BATON ROUGE -- Fifth-year coach Paul Mainieri likes the makeup of a 2011 LSU baseball club that blends established players with a highly-skilled group of rookie performers.
The Tigers open preseason practice at 2:30 p.m. Friday in Alex Box Stadium. LSU is ranked No. 15 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 22 by Baseball America in the 2011 preseason polls.
"We're especially excited about this season because we feel like our program is entering into a new era with a great mix of veterans and newcomers," Mainieri said. "We're extremely optimistic about this season and we can't wait to get started. This appears to be a very athletic team. We have a lot of guys that run fast and look to be in great shape."
The LSU roster includes 16 lettermen from the 2010 club, including eight position players with starting experience and eight pitchers that recorded innings last season.
Junior outfielder Mikie Mahtook, junior shortstop Austin Nola and junior second baseman Tyler Hanover are two-year starters that form the core of LSU's veteran leadership. Other Tigers returning that made significant contributions in 2010 include junior outfielder Trey Watkins, junior utility player Grant Dozar, sophomore outfielder Mason Katz and sophomore infielders Alex Edward and Beau Didier.
Mainieri said with the new NCAA bat standards that are in place for the 2011 season, a premium will be placed upon speed and hitting into the gaps.
"The bats that we begin using this season perform almost just like wood bats," Mainieri explained, "so there will be a greater emphasis placed on running and hitting line drives. We will have to be adept at that type of game."
The pitching staff is led by junior all-America right-hander Matty Ott, who has 27 career saves, just two shy of the all-time LSU saves record of 29 held by Rick Greene (1990-92).
Ott is joined by an excellent group of hurlers that includes senior right-handers Ben Alsup and Daniel Bradshaw, sophomore left-hander Chris Cotton, sophomore right-hander Michael Reed and redshirt freshman left-hander Forrest Garrett.
"Our pitching was outstanding throughout our fall intrasquad games, and it's evident we have several talented arms," Mainieri said. "I thought the pitchers made great strides during fall practice, and we're looking forward to seeing that development continue this spring."
The LSU veterans are complemented by a talented class of 18 newcomers, including seven players that were selected in the 2010 Major League Draft. The Tigers' incoming class was voted No. 1 in the nation in the annual Collegiate Baseball recruiting survey.
"We have a tremendous class of new players that will significantly impact our program," Mainieri said. "I think our fans will really enjoy watching these young men perform throughout their careers."
2011 SQUAD BREAKDOWN
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 16/13
Pos. Players w/Starting Experience Returning/Lost: 8/7
Pitchers Returning/Lost: 8/7
Returning Redshirts: 2
Newcomers: 18 (10 high school players; 6 JUCO transfers; 2 four-year transfers)
The Tigers' returning players are led by a trio of two-year starters - junior centerfielder Mikie Mathook, junior shortstop Austin Nola and junior second baseman Tyler Hanover.
Mahtook, a 2011 preseason all-America selection, helped lead the U.S. Collegiate National Team last summer to the silver medal at the World University Championships in Tokyo. The Lafayette, La. native batted .335 (80-for-239) last season for LSU with 19 doubles, four triples, 14 homers, 50 RBI, 68 runs and 22 steals.
Nola is back for his third season after earning the starting shortstop role 40 games into the 2009 schedule. The Baton Rouge native was named second-team All-SEC in 2010, as he hit .320 (83-for-259) on the year with 16 doubles, two triples, five homers, 52 RBI and 50 runs. Nola was voted the Most Valuable Player of the 2010 SEC Tournament, batting .438 (7-for-16) with three doubles, one triple, four RBI and two runs.
Hanover, who started 53 games in 2009 at third base, moved to second base last season and batted .332 (82-for-247) with 16 doubles, one triple, two homers, 35 RBI and 49 runs. The product of Kernersville, N.C., was named to the 2010 SEC All-Tournament squad, batting .526 (10-for-19) in four games with three doubles, five RBI and three runs.
Mahtook will be joined in the outfield by junior leftfielder Trey Watkins, a product of Montz, La. that gives the Tigers excellent range and a spark at the top of the lineup. Watkins missed five weeks of the 2010 season due to a dislocated elbow, but started 32 games in the outfield and batted .268 (