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LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY BASEBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
January 27, 2017
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
PAUL MAINIERI: Welcome, everybody, to our 2017 season. I want to first start off by saying I don't want to hear any complaining about the weather out there amongst you guys, okay? Scott Long reminded me a couple of years ago about the ice storm on our first day of practice, and then we had another year where our media day was canceled for another weather issue, I believe, so it's all a matter of perspective. It's been so warm, 70 degrees every day, and I was also mentioning to somebody, I was glad that it was so warm because as the players come back and they're starting to get their timing back and get their bodies in shape and kind of get ready to go, you'd hate for them to have to fight the elements, as well. This allowed them -- the weather was so great it allowed them to kind of get going and get their skills down and their timing down and so forth.
But I'm actually kind of happy that the temperature dropped because this is going to be more realistic about what it's going to be like on opening day, and I want to see our guys kind of become acclimated to the conditions. Again, it's all perspective. It's not 54 degrees in South Bend, Indiana, or Colorado Springs where I've coached before, so I'll take 54 degrees any day. You guys will be the ones complaining out there this afternoon. But your complaints will fall on deaf ears.
Obviously we're really excited about the new season. We have a chance, I think, to do something special this year. It's not often that -- well, let me say this a different way. Most years you're losing a segment of your team. You're losing either your pitching staff or your position players, and it's just kind of the nature of college baseball. You don't sign these players to long-term contracts, and so attrition plays its role. They either sign professionally, they graduate, unfortunately sometimes they transfer, there's injuries, so every year you're dealing with a lot of turnover on your team.
This year happens to be one of those years, however, where because last year we had eight new starting players to begin the season, those players are all back this year, and with Jared Poche' deciding not to sign professionally, we've got our 1-2 starting pitchers back, we've got a fifth-year senior closer back, so we've got quite a veteran presence on this team.
I'm equally as excited, however, about our young freshmen, our new players. Not just freshmen, we have a couple of junior college players I'm real excited about, as well.
I think there's a really nice blend on this team. Obviously there's a lot of optimism. I'm sure you all have seen the preseason polls. I think we've been pretty unanimous in the top five in all the preseason polls. We all know those preseason polls don't mean a thing, but it does, I think, signify that there are people out there that also believe we have a chance to have a pretty good year.
I know the question will probably come, do you feel added pressure because of the preseason rankings or having so many guys back, and I'll just go ahead and save you the opportunity to ask me that question. I don't think there's any added pressure ever at LSU. The pressure level is always at a very high level, so I don't know how you can ratchet it up any more than it already is.
Our approach every season is the same. Our goal is to make it to Omaha. Our goal is to play for the national championship and hopefully win it. And that will always be the goal, as long as I'm the coach here at LSU, and I'm sure that that's what our fans expect. Probably you, the members of the media, expect us to have one of the best teams in the country, and I don't see why we shouldn't, quite frankly.
I like this team. I like their attitude. I like their work ethic. I think they're excited about it. It's three weeks from opening day, 21 days away. We have a very special opening weekend. Let me just give you a few details about opening weekend, if I may.
First of all, on Friday night, the first pitch will be delivered by Brad Garafola, Jr. You may recognize that name. Brad Garafola, Sr., was one of the three officers that lost their lives in the attack last summer, and his son, his namesake, will be representing the family and the other officers by delivering the first pitch to open our 2017 season.
We also -- obviously everything that is so special about opening day will continue to be special, but because we're playing the United States Air Force Academy, one of our military academies, and certainly an institution that I have very fond feelings for. We've also secured the Air Force Academy, the United States Air Force Academy Wings of Blue parachuting team that will drop in the game ball Friday, Saturday and Sunday, each of the three games. So that will be something special for opening night.
Originally we were supposed to play the Air Force Academy and Southern University on the opening weekend. Unfortunately at kind of a late date, Southern University had a quirk in their schedule. They had to cancel out of the weekend, being involved in the weekend with us, so I thought we would end up playing the United States Air Force Academy a three-game series. I didn't really want to do that because the coach there and I are very close. He played for me at Air Force and is now the coach there, and he almost feels like family to me, and I didn't really want to play them a full three-game series.
And just by chance, I was on the phone with Travis Jewett at Tulane, found out that they were playing Army West Point, the United States military academy, that same weekend. How ironic. So I asked him, how would you feel about trading opponents on Saturday so we can get a little variety in our schedule, which he thought was a great idea, and both the coach at Army and the coach at Air Force were great and open to the idea because I also made it available for them to play each other in another game, and any time the service academies have an opportunity to play each other, it's a special occasion for their cadets.
We're going to make our field available to them. They're going to play each other at noon on Friday the 17th, then of course the stadium will be cleared, that will be open admission, free admission for anybody that wants to come to that game, but after the game is over, Tulane will head over to New Orleans to Turchin Stadium to play in Tulane's season opener. Air Force will stay here and play us that evening at 7:00.
The next day, we will play Army, and Air Force will go to Tulane to play, and we have some special things planned for that day. We're going to call Saturday our Military Appreciation Day 1. The next day on Sunday, when Air Force comes back and plays us again, we will call that Military Appreciation Day 2, because we want to honor both branches of the service.
So we're going to have a special weekend that opening weekend, of course, and then our schedule proceeds through the season. We have a big game over at UNO on the lakefront that week. We have a new opponent Hofstra coming in, and then we have Maryland coming in. I think Maryland has pretty much unanimously been a top 25 team in the preseason poll. They've got that predicted pitcher of the year in the Big Ten coming back. Their shortstop is one of the premier players in the country, was one of the top players in Cape Cod last summer. They have an outstanding ballclub. Their coach there, John Szefc, at one time was an assistant at ULL, so he's very familiar with baseball in Louisiana. It's going to be a great series.
