Mainieri Discusses 2019 Baseball Team

by LSUsports.net (@LSUsports)
Paul Mainieri Summer Press Conference +0
Mainieri Discusses 2019 Baseball Team

BATON ROUGE, La. — Coach Paul Mainieri on Monday discussed several topics related to the 2019 season at the annual LSU baseball summer press conference in the Champion’s Club of Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field. Below are some of Mainieri’s quotes excerpted from the event:

On the incoming recruiting class …
“The way the draft works, a team is not going to make a selection unless it knows that it is going to sign the player. Several of our incoming players priced themselves in a way that it was going to be very hard for an organization to pay them at that level. Basically, the players were doing that because they wanted to come to LSU. They didn’t want to give up on this experience and this opportunity to be here, both individually and as a team. I know that these decisions will work out for what’s best for them. I know what’s in store for them. I know what this experience at LSU is going to be like for them. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be very challenging. It’s going to be very competitive, but it’s going to make them all better as players and is going to prepare them so that when the draft comes around again they will be more marketable ballplayers for the draft. They will get what they want at that time. I’m excited about this recruiting class and how the draft treated us.

“We have a lot of work to do. We are going to get to work this fall in practice. It’s going to be a very intense fall. August 12 is the day that the new freshmen will be arriving and moving into their apartments … We will have meetings the week of August 19. We will have individual practices for four weeks. Then, the third weekend of September we will begin our fall practice. Fall practice will have a bit of different flavor. We will now be able to play two baseball games against other schools in the fall, which do not count against our 56 games. We have entered an agreement with the University of New Orleans, coached by Blake Dean, to play a home and and away, which will be really great. We are going to give the first taste of college baseball to all of our players. Besides that, we will have a lot of scrimmages as normal. We will finish with our Purple vs. Gold World series, which will be the Thursday, Friday and Sunday surrounding the Alabama football game.”

On the health of infielder Josh Smith
“Josh is doing great. The bottom line is he’s doing great. Cory Couture, our athletic trainer, is working very hard with him. He’s actually gone across the country and dealt with some different back strengthening specialists. They started a new back strengthening program that has five levels to it. I think he’s at level four now. He told me yesterday that he hasn’t had an ounce of pain. He has not hit. He has started to run. He did some sprints the other day, which he said was totally uneventful. He had no pain at all. This summer, we decided to not have him play and totally strengthen the back and get it as strong as it can possibly be before he swings a bat and takes ground balls. With him out last year, not only did we lose an outstanding shortstop—I think Hal Hughes did a remarkable job—but we lost one of our most clutch, consistent hitters. It will be great to have Josh back, especially if he can return in the form that he showed as a freshman.”

On pitcher Eric Walker‘s progress …
“All you need to do is spend about two minutes with Eric Walker to see how mature and intelligent of a young man he is. He doesn’t act like he’s 19, 20 years old. This guy was a high school quarterback and an outstanding high school leader at Arlington High School in Texas. He pitched that way as a freshman. He had great composure, he was a strike-thrower, made pitches in big games. Nothing flustered him. When the injury occurred, obviously he’s a human being, he was frustrated, but he got back to work and said this is what I have to do. He has been dedicated and committed to getting himself back healthy. We were able to take as much time as we needed to make sure that we didn’t hurry it along too much because of the time that he was injured. There was no way that he was going to come back and help us last year. (LSU baseball trainer) Cory Couture has really done a tremendous job. Eric threw three bullpens last week, all without any incident. They all felt great. Eric’s assessment, Cory’s assessment, Alan Dunn‘s assessment was that you would have never known he had been hurt if someone hadn’t told you. He looked like he did all of his freshman year, and I wouldn’t anticipate that we are going to have to worry about it going forward. He will be full go for fall practice.”

On pitcher Zack Hess this summer with Team USA…
“The jump he made was unbelievable. His mechanics were so smooth. He had no head-jerk, no overthrowing. His velocity was still 93-95 mph. He pitched nine innings for the USA team after having two outings in the Cape Cod League, which were perfect innings as I recall, two three-inning outings. Then, when he joined the USA team, he had a two-inning outing, a three-inning outing, which was cut an inning short because of a rain delay and a four-inning outing in Cuba. I honestly don’t remember him going to a three-ball count one time in those nine innings. I think his statistics were three hits, no runs and he had eight, nine or 10 strikeouts. The other players, the other position players were all totally captivated by Zack and how dominant he was. His issue was never about his ability, it was his consistency. Out of 17 starts last year, he probably had eight or nine great ones. He one-hit Arkansas for seven innings in the SEC Tournament. He had great outings. It’s just that the ones that weren’t great were a little bit more on the other end of the spectrum. My feeling is that he’s going to have that consistency. It’s his third year of college, and he’s figured it out. I think he’s going to be a great starting pitcher, and I think he’s going to be a first-round draft choice next year.”

On outfielder Daniel Cabrera‘s progression throughout the season and into the summer …
“This kid is becoming awesome, just like we envisioned that would happen. He could have signed out of high school and chose to come to LSU. He got off to a rough start his freshman year. I probably built him up a little too much. Everyone thought he was going to hit 9.000 after all of the nice things I said about him. Of course, opening weekend against Notre Dame, he faced nothing but left-handed pitchers, went 0-for-9 and started some struggles. Eventually he fought his way through it. A lot of people don’t know that he had been struggling with a very sore leg the last month or so. He got a late start going to Cape Cod so that we could treat his leg. … If Antoine (Duplantis) or (Zach) Watson had signed, I was going to invite Daniel to the USA team. After Antoine got hurt, Daniel was first on the list, so we called him down. On the first day he got there, man, did he show he belonged. The first game, he hit an RBI single. The next game, he hit a home run. He didn’t stop from there. If you looked at the lineups right now the three-hole hitter every day was Adley Rutschman, the MVP of the College World Series from Oregon State and the five-hole hitter was Andrew Vaughn, the Golden Spikes Award winner, and I was hitting Daniel Cabrera in the four-hole right in between those two guys. What does that tell you? Daniel belonged there. He had the best at-bats that anyone had all summer across the three weeks. He’s gifted. He’s hitting balls the other way with authority. He’s turning on balls. His pitch recognition is great. His outfield defense is improving. His base running is improving. By the time this guy finishes his junior year, he’s going to be a really, really high draft pick.”

On the LSU assistant coaching staff:
“I had a big decision to make on what we would do. I decided to leave things status quo. I think that Sean Ochinko has the capabilities of being a great hitting coach, not a good hitting coach, a great hitting coach. His personality and his knowledge of the game is a great fit for us. Just like it was tough for (LSU director of player development) Micah Gibbs the year before when he had to go in the middle of the year and take over as the hitting coach, the same could be said about Sean, except he even got a bit of a later start last January because of the injury to Micah Gibbs. Sean did it to the best of his ability on the run, and without having the time to fully prepare for the season. Sean has had a great summer, learning about recruiting, traveling and seeing our players in the collegiate summer leagues. He will be extremely well-prepared to work with our hitters this season.”