Perhaps the best remedy for the LSU baseball team after a tough 2018 campaign came during the 2018 MLB Draft, as the Tigers learned of the many signees and players that would make the 2019 squad potentially “one for the ages.”
Before the start of the season, LSU coach Paul Mainieri anticipated that Zach Watson, Zack Hess and Antoine Duplantis would all sign professionally. Watson and Hess were projected to go early on day two of the draft while Duplantis was also projected to go in the middle rounds.
Instead, none of the three were selected until late on day three, ensuring they will be returning to school in the fall.
“The draft really could not have gone any better for us,” Mainieri said. “In all my years of coaching, this is probably the luckiest we’ve ever been. What a huge bonus that is for us that they will all be returning.”
Hess, most known for his stellar performance in Omaha at the 2017 College World Series, had an up and down campaign. The sophomore struggled with command much of the season but still led the team in strikeouts with 107 in 92 innings pitched.
On the season, Hess went 7-6 in 17 appearances with a 5.05 ERA.
Watson came in with equally high expectations, but an oblique injury forced him to miss nine games and was never quite able to live up to the all time great freshman campaign in 2017.
Watson started in 57 games and batted .308 with seven homeruns and 34 RBIs but also led the team in strikeouts at 45.
“Zach Watson, on his own, feels he needs another year of college baseball,” Mainieri said. “I think Zach is a great ball player, but he’s got some areas he needs to improve. Learn to lay off bad curveballs, hit the ball to right field with authority and a year from now I think you’re looking at a middle first round draft pick.”
Duplantis has been the most reliable player Mainieri has counted on the past three years, and that was no different this season. The junior, who has missed only one game in three years, batted .328 and was second on the team in RBIs with 48.
“I’m surprised Antoine wasn’t taken where he expected to be drafted,” Mainieri said. “Initially he was very disappointed, but after some time, I think he realized it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to him.”
Duplantis will be chasing LSU and SEC history next year as he is 85 hits away from passing former Tiger Eddy Furniss for all-time hits by any SEC player in history. Duplantis currently stands at 268 while Furniss is at 352.
The first LSU player taken was left-handed pitcher Nick Bush, who was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the eighth round and is signing. Mainieri advised Bush along with junior Cam Sanders, sophomore Jake Slaughter and junior Hunter Feduccia to all sign professionally after they were selected in the MLB draft.
LSU will also be losing three seniors who went undrafted, including infielder and pitcher Austin Bain, outfielder Beau Jordan and catcher Nick Coomes.
The Tigers boasted the No. 2 recruiting class heading into the draft according to Perfect Game and will retain all but two — potentially three — of its signees. The biggest name the Tigers are sitting on pins and needles over is shortstop Brice Turang.
Turang, who at one point was expected to be the first overall selection in the draft, had an up and down senior year, dropping to number 21 by the Milwaukee Brewers.
Mainieri said before the draft he thought there was no way Turang would step onto the field at Alex Box Stadium, but Turang’s asking price is significantly higher than the pick value.
“I think there’s a possibility he comes to school,” Mainieri said. “Brice really wants to come to LSU. I’ve talked to him frequently over the last month. He’s not sure what’s going to happen. I’m not saying it’s 75 percent or even 50 percent probability, but if he does come to school, he’d have to be gambling on himself big time.”
Two of the Tiger signees, pitcher Levi Kelly and outfielder Elijah Cabell, have already announced they are not coming to LSU and instead will sign professionally.
LSU will bring in three catchers after the loss of Feduccia and Coomes, a glaring hole on the Tiger roster from this past season. JUCO transfers Bryce Mathis and Saul Garza will compete with freshman C.J. Willis behind the plate.
The bullpen was up and down as well for the Tigers, but there will be no shortage of arms this fall as pitchers Landon Marceaux, Cole Henry, Jaden Hill and Easton McMurray bring depth to the rotation.
Hill, Marceaux and Henry were all top-150 pitching prospects in the draft, and Mainieri said all three had to turn down “quite a bit” of money to come to school.
Mainieri said that incoming outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo is someone Tiger fans should be on the lookout for.
“He’s a great ball player that will remind you of Mark Laird and Antoine Duplantis,” Mainieri said.
LSU will also see the return of injured pitchers Eric Walker and Nick Storz as well as shortstop Josh Smith next season, which will be a huge bonus.
Despite a disappointing end to the season, the 2018 LSU baseball campaign shouldn’t be looke…
Walker was superb his freshman season, going 8-2 with a 3.48 ERA and 78 strikeouts. Mainieri said that Walker is ahead of schedule in the throwing program after undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer.
Smith had a slow end to his season after suffering a back injury that never healed right. The sophomore shortstop was considered the nucleus of the infield at shortstop and appeared in six games, blasting two homeruns including a game winner on opening night against Notre Dame.
Whether Turang comes to LSU or not, Mainieri feels the class is No. 1 in the country, but the addition of Turang would make it a “class for the ages.”