We had Maryland here a few years ago. I remember we had a 1-0 game on opening night and really had a tremendous three-game series.
We then have a mid-week game, but then we go on to the Minute Maid Ballpark tournament. This year they call it the Shriners Children's Hospital in Houston, and we're going to take our team early, visit with the children in the hospital on Thursday, and then of course we play Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday. How exciting is Friday night going to be when the Tigers take on TCU?
So if we can get off to a good start and TCU gets off to a good start, it's quite possible we could have a matchup of 1 versus 2 in a big league ballpark in a city where it holds the second largest LSU alumni population, so my guess is we might have a pretty good crowd for that Friday night over in Minute Maid.
Obviously a big weekend will be followed then with a midweek game over at McNeese State. People will remember that McNeese whipped us pretty well last year, so that will be a good hard game for us, and then we'll finish our non-conference weekends with Wichita State for a three-game series, and of course anybody that follows LSU baseball will know that Skip Bertman's first two national championships they beat Wichita State in the championship game, so another program that has a lot of rich tradition and history in their baseball program.
And then of course after that, we begin our 30-game grind in the SEC mixed in with some really quality mid-week games. It's going to be a very, very challenging 56-game schedule, perhaps the most challenging non-conference schedule that we've had since I've been here at LSU, and this is my 11th year.
So we're fired up about this challenge that's ahead of us. I think we've got a good team put together. We feel like we can accomplish some really outstanding things. Coach speak is jumping out now, we've got to take it one at a time and kind of work our way through the schedule.
Q. A lot of people are wondering about the possibility of you developing a third, maybe fourth starter this year, and I know you've got a couple young guys and you've got a couple guys you know aren't coming back next year. Is that something you need to do this year?
PAUL MAINIERI: You know, I've wanted to do it every year quite frankly, and it just hasn't quite worked out the way we wanted it to over the last two or three years, but this year I think it's virtually essential to do it. We know we're going to lose Lange. He's probably going to go in the first round. We know we're going to lose Poche' for sure because he's a senior. I don't want to go into the 2018 season with nobody with any starting pitching experience. Not saying that if that happens it's going to be disastrous. In 2009, quite frankly, we had to replace an entire starting rotation going into the season, and we won the national championship.
So it's not absolutely critical, but given a choice I would prefer to have some starting pitching experience returning, and I think -- I can tell you with a great deal of confidence, let me say it that way, we're going to develop a third starter, and potentially even a fourth starter. Of course the big question about the fourth starter becomes when we start SEC play, are we better off having a quality guy start in the middle of the week against the Tulanes and ULLs of the world, or are we better off putting that person into the bullpen for the SEC weekends? And that's a decision that we'll make later on.
If we have a deep enough bullpen, then there won't be a need to do that. If we feel that we need that extra arm to fight through the SEC weekend, of course they'd take on prime importance to us.
Did you want me to mention any candidates?
I think the top two candidates for those jobs right now would be Eric Walker and Zack Hess, two freshmen. They're as different as they can be in terms of their pitching styles, but I think they both have a chance to be equally effective, and I think what we'll do is start one of them on Sunday in the non-conference games and one of them in the midweek game, and then after about three weeks, we'll kind of reanalyze the situations and say, which one are we best starting on the Sundays in the SEC schedule, and whichever guy that is, we're going to hopefully move him on to Sunday or keep him on Sunday for the Wichita State weekend so that we have one weekend prior to SEC play where that pitcher has gotten into the routine of pitching on an early game on Sunday rather than a night game.
Q. You hit 46 dingers last year; can you talk about the firepower of this club and the transition with a new hitting coach with Micah and what he's brought to the table? But your offensive output and what you expect on offense this year.
PAUL MAINIERI: You know, I think among the fan base, everybody is always curious about the power potential of your team. 46 home runs is not a lot of home runs. I mean, we've had teams with over 100 home runs, of course. But I do think that everybody has become accustomed to the change in college baseball, the style of play, the roster limits, the bat changes. All that has taken its effect.
Man, the quality of pitching just keeps getting ratcheted up. I've never seen so many guys throwing in excess of 90 miles an hour. It's just hard to develop a lot of power on the team. So 46 home runs last year was not -- I don't even know where that ranked in the SEC. Do you recall by any chance? Was it that far down on the list? I was going to say, nobody really hits a lot of home runs like we once did, and I think most people have become more accustomed to it. Of course I think Greg Deichmann is going to be a candidate that he puts it all together, I think the potential of this young man is really limitless. It wouldn't surprise me if he hit 10 to 20 home runs this year.
We have other guys throughout the lineup, I think, that are threats to hit the ball out of the ballpark, but I don't know that they would be considered home run hitters, meaning that I think there's a lot of guys that are capable of hitting 3, 4, to upwards of 10. But we're going to have to prepare, especially in the early part of the schedule when we anticipate the weather will be cool, the wind will be blowing in from the north, not a lot of home runs are hit early in the season, that you've got to be able to manufacture.
I know a lot has been made of the fact that Andy Cannizaro got the head coaching job at Mississippi State in November. The timing certainly was kind of unusual, and everybody is wondering about the effect that will have on our team, and I don't mean this in any way as a negative towards Andy, but what I'm saying to you is we have a style of play that we had implemented long before Andy came here. We had a very good hitting team, I think, before he got here. I think we had a really good hitting team when he was here, and I anticipate we're going to have a very good hitting team after he's gone. There's a philosophy that we play with, and that philosophy is to be very aggressive at the plate, very aggressive on the bases, attack the other team on offense, and I don't think you'll see anything change there.
