Tigers Open Preseason Practice at The Box

LSU Begins 2020 Season in Three Weeks vs. Indiana

by Bill Franques | Sr. Associate Communications Director
+0
Tigers Open Preseason Practice at The Box

BATON ROUGE, La. – The LSU baseball team held its annual Media Day activities and opened preseason practice on a sunny Friday afternoon in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

LSU, ranked No. 11 in preseason polls, opens the season at 7 p.m. CT on Friday, February 14, when the Tigers play host to Indiana in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who led the Tigers to the 2009 College World Series title, enters his 14th season in Baton Rouge eager for the challenges the 2020 season will present. Mainieri has directed LSU to five CWS appearances and nine NCAA Tournament National Seeds over the past 13 seasons, and the Tigers have won four SEC regular-season championships and six conference tournament titles in that span.

“I’m excited about our team this year,” Mainieri said, “we have a lot of great kids and a lot of young kids and a veteran pitching staff. It hasn’t been often in the 14 years I have been here where there are so many unknowns about a team as we have this year with our position players. However, our pitching staff is a veteran staff; we have 16 pitchers on the team, and we only have three new pitchers, so 13 guys are veterans.”

The pitching staff features 11 Tigers who recorded innings last season, including three weekend starters – right-handers Cole Henry, Landon Marceaux and Eric Walker. Right-hander Devin Fontenot, who posted seven saves in 2019, and right-hander Matthew Beck, who was 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA last season, are back to lead the LSU bullpen.

Right-hander Jaden Hill, who began 2019 as a weekend starter but suffered an early season-ending injury, will return to the mound this season, along with experienced right-handers AJ Labas, Ma’Khail Hilliard and Trent Vietmeier. Left-handed pitchers Jacob Hasty and Brandon Kaminer are newcomers that will bolster the staff.

“While we are trying to figure out the right combination and put the pieces of the puzzle together in our batting order,” said Mainieri, who is in his 38th season as a collegiate head coach and ranks No. 2 on the NCAA Division I wins list for active coaches with 1,455 victories. “I think our pitching staff is going to be at a level that allows us to win games even while we are learning about our team.

“One of the keys for us, as last year proved to be true, is our ability to keep the guys healthy. Rather than push a starter to work an extra inning, it’s a good feeling knowing we can go to the bullpen and bring in a guy that is a veteran pitcher and has pitched well for us in the past.”

LSU returns five position players who started at least half of LSU’s 66 games in 2019, including outfielder Daniel Cabrera, catcher Saul Garza, first baseman Cade Beloso, outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo and infielder Hal Hughes.

Other returning veterans who filled part-time starting roles last season are first baseman/outfielder CJ Willis, infielder Gavin Dugas and outfielder Drew Bianco.

The Tigers’ talented class of newcomers includes 10 position players, and it contains four players that have been chosen in an MLB Draft – infielders Zach Arnold, Zack Mathis and Cade Doughty, and outfielder Mo Hampton Jr.

“We have a lot of new position players that complement our veteran players,” Mainieri said. “I’m still waiting to see which players are going to rise above others and make a statement that they should be starting players. As we went through fall practice, all of them showed great things, just not consistently. These next three weeks are going to be interesting to see. Even after the season begins, there is going to be some fluidity to our lineup.”

LSU Head Baseball Coach Paul Mainieri

Media Day Quotes – January 24, 2020

Opening Statement…

“It’s so great to be back and get ready for the start of the season. What a year it has been. More than anything, I am a college football fan and an LSU football fan, so I was getting just as much enjoyment out of the season as everyone else was. My personal congratulations goes to Coach (Orgeron) and to the football team. We had a player on the football team, Mo Hampton. I met with our team the day after the National Championship, on Tuesday. We were allowed to have a team meeting, but not practice until Wednesday. As I stood there addressing my team for the first time, it almost didn’t feel like baseball season. There was just such a euphoric feeling from what the football team did this fall. It has been an amazing year so far if you look at basketball, undefeated in the SEC. Women’s basketball is having a phenomenal year. Gymnastics is undefeated and ranked second in the country. We have a pretty good softball team, I know Beth (Torina) is excited about her team this year. Across the board, LSU athletics has never been stronger. It is exciting to be around here. Now it’s time for the baseball program to uphold its end of it as well.

“I’m excited about our team this year. We have a lot of great kids and a lot of young kids and a veteran pitching staff. There are a lot of things that make us excited about this year. It hasn’t been often in the 14 years I have been here where I stood in front of everyone and there are so many unknowns about a team as we have this year with our position players. Our pitching staff is a veteran pitching staff. We have 16 pitchers on the team. We only have three new pitchers, so 13 guys are veterans. It just so happens the three new guys are left-handers. We are excited about adding some left-handed pitching to the staff.

“When you look at the position players, obviously we lost three major players last year in Josh Smith, Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis. Filling those holes is going to be huge. We have a lot of new guys and a lot of new position players. I am still waiting to see which players are going to rise above others and make a statement that they should be starting players. As we went through fall practice, all of them showed great things, just not consistently. These next three weeks are going to be interesting to see. Even after the season begins, there is going to be some fluidity to our lineup. I don’t think the lineup we start with on Opening Day is going to be the same for 56 games and the National Championship. There are going to be different opportunities for different guys throughout the year. While we are trying to figure out the right combination and put the pieces of the puzzle together in our lineup, I think our pitching staff is going to be at a level that allows us to win games even while we are learning about our team.”

