LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who has directed the Tigers to five consecutive NCAA Tournament National Seeds, said that members of the incoming class should make an immediate impact on the 2017 squad, which has also been bolstered by the return of several veteran players that were selected in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft.
Four Tigers that were chosen in the draft – senior left-handed pitcher Jared Poche’, senior shortstop Kramer Robertson, senior second baseman Cole Freeman and junior first baseman Greg Deichmann – all elected to return to school instead of beginning their pro baseball careers.
“(LSU recruiting coordinator/hitting coach) Andy Cannizaro and I were just saying that our best class may have come with the veteran players who decided to stay here,” said Mainieri, a three-time National Coach of the Year entering his 11th season at LSU. “It’s pretty remarkable to have four drafted players of that caliber remain in school, and we’re very grateful that they made the decision. Their veteran presence combined with our other returning players and a tremendous recruiting class give us a lot of optimism for a very significant 2017 season.”
The Tigers began fall semester classes on Monday, and they will engage in a four-week period of conditioning drills and individual workouts beginning next week.
LSU starts its six-week, full-squad fall practice session on Sunday, September 25, and the 2017 season starts on Friday, February 17, when the Tigers play host to Air Force in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
LSU returns eight of its nine starting position players from last season’s team, including Robertson, Freeman, Deichmann, sophomore third baseman Chris Reid, junior catcher Michael Papierski, junior left fielder Beau Jordan, sophomore right fielder Antoine Duplantis and junior designated hitter Bryce Jordan.
Senior catcher Jordan Romero, sophomore outfielder Brody Wofford, senior infielder Bryce Adams and sophomore outfielder Brennan Breaux are other returning players with starting experience.
Poche’ and All-American junior right-hander Alex Lange are back for their third straight season as one of the best 1-2 weekend starting combinations in the country. The pitching staff will also feature senior right-handed closer Hunter Newman, who led the Tigers with eight saves last season.
Other veteran pitchers include senior right-handers Russell Reynolds, Collin Strall and Alden Cartwright; junior right-handers Doug Norman and Austin Bain; and sophomore right-handers Caleb Gilbert and Cole McKay.
Mainieri said he is hopeful that Cartwright and redshirt freshman left-hander Nick Bush will be healthy this spring after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. Neither are scheduled to pitch during LSU’s fall intrasquad games.
Mainieri also noted some of the Tigers’ most recent roster adjustments – outfielder Cody Ducote has decided to leave the baseball program but will remain at LSU to earn his degree; infielder O’Neal Lochridge has been declared medically disqualified due to a serious back injury suffered last season; and catcher Trent Forshag has become a member of the team’s equipment staff.
The schedule, Mainieri emphasized, is a challenging slate that features 11 teams that advanced to NCAA regionals last season.
“We’re going to play 22 games against teams that were in regionals last season, and that’s 40 percent of our schedule,” Mainieri explained. “Within that number, there are six Super Regional teams from last year and three that played in the College World Series. Of course, every weekend in the 30-game SEC schedule is grueling, and we have some very attractive non-conference matchups. I think our fans will enjoy watching us compete against some outstanding clubs throughout the year.”
The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a trip to Houston’s Minute Maid Park for the Shriners Hospitals College Classic, as the Tigers will face TCU, Baylor and Texas Tech March 3-5. The Tigers open SEC play on March 17, when LSU plays host to Georgia in Game 1 of a three-game SEC series in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.