Micah Gibbs has had a career here at LSU that makes him one of the best players we ever had in these parts. He had a five-and-a-half-year professional baseball career, made it to Triple-A, universally respected among the people he associated with in professional baseball. He was here all last spring as our baseball operations person. He was here all fall, throughout fall practice. He knows our hitters. He knows what he's doing. And certainly my involvement with the hitters will continue to be there, as well.
I really honestly don't feel that much is going to change at all. I thought before Andy was here, Javy did an excellent job, and before Javi, I thought Cliff Godwin did an excellent job, and I think we have a tradition of hitting coaches here at LSU. Nothing should change from that standpoint.
Q. You talked about the pressure never really changing at LSU, but how much different does it feel being able to fill in some of those question marks that were maybe there before last year's?
PAUL MAINIERI: Well, listen, if the pressure is going to be on you to win and win big, any coach would tell you they'd rather have experienced players with them, and the nice thing about the guys that have been here and done well, you don't have to keep telling them that they have the ability to succeed in this league. They've already proven that they can succeed in this league. Last year when we started the season, there were some rough moments. It was two steps forward, one step back type of thing. But once they kind of became acclimated to playing in front of large crowds, getting acclimated to playing on television all the time, being acclimated to having high expectations of them, understanding what the coach really wanted out of them, I thought that they became more comfortable, more confident, and played well as the season progressed.
So now as we go into this next year, they've got all that experience under their belt. What a wonderful thing it is.
I wish we had nine players in the lineup, 10 including the pitcher, that were experienced. That doesn't always work out that way in college baseball because of attrition, and sometimes you feel like you want to upgrade it at particular positions, as well, so therefore you might go with a younger player here or there, even though you have veteran opportunities, veteran options I should say. That may be the case this year. Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter are two freshmen that I've been extremely impressed with. What they do is they bring a greater level of athleticism. They can run a little bit more. They have a little bit more range on defense. They can get on base. They can make things happen. Perhaps there's a little more power potential, and as long as you feel that that freshman, despite the fact he does not have the experience, still gives you more than the experienced player, then I'm not afraid to use those young players.
One thing about Josh and Jake, I've mentioned two freshmen, that makes them a little different than most freshmen in past years is they had the experience of playing in a collegiate summer league last summer before they arrived here in the fall. The only other player I've coached here at LSU that had that same experience was Kevin Gausman years ago when he played out in the California collegiate league. Now these collegiate summer leagues have opened up the availability for players to come out of high school and go join these collegiate leagues, and we've taken advantage of that, at least last summer we did with those two guys, and I think it did them both a world of good. Josh Smith hit, I think, close to .350, made the All-Star team in the Prospect League playing for Danville. Danville is a team where LSU has sent players there, great players, for years and years and years, all the way back through Skip's days, and Jake Slaughter went out to the Cal Ripken League, and he made the All-Star team out there. Didn't hit quite for the average that Josh hit for, but you could tell that those experiences gave those kids a step forward over some of the other freshmen.
Q. You just mentioned those two guys, and of course you've got Cole and Kramer and then Chris Reid listed as a backup. I don't know if you're still working on the depth chart, but that seems awful thin. You have an injury, backup starters at one position, listed as backups at others. Where are you with your depth in case you have an injury with a younger player on the infield?
PAUL MAINIERI: Well, you know, the roster limits are always going to keep your depth somewhat precarious. We have 27 scholarship players on our team. Only 13 of them are position players. So it's hard to have enormous depth at every position. We have a grand total of 17 position players, and this is what happens with these roster limits is you have to get more versatile guys to be your backup players. If somebody were to go down, then you can use a guy at multiple positions.
For example, Kramer Robertson is our starting shortstop, but the backup is Josh Smith, who happens to be our starting third baseman. Now, if Josh moves over there, now we've got to figure out what to do at third base. Well, Chris Reid was our starter there last year, and I think he could step in and do a really significant job.
If you have one or two backup infielders and you've got one or two backup outfielders and you've got a couple of backup catchers, you've got to feel pretty confident in that. I know you've heard me say this many times going into a season: I like to develop a dozen players as, quote-unquote, starting players. That way if you have an injury, those next three guys can step in anywhere that you need them without feeling like your team is taking a huge step back. Obviously the catching position is so unique in its skill set and what is needed there, so somebody has to be developed for that specific position.
But as far as the four infield positions, the three outfield positions, I kind of approach that almost like basketball coach might have a sixth man, like who's your next best player, and if they can -- you might have to move some guys around a little bit to make sure that defensively you're sound, but let's take the next best player and put him in whenever somebody goes down, and you've got two or three guys ready to do that.
So I feel confident in our depth position player wise, and I think we should be okay there.
Q. You mentioned Jake Slaughter and all the intangibles he brings, and you pointed to his experience over the summer. That being said, with all that he brings to the table, he's listed as a preseason depth chart starter at first base. How confident are you that he'll excel at that role even as a freshman?
PAUL MAINIERI: Listen, if Kramer Robertson had not come back for his senior year and had chosen instead to sign professionally as he could have, then Jake Slaughter and Josh Smith would have battled it out for the shortstop position. So the first month of fall practice -- actually before fall practice when they were all working on their own on an open field type situation, I watched Jake Slaughter take 500 ground balls at shortstop over a month. He's a good shortstop. So is Josh Smith. It would have been an interesting competition to see those two guys battling it out at shortstop, and that's what you're going to see next year when we know Kramer will be gone because he's a senior this year.
