The LSU baseball team has a number of unknowns heading into the 2013 season, but the right side of the infield isn’t one of them.
It has been well-documented that both junior third baseman Christian Ibarra and freshman shortstop Alex Bregman will be getting their first taste of live action in Alex Box Stadium on Feb. 15, when the Tigers open their season against Maryland, but LSU coach Paul Mainieri is confident he has the right man at first base to help ease their nerves.
“You can’t quantify the importance of a [senior] Mason Katz at first base,” Mainieri said. “He picks everything in the dirt, and he handles himself well. He’s got great leadership. He’s always talking to players and keeping everybody calm.”
Katz is entering his fourth season with the Tigers, and he’ll be expected to be a veteran presence for some of the younger players on the squad.
More importantly, though, the senior will provide power in the middle of the order and defensive stability at first base.
During the 2012 campaign, Katz started 64 games, including 33 at first base, hitting for a .320 average with 13 home runs and a Southeastern Conference-leading 65 runs scored. He has been named to the Second-Team All-SEC squad twice while at LSU, and even got a 2012 SEC All-Tournament Team nod.
But, Katz isn’t the only veteran presence on the right side of the infield.
Junior second baseman JaCoby Jones, who hit for a .253 average with four home runs and 42 runs scored in 2012, is entering his third season at LSU. Mainieri said he is expecting solid production from the Mississippi native.
“[Jones is] an unbelievable athlete,” Mainieri said. “He just needs to develop a consistency with his bat. After a couple of years, I think it’s time for him to emerge.”
Mainieri has gloated about his second baseman’s upside, calling him a potential Major League Baseball draft prospect if Jones’ season goes well.
“[Jones’] ceiling is hard to say,” Mainieri said. “He could be an All Star in the majors someday. He’s really working hard, and he’s hitting well. If he starts hitting the ball to right field, he’s going to be a tough out for opposing pitchers.”
The junior finished the 2012 season with the second-lowest batting average among the Tigers’ starters.
Jones said he’s finally looking to live up to his potential.
“I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win,” Jones said. “Hopefully, I’ll have a way better year than I did last year. Last year was a down year for me on offense, but I’ve been hitting good so far in the fall.”
As for the combination of Jones and Katz, both look to bring one key tool with them on Opening Day.
“It’s basically about good communication and just knowing where to be,” Jones said. “We know what it takes, and we know what it’s like to play against these teams in the SEC, so we’re trying to help some of the younger guys out and bring them along.”