On replacing Josh Smith as a leader in the infield…

“Our infield is the most inexperienced group we have out there. We only have one returning infielder from last year’s team and that is Hal Hughes. Hal, of course, is a fine defensive player. He is a pretty steady shortstop and makes the routine play for us. On a given day if that’s what we need is a shortstop to make some plays for us and have some scrappy at-bats, then Hall will be the guy. When I think of a replacement for Josh, even though it’s a different position, I think (third baseman) Zack Mathis has those qualities of a real leader.”

On guys competing for a spot in the weekend rotation…

“I am pretty sure Cole Henry will be our Friday night starter. He has the capability to be one of those special guys we have had around here. I think he is going to continue to improve as the year goes on. I think you are talking about a kid that is potentially a first-round draft choice and an All-American caliber pitcher. For the second and third spots, I think it is a battle between AJ Labas, Landon Marceaux and Eric Walker.”

On Daniel Cabrera as a leader of the team…

“He doesn’t really have a choice. We don’t have that many veteran position players. Daniel is the most talented one we have. I think he just knows the responsibility. I let the player who wears (jersey) number eight decide on who to give it to. When Antoine (Duplantis) wanted to give it to Daniel Cabrera, I asked Daniel how he would feel about that because there is a responsibility of leadership. I was really happy with his response. He wanted the number eight and embraces that responsibility.”

On the bullpen…

“As far as the bullpen goes, we have some veterans that have pitched some good baseball for us. Ma’Khail Hilliard, Trent Vietmeier, Matthew Beck, Devin Fontenot, these guys are good pitchers. They all have rough moments, but they have done some outstanding things for us. One of the keys for us, as last year proved to be true, is our ability to keep the guys healthy. Rather than push a starter to work an extra inning, it’s a good feeling knowing we can go to the bullpen and bring in a guy that is a veteran pitcher and has pitched well for us in the past.”

LSU Player Quotes

Baseball Media Day – January 24, 2020

LSU Pitcher Cole Henry

On learning from experiences last season…

“I’m going to take those experiences and use them as motivations because I didn’t make some starts that I really wanted to make last year, so this off-season I worked really hard to get my body in shape and get everything ready to go this season. That experience last year helps even more in knowing what to expect in big games, Super Regionals, Regionals, and big SEC weekends that we really need a series win. I’m really excited and ready for it.”

On attention placed on guys being healthier and avoiding injuries…

“100%. Arm injuries are part of baseball in general, it happens every year from Little League to the pros. I think Coach (Mainieri) and (LSU trainer) Cory (Couture) and everybody else has done a really good job of monitoring how much we throw and what we’re doing in between starts and different things like that. I think this year has been a lot more attention to detail, and we’ve got a bunch of new technology that’s helped us monitor those sorts of things. The whole fall, we didn’t have any injuries and everybody’s feeling a little jumpy, so it’s good and we’re looking to continue that on into the spring.”

On leadership feeling a bit different this year…

“A little bit. I feel like we have the same vibes around the dugout and clubhouse as last year. I think everyone gets along really well. There are no bad eggs in this group, and there wasn’t last year either so both years I’ve been here, we’ve had great teams, great chemistry. I feel like everyone wants to play for each other and play for the university more than ourselves.”

LSU First Baseman Cade Beloso

On the pitching staff…

“I know they’re all healthy right now, which is good. That’s the question everyone’s been asking is ‘how can they stay healthy?’ We have a bunch of veteran pitchers who work hard every day, they’re really good at what they do, and they have a great coach in Alan Dunn, as well. I think you’re going to see a lot of good things from them this year, moving forward.”

On leadership stepping up and setting the tone…

“Yeah, there’s two different types of leaders. There are the guys who lead by example, Hal (Hughes) and Daniel (Cabrera) are those types of guys. They lead by example and they do a great job of it and there’s also some vocal guys. I think that’s where guys like me and Saul Garza and Drew Bianco are. We’re the vocal guys, we bring the juice.”

On working with the younger guys in the infield…

“It’s a little different. Last year, some guys were veterans, they knew what was going on and it was kind of vice versa. They were showing us what to do and I think they did a great job of that. I’m thankful that we were around them, so they showed us how to do things. We turned it around and showed these new young guys how to do it. They’ve done a great job; obviously at LSU we’ve got a lot of great infielders and I’m excited to see what they can do.”

LSU Pitcher Devin Fontenot

On the different approach this year from a veteran bullpen…

“The veteran guys are going to be helpful for the younger guys that don’t have the experience. They can follow our lead. The guys that have been out there know how it is. We are just going to go out there and do our jobs. All the work we have put in is going to pay off.”

On Fontenot’s role in the bullpen…

“Zack (Hess) did a great job for us and obviously, I looked up to him a lot. It is going to be weird not having him here along with Todd (Peterson). That happens every year, that is just how the nature of baseball works. To fill his shoes, there are a lot of guys on this team that can be leaders, and we are all just going to fill that role.”

LSU Infielder Zack Mathis

On Mathis’ leadership skills…

“I have previous playing experience already and some of these guys don’t know what the grind is like. I do a little more than them because coming from junior college, that is a grind. It is good to come from there and then come to this. It is an easy transition coming from a lower program to a higher program with nicer facilities.”

On what position Mathis would like to play…

“I just want to play wherever will help the team the most. Basically, that’s what it comes down to. If that’s at shortstop, then I will play shortstop. If it’s third, then I will play third.”

On the change of playing at LSU instead of a junior college…

“It is so fun. I get to hit on this field whenever. We can turn the lights on at night, or go in the batting cages whenever. In junior college, we had a turf field that was older. There was no lights, so we would usually go out there in the mornings or evenings. Our batting cages had holes everywhere, so we were hitting balls through the holes and into the parking lot. It’s fun here. It is a good change.”