Once I knew Kramer was here, I wanted to see Jake at short, I think he's pretty good. But then I put him over to third base and let him compete with Josh Smith at third base along with Chris Reid. At the end of the fall, I felt that Josh Smith brought just a little bit more maybe consistency, those type of things. But I felt Jake Slaughter was one of our top nine players. So rather than be the backup at another position, your more traditional position you play, I'd rather have that player be one of the starting nine if he's one of your best nine guys. So taking a guy with shortstop skills, certainly third base skills, flipping him over to first base, this is just a temporary move. When I say temporary, I'm talking about one year. This is just a temporary move. He's such a great athlete, for him to play first base, which to me is the easiest defensive position to play on the field, he can do it in his sleep really. You just teach him a few of the nuances of the position, know that he's going to be in the right place at the right time, get used to that different kind of glove. The key there is he's going to get to go up to bat four or five times a game, and I think he can impact the game because of his ability as a hitter, his speed, his competitiveness and so forth.
Jake is going to be an interesting ballplayer, I'm telling you. Right now his highs are really high. Unfortunately his lows sometimes is when his inexperience shows. He's such a passionate kid, he's always the first guy at the field. He's a sponge for knowledge. He wants to learn. He wants to please. But sometimes when he doesn't do well, he takes it so hard that your job as a coach is to try to keep him to keep his chin up, you know, and keep his dauber up so he doesn't get down on himself. He's really a very, very talented player, and I think his biggest challenge is going to be consistency.
On a given day, though, you might see him hit a couple of balls out of the ballpark. He's going to be a really outstanding ballplayer.
Q. Kramer and Jared both came back for their senior year. You don't necessarily always see guys come back for their senior year because of the signing bonuses and everything like that. To have them back, guys who are established, what does that mean for your team this year?
PAUL MAINIERI: Well, not only those two guys that you just mentioned, Kramer and Poche', but how about Freeman and Deichmann? I'm going to call those guys my fab four. Our team would be -- would have a significantly different look to it if those four guys were not back. I still think we'd have a really good team, don't get me wrong. We'd get the job done. But having those four guys back just elevates your confidence in your team because of not just the experience and the ability but the leadership that they bring back to your team.
Kramer made it pretty clear to me before the draft that it was going to take something really extraordinary for him. Cole Freeman was kind of in that same line, and then Greg Deichmann, he felt that it was just in his best interest to come back for one more year. Last year was his first year of playing full-time, and he just felt that between last spring, another summer of collegiate summer league, another fall, and boy, now in another full year, that he could elevate his game, and I felt strongly about it, too.
Poche' was the last one to decide that he was going to come back, and I think Poche' wanted to sign, and when they didn't meet what his expectations were, that he just felt I'm going to get the same opportunity next summer as I would in the summer of 2016, so why would I give up my senior year.
So I'm glad he came back. I didn't try to convince him to. I think those are decisions that everybody has to make on their own. It's an individual decision for everybody.
But when they all four decided to come back, quite frankly it was a big lift to me as well as to everybody else associated with the team.
Poche' is -- correct me if I'm wrong, Poche' is the only pitcher in the history of LSU baseball to win nine games in each of his first three years. This guy has got 27 career wins, and I think if he wins 11, does he tie? So if he wins 11 this year, he'll tie for the most wins in the history of LSU baseball. What a remarkable accomplishment that would be.
Kramer Robertson last year emerged -- I don't think we'd come close to winning 45 games last year if Kramer Robertson doesn't do what he did for our team, moving over to shortstop, being the offensive force that he was. Do you remember last year at this meeting I was telling you, hey, for the last eight years I've had shortstops by the name of LeMahieu, Nola, and Bregman? Pretty nice run. Pretty lucky coach to be standing up here to be able to say that, okay. Oh, my gosh, what are we going to do this year. We tried a freshman, we tried Cole Freeman. When Kramer moved over there, all he ended up doing was becoming the first-team all-SEC shortstop, and not only did he play great, you remember when he got hit in the mouth, when he dislocated his finger, I mean, the toughness that he showed out there just became such a rallying point for our entire team, and I don't think we'd come close to having the success we had last year without Kramer.
And then Cole Freeman, when we came out of fall practice a year ago, Cole Freeman hit like .220 in fall practice. Who would have guessed he would have led our team in hitting at the end of the year and then go up to Cape Cod and hit .380 and lead the Cape Cod League in hitting? So having those two guys back defensively, offensively, leadership wise, having Poche' back, you know, when you think about the teams that get to Omaha and have success in Omaha, it's not a requirement, but a lot of times you see teams that have a very good senior presence on their team. Our team this year has eight seniors, nine if you include Alden Cartwright. Unfortunately Alden Cartwright will be out for the year. But having eight senior players is quite an advantage for us this year, and then the fourth player of course was Greg Deichmann. He was a draft eligible sophomore last year. So him coming back for his junior year, he still will be in a position to have good leverage when it comes to negotiating a signing bonus at the end of this year, and I've already spoken about what I think he's capable of doing.
Q. You often hear coaches talk about seeing something in the offseason that maybe foreshadowed good things to come. Obviously that's usually with 20/20 hindsight. Is there anything you saw this offseason with something the players did that makes you feel optimistic about what this team can do this year?
