LSU Tigers should get 'seasoned' early in the 2017 season

Tryve Brackin Contributing Writer

SEC baseball coaches seem to think LSU’s Tigers have a clear shot at the conference diamond championship in upcoming weeks. Meanwhile the Tigers are ranked fifth in the nation.

The return of ace pitchers Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ and some talented new arms is key to the expectations of rivals. However, a talented defense in the field to go with a handful of outstanding returning hitters also is important attributes to this new LSU ball club.

The Tigers are predicted by the SEC coaches to win the Western Division by a considerable difference over Texas A&M with Ole Miss following. Florida is picked to claim the Eastern Division title, but South Carolina and Vanderbilt are eyed as potential strong contenders. The trio of top-rated East clubs have consistently led the way close division races in recent springs. Last year LSU faced strong competition from A&M and Ole Miss as well. The difference is LSU has more veteran players than last year in the fielding positions and at bat. The Tigers also return several from last year’s SEC leading base stealing category (95 thieves).

The Tigers will have to prove themselves worthy rather early in the season. LSU should get “seasoned” quickly with an early non-SEC slate that includes Wichita State, Maryland, Army, and Air Force. All those games will keep LSU at home. LSU then host Georgia to begin the SEC slate. But then it gets tough as the Tigers travel to East Division preseason frontrunner Florida for a three-game series. How LSU performs in that series will give early indication of the club’s strength of competition.

The early lineup of SEC teams next on the list will be a pair of Alex Box three-gamers against Texas A&M and Ole Miss, there expected top two challengers in the Western Division race.

The Tigers then catch a break of sorts with road game series at Kentucky (tied for 4th in the East) and Alabama (tied for last spot in the West). The Tigers return to Alex Box for series with South Carolina (picked for 2nd in the East) and then Auburn (tied for last spot in West).

LSU closes out its SEC run visiting Mississippi State (4th ranked in the West). If the Tigers struggle in series with South Carolina and Miss. St. it could cost them.

Though challenging, especially early on the slate, the Tigers have enough improvement offensively and defensively to compete and grow into a powerhouse.

Veteran hurlers Hunter Newman, Russell Reynolds, Austin Bain, Doug Norman, and Caleb Gilbert must be consistent. Hopes are to find a solid third game Sunday starter, especially with frosh Nick Bush being highly regarded by Coach Paul Mainieri as a potential member of the mix. 

The Tigers have depth overall, but that was shaken when All-DH Bryce Jordan was lost for the season to a knee injury. Added to the injury loss last week was outfielder Greg Deichmann, who was hit in the face by a baseball. The extent of his absence from the lineup, as of Monday, was anywhere from days to the entire season. LSU and doctors are hoping he can recover in time to return to the lineup sometime this season. Deichmann underwent an operation Sunday to repair facial bones fractured. Deichmann led the Tigers last season in home runs and was among team leaders in extra base hits and RBI.

Meanwhile, two new infield players will be closely watched in the early going. They are freshmen Josh Smith at third base and Jake Slaughter at first base. Both have sure gloves after playing shortstop in high school. If they falter a bit, there is depth with veteran Chris Reid returning at third/first and catcher Jordan Romero having logged time last year at first base. 

LSU has a handful of team leaders expected to be key top-level SEC performers at the plate. The trio of Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman, and Antoine Duplantis are above .300 hitters, while catchers Mike Papierski and Romano are expected to continue to improve as key defenders and hitters. Beau Jordan is expected to return as the club’s hard-hitting outfielder, while Brandon Breaux will see time as well.

The Tigers have the talent, but “They Gotta Get’r Done”!