost him all of last season.
Jordan was slated to be LSU’s everyday designated hitter and bat cleanup before going down in a preseason scrimmage last February. He’s presently the favorite to land the first base job this season.
“Bryce Jordan has looked tremendous,” Mainieri said. “He hasn’t skipped a beat. Same old Bryce. He does everything 110 percent. He’s not holding back at all because of the knee. He’s swinging the bat well and he’s providing great leadership for our team.”
Mainieri often lamented Jordan’s absence during LSU’s run to the College World Series Finals last summer. Now the hope is his veteran bat can be a stabilizing force for a team that’s elevating a young core and massive turnover in the pitching staff.
“It’s crazy,” Gibbs added. “He got in there against the velocity machine our first day and looked a little rusty. Next day he looked back to normal. We started scrimmaging and we just couldn’t get him out. It was just the same old Bryce: short and compact to the ball, driving the ball. Gritting his teeth and getting it done.”