PAUL MAINIERI: I don't know if there's one specific thing. I just see such a maturity about these guys. You know, I know nobody has brought it up, and I don't want to talk about myself, but I had to deal with something last summer, not too long after the season, I had to make a decision, and when guys like Greg Deichmann and Cole Freeman and Kramer Robertson, they came in to see me in my office and they sat there and talked to me, it wasn't like a coach talking to some young kid. Like you almost felt like you were talking to an adult that was very self-confident, that saw the way things were. I could throw Antoine Duplantis into that, too. When Antoine called me, just the things that he did. It wasn't like, come on, Coach, we don't want you to leave. He was making points to you that were very well-thought-out and took a perspective to be able to see those things. Of course Alex Lange the same way. So I just see a level of maturity among those guys that maybe is more so even than it was last year going into the season.
And it was really kind of a part of our program here at LSU long before I became the coach. Skip developed that with the leadership on his teams. The older guys, the experience, the self-confidence, and that aura that that brings to the team. So I don't know if there was just one specific thing that they did as much as just the way they go out there every day.
These last three weeks or two and a half weeks, we can require small amounts of practice with the players. Outside of that, we just make the facility available. If they want to show up and work out, they work out. Almost every day, almost everybody is out there. One day I just happened to watch from a distance, Kramer Robertson, for example, taking ground balls at shortstop. He must have taken 100 ground balls that day. I don't think he missed a single ball. And it wasn't just that he was taking the ground balls. He was doing everything correctly, mechanically, the way he was -- the way that you've worked with him in the past. I didn't have to be there with him for him to know what the right way to do it was, and he had enough pride, enough desire to do it well that he would just do things the way that you would tell him if you were standing over him.
Like I tell my team, and I told them this not too long ago, this may sound crazy to you all, but understand what I mean by this, my goal as a coach with the players is to make myself dispensable, that they don't need me to stand over there and tell them how to do things. I want to teach them how to practice and instill in them the motivation to want to be as good as they can be so that if I'm not around that they're still going to go out there and do the things that they need to do. When you have that, it can be magical because you have that kind of leadership among the team.
Q. Paul, you also added a video coordinator and built a video room over the offseason. What do you think that adds to the program?
PAUL MAINIERI: Well, considering the fact that Jamie Tutko is in the room, I'd better say nice things about him.
Well, the game is evolving. There's so much analytics that are done now at the big league level. There's so much that you can do in terms of scouting reports. Now with the SEC, virtually all games of every school are televised, whether it be on the family of ESPN stations or on the digital platform with SEC Plus. So we have access to all of the other teams in our league. Well, they have access to us, as well. We're not the first team in the league to hire a video coordinator. We're not the first team in the league to have a video room.
So I kind of felt we were lagging behind a little bit. Look, is that going to make the difference? If I didn't think it was important, I wouldn't have tried to convince Joe to add it to our program.
So one of the things -- well, of course that's Jamie's job, but one of the things I think Micah brings to the table is a very analytical mind. He was that way as a player. He was that way even in the Minor Leagues from when I talked to all the people that he played for, and even in the last year that he's been here, I can see that very clearly in his makeup and the way he is. He's not as boisterous and vocal as somebody in the past like an Andy or Javi, but he's got this ability to look at things and evaluate them that I think is really outstanding.
So he'll work very closely with Jamie Tutko when we get ready to play an opponent. He'll look at video of all the other team's pitchers. He'll have an idea of the sequence of pitches that that guy likes to go to in certain situations. We'll be able to see how quickly, for example, a pitcher is to the plate. We'll see what habits, maybe a guy is tipping his pitches by the way he sets with his hands. And I think this is where the video analysis can really help you in scouting. I think it also can help you with the coaching of your own players. If you don't overdo it. I mean, I don't want it to be a crutch every time a player has a bad at-bat or makes a bad pitch, let me go look at myself on the video. That was never the intention. But I think if we have a nice library of seeing players do successful things, when they deviate away from that, we can look at the two success/failure times and make a comparison and show the player, like see, this is what you're doing a little bit different from what you were successful. That can't help but to be a positive thing for your players in coaching them.
So if we don't want the national championship, we'll blame it on Jamie.
Q. Looking at the outfield, just talk about Antoine moving over to center and how he can build on what was an incredible freshman year, and then Brennan fighting for a starting spot in left.
PAUL MAINIERI: First of all, I think Antoine is a special player. I fell in love with him the day I saw him when I went to scout him when he was in the summer before his senior year. I just thought he had something about him, a little bit of the "it" factor, really good athlete. The story has been well told about Antoine. He's kind of the black sheep of the family. Everybody else is pole vaulters and great track stars, and nobody in his family knows anything about baseball, which is a wonderful thing. You never have parents complaining about anything because they don't know anything about baseball.
So Antoine, he's really a nice-looking player. He came here from day one and established himself as a starting player, very good defensively. Center field, he did a tremendous job in right field last year, but center field is really his natural position, and I think he's going to handle the bat. I think he's stronger, more confident, more experienced. I expect him to have a really great year, and I think he'll do a great job.
A guy like Andrew Stevenson is always the standard by which we measure all center fielders. I'm not sure he's Andrew Stevenson yet as far as getting the ball, but he's not far behind. We have a pretty good tradition of good center fielders here, and I think Antoine is going to hold his own.
We also decided to move Greg Deichmann to right field, and I told Greg Deichmann at some point during fall practice when I was out there working with him and watching his reactions and instincts in the outfield, I said, Greg, the last time I had this feeling about moving a guy to another position was in 2009 when I moved DJ LeMahieu from shortstop to second base, and I told DJ, DJ, you were made to play second base. This is your position, and you're going to go to the Big Leagues and you're going to be a second baseman at the big league level. He was very upset with me for moving him off shortstop. Well, he won a Gold Glove at second base in the Big Leagues.
I'm not saying Greg Deichmann is going to win a Gold Glove in the Big Leagues, but what I'm saying to you is we've been kind of working trying to find that position where Deichmann feels more confident, most comfortable, most instinctive, and watching him out in right field every day, I think we've found that position, much like we did with DJ. He's going to do a good job out there. He's going to do a really solid job, and he clearly has by far the best throwing arm of any of our outfielders, which will be a nice little asset to have. We haven't had much of that. When I rate outfielders, guys that start in the outfield, I want offensive players, I want guys that can go catch the ball, so the throwing arm is a distant third. But if you have a guy with a throwing arm that can do the other two things, it just gives you another weapon.
The left field position is really the one position that's up for grabs right now. Of course Beau Jordan played there all the time last year. Beau had a really rough last month of the season and a pretty average summer. I still love Beau. I still think he's a great competitor. But I think it's only fair that the position has now opened competition.
Brennan Breaux has made remarkable improvement. I don't know how much he's put on, but I'll bet he's probably put 10 to 15 pounds on, and he's hitting the ball with a lot more authority, and he can run pretty well, and he's got a decent throwing arm, as well. Now, he has other parts of his game that can frustrate me at times, but I see him being a guy that's going to be right in there with Beau Jordan competing for the job.
I also moved Bryce Adams out to left field. He was a first baseman by trade because I'm just looking for options of ways that maybe he can help us. That's still a work in progress for him in left field. And we have one other outfielder that I'm pretty high on, a young kid by the name of Zach Watson. I'll tell you, Zach is a really good athlete, and look, he's not going to be in the starting lineup on opening day. Neither was Mikie Mahtook when he was a freshman, and that's what I told Zach. And there was a point when we got through the season, maybe it was 30 games into the year, Mikie had been playing a little bit sporadically here and there, but you could see him getting more confident and growing the more time he was under the bright lights. Finally we needed a spark, I put Mikie in there, and he stayed in the lineup the rest of his career basically.
I'm not saying that's going to happen for Zach, but I see some similarities there. And maybe this kid at some point will provide a spark for us.
Q. What are you kind of anticipating out of Alex this year?
PAUL MAINIERI: Which Alex?
Q. Lange, sorry.
PAUL MAINIERI: We used to have Bregman, so when people would say Alex, I was confused.
Q. Just looking at his numbers, strikeouts are still way up there, but his ERA jumped a little bit, obviously his win-loss wasn't 12-0. What are you expecting out of him to take a step forward this year?
PAUL MAINIERI: Well, Alex Lange has been one of the greatest competitors that I've been around in my coaching career. Forget about his talent, forget about his ability, forget about his size or the strength of his arm. This guy has an obsession with beating the other guy. The great ones all had that. Aaron Nola has that baby face, nice kid. Louis Coleman was the same way. But man, when they crossed that white line and got to that bump out there in the middle of the field, they were nasty. They were mean. And let me tell you, Lange is the same way. Lange will do anything for anybody. He'll do philanthropic work, he'll visit kids, he'll talk to the media, he'll do whatever. Not on game day. I can't even talk to him on game day. If I look at him, he gives me that grrr -- scares me. I don't even want to talk to him.
Now, during the course of the game, of course, that's different. You have to find out how he's feeling, you've got to know if he's got anything left in the tank, those type of things, so you have to have conversations between innings, but leading up to the game, oh, man, is he -- he's a tough guy.
I think he's already -- if he never won another game, threw another pitch, he's already had a remarkable career here at LSU. But I think this year is going to be his best year. I just feel the experience with USA Baseball last summer, two years of experience under his belt, he had a few rough moments last year, not all that different than Alex Bregman had when he was in his sophomore year. You may remember Alex Bregman went about 4 for 50 in the month of April his sophomore year, and I told Alex Bregman at that time, listen, as difficult as this is for you to go through, this is going to help you during the length of your career. You're not going to be able to succeed at the rate that you've been used to success your whole life as you keep going through this game. It's too humbling. It's too difficult. You have to know how to handle adversity.
Well, I told Alex Lange the same thing last year. He didn't have a bad year. He was 8-4, what did he strike out, 125 batters or something, but his command was a little bit off, and that created some of his problems. But I think now, I watched him throw a bullpen a week ago, it was the best bullpen I've ever seen him throw. When Alan Dunn told him he wanted a fastball in what we call the 1 spot, which is a fastball down and away on the knees, I mean, he was hitting that glove. When he wanted to go inside, he was hitting the glove. He was throwing his curveball for strikes. He just looked very confident and better than I've ever seen him look.
I don't know what the numbers are going to say because when he pitches on Friday night, he's going against Alex Faedo, he's going against all the great pitchers in this league that are all going to be first-round draft choices, as well, but he'll give us a chance to win on Friday nights. It's going to be a sad day for me when Alex Lange throws his last pitch for LSU, believe me. He's one of the all-time greats as far as I'm concerned.
Q. You talked about the starting pitching with Alex, but you have obviously Hunter as the closer, and talk about the bullpen a little bit, what you're expecting out of those guys.
PAUL MAINIERI: The bullpen is always the one area of a team that I think ends up defining what happens with us for the season. No matter how good your starting pitchers are, and we know Lange is great and we know Poche' has a chance to be the winningest pitcher ever, I'm real confident that Walker and Hess are going to be guys that are going to be good, solid starting pitchers. But who goes nine innings? Who goes eight innings? A lot of times if you get six great innings out of your starting pitcher -- let me tell you something. I joke with Poche' all the time, and I mean this in a complimentary way, Poche' is the most difficult pitcher I have ever coached on knowing when to take him out of the game. Jared, give me a one, two, three winning once in a while. It seems like every inning he's got guys on base. But to his credit, he's got such courage and such competitive zeal, and he rises up, and he makes big pitches when he needs to and he gets out of jams all the time. You guys know what I'm talking about. You watch the games, too.
And then all of a sudden, you know, he pitched a beautiful sixth inning, we go out there in the seventh winning, he gets the first two outs, and double, single, double, and I'm like, should have taken him out. But if you take him out every time that he's in a jam, you'd be taking him out in the second inning of ballgames, and he deserves better than that.
But if you get six great innings out of Poche' or you get seven great innings out of Lange, or Eric Walker gives you five great innings, you've got to feel good about that. I really feel confident that Hunter Newman can get the last outs of games. He proved that last year. He's a veteran. He mixes his pitches. So what becomes the key to winning is innings six, seven, eight, right in there, those setup guys, and a lot of games can be lost during that time. Sometimes the close is really in the seventh inning. Alan Dunn and I talk about that all the time.
So do you bring Hunter Newman in in the seventh? The problem is if you bring him in in the seventh, and I think he's capable of going two plus innings, but now he's burned up probably for the rest of the weekend, and you've got three ballgames. Not that you're looking too far ahead. You take them one at a time. But you've got to do that within reason.
So you have to develop a good setup bullpen. We've got a junior college transfer by the name of Hunter Kiel that I think has a chance to be special. He was a late developer. He didn't even pitch in high school. He went to a junior college. That may not be totally correct. He may have pitched some, but I don't think pitching was his total focus until he went to junior college. He played two years at junior college, he's always displayed a strong arm, but his command was an issue. I've already seen this fall with the work of Alan Dunn, his command has become much, much better, and he's going to throw the ball 93 to 94, 95 miles an hour, and he's probably got the second best curveball on the team behind Alex Lange.
So if he can go out there and you feel confident he's going to throw it over the white 17 inches between the armpits and the knees, he's got a chance to be special.
Another guy that I think is making a big jump this year is Doug Norman. We've seen flashes out of him the first two years, but now he's a veteran. I think he's going to throw a lot more strikes. He's pretty much throwing consistently 91 miles an hour, he's got a lot of run on his fastball. His changeup is really good. I think Norman is going to help us a lot there. And we have a lot of other candidates.
I'll tell you, there's a young guy that has really -- I don't know what's going to happen. We've got a kid named Blair Frederick out of Brother Martin that for the first five of the six weeks of fall practice did not look very good quite frankly. And then the Purple Versus Gold World Series it was like a switch went on with him, and now in the short time that we've been doing these individual practices, every time he's gone out there, he's throwing 89 to 91 miles an hour left-handed and throwing mostly strikes with a pretty nasty breaking ball.
So is he going to be able to continue to do this, or is he going to revert back to what we saw the first five weeks? Your guess is as good as mine. Alan Dunn and I both are very confident that he's going to keep it going in the right direction.
Listen, during the first weekend, you're liable to see us throw -- first weekend plus the Tuesday game, you're liable to see us throw as many as 13 pitchers out there. You've got to run guys out there and see what you've got and how they're going to handle the bright lights. It's going to be a continuing work in progress to see who takes those roles in a more significant way.
Q. Coming back to your so-called fab four, you've had over the years plenty of really good individual players who have been drafted and come back, but what about as a group collective? Is this the most potentially impactful group that you've had come back?
PAUL MAINIERI: I think one year we had three guys come back. I don't know if you've researched that or not. I think it was the year with Austin Nola coming back for his senior year. I think Hanover came back. Was there a third player in that group that year? I'd have to go back and recollect, okay.
Certainly it's the only time I've had this kind of a group, and it's rare to have a single player come back. Of course when they do, it can make a huge impact. When Louis Coleman came back, I don't know if we'd win the national championship without his influence on the team.
But clearly I've never had four players of this impact come back. It's just so rare in college baseball. You don't see that many seniors on teams because the best players are generally signing after their junior year. It's just the nature of professional baseball. It's all about leverage, and it's all about money and signing bonuses. Football is a little bit different. You get drafted in a slot, they pretty much give you that signing bonus. In baseball, they have slot values, but they have no obligation to give you that full slot, and so if you don't have the leverage to threaten to go back to school as a senior, you might get drafted in the fifth round and get a $10,000 signing bonus, they're just throwing you a bone, so to speak. It's kind of sad, I think. But it discourages kids from coming back for their senior year. That's what makes this year so remarkable. It was like these three kids said, hey, I don't even care, I'm giving up my leverage. LSU and playing my senior year means so much to me that we're coming back.
You know, as a coach, you want to make this special for them. You want them to know that by them coming back for their senior year that it was worth it, that we're going to Omaha, that we're going to win a national championship, and that's the attitude that we're going into it with.
Q. Kind of going off of that with those veteran players, do they help build those incoming players' self-confidence, like you were talking about earlier, of the less experienced players?
PAUL MAINIERI: By my own admission, I can be pretty tough on those young players. I expect a lot out of them. They're coming from high school where they were all everything, and the coach probably never said a word to them in a negative sense because they were so far above everybody else on the team.
But I know at this level for that player to fulfill his potential, he's got to do the little things right, play smart, play fundamentally correct, do it as part of a team effort, and sometimes to get those points across, I can be pretty tough on them.
I hear the older players going to the younger players all the time saying, hey, he's not half as hard on you as he was on me when I was a freshman, and that gives them a little bit of a comfortable feeling because when a Kramer Robertson who's an all-SEC shortstop can go to a young kid and say, hey, these days, they will pass, and just keep doing the right thing and you're going to develop as a ballplayer and you're going to have a great career here, and once you win Coach's confidence, he's going to treat you a lot differently, and that I think helps those young players.
And when I'm not around, like I said, I want to be dispensable. When I'm not around, those guys are showing the other kids how to do it right.
I remember back in 2009 on our national championship team, there was an incident -- not an incident, but there was a play that happened during the course of a game. We were on defense, probably about the fourth or fifth inning of a ballgame, and man, something happened, and one of our players didn't do something fundamentally correct, so they're running in from the field, and I'm at the end of the dugout and I'm going to walk down the dugout and I'm going to meet this player and make this correction in no uncertain terms so he doesn't make the same mistake the next time, right? I remember Buzzy Haydel, who was a senior on the team that year, grabbing me and saying, hey, Coach, I'll take care of it. Man, I was fired up. I mean, that was great. That's what you want. You want to have that kind of leadership on your teams. You want the players to hold each other accountable, and when they do, you have something special.
And I think the veterans on this team have been through it enough, know what the expectations are that I think they'll do a lot of that with our young players.
Q. Sometimes fans kind of look at the season in a vacuum and say, well, your team is supposed to be great, so things are going to fall your way. But you look at the rankings and you know the only SEC team in the top five. Florida is there, you see South Carolina, Vanderbilt. Can you kind of handicap the way you see the SEC this year? It doesn't look very easy to win this year.
PAUL MAINIERI: Has it ever been? I mean, I remember one year in the top 10 in the preseason poll, five of the teams were from the SEC West. Arkansas was ranked No. 1 in the country, and it was the first year that Texas A & M had come in, and from the quirk in the schedule of our six opponents in the SEC West, we had only two of them at home and four of them on the road that first year. Somehow we won the SEC West, and yet there were four other teams in the top 10.
Nothing is insurmountable. This is what the SEC is all about. Every team you play, every weekend is outstanding. They all have future big leaguers. They have great coaches. They have facilities that are outstanding. Every weekend you're going to line up and you're not going to out-talent anybody. You know who wins the game that day? Who plays the best. Who makes the big pitches, who makes the big plays, who gets the big hits, who executes what they need to execute.
You hope that when the dust settles and you've gone through 30 of those that you've won a significant amount more than you've lost. You're not going to go 30-0. You know that going in. Nobody ever has. You can have better years than others, okay.
I don't know what the stat is on this, but it's not that often that SEC teams even win an excess of 20 games. Usually the 20 games is like the number to win the SEC. Once in a while -- I remember one year we won 23 and didn't even win the SEC because Vanderbilt had a ridiculously great year. We didn't play each other in the regular season, we met each other in the SEC Championship game, which was really awesome.
But for the most part, if you can win two thirds of your games in the SEC, you had a pretty remarkable year.
I don't know if I could handicap them. You see what the polls say. But you know, I mean, really, you're going to count out Mississippi State? They're not in the top 25. All they did was win the SEC last year. You're going to count out Georgia? I mean, you ever seen high school baseball in Georgia? It's as good as there is in the country. They always have very talented teams. And now Scott Stricklin is in, what, his third or fourth year, so his system, so to speak, should be taking place.
Every weekend is going to be a tough, tough battle, and you know what, the game on Saturday counts the same as Friday, and the game on Sunday counts the same as Saturday or Monday or Friday's game. So you've just got to get your players into that mindset, just take them one game at a time, let the media, let the fans talk about Omaha. We've talked plenty about Omaha. We've talked plenty about winning national championships. But on February 17th, that talk doesn't help us beat the Air Force Academy. You've got to go out there and you've got to play.
Once we get rolling at this point, after today with you all, I don't think you're going to hear our players talk much about the end result of this season, and I don't want the players to just judge themselves by what happens at the very end. I know that's the very nature of this business and where you end up, and if you're not the last team standing holding the trophy, everybody looks at it as the year that could have been. But the journey along the way is so challenging that if you look too far ahead, it'll jump right up and bite you in the rear end.
We have no choice but to just take it one day at a time and believe in the process, believe in the journey, believe in ourselves, learn to handle adversity, learn to handle success with equal dignity. That's the challenge. It's a tough league, man. That's what you sign up for here. I love it.
Q. You've already talked about some of the younger guys you expect to contribute this year. What about Mason coming in as a freshman? Do you think he can find a role on this team and contribute in his first year?
PAUL MAINIERI: Is that Mason Templet?
PAUL MAINIERI: I'll tell you what, there's not a freshman I'm more excited about than Mason Templet. He has a beautiful swing. Reminds me a little bit of Blake Dean, quite frankly. I know that's a big thing to say. But he's got some power. He's got a sweet swing. He's a good-looking hitter. Unfortunately when he was in high school he had an injury in football that caused him to have not one but two surgeries on his throwing shoulder, so he's very limited where he can play defensively. So he's going to have to kind of wait his turn.
But much like I talked about Zach Watson earlier, Mason Templet could be one of those guys. So could Rankin Woley. They could be those kind of guys that at some point could provide a spark for our team.
The problem is when they're limited in their defensive positions, there's only so many possibilities of how you can use them. But he's going to have a good career here, Mason Templet. I'd be shocked, just might have to wait a little while to make that kind of an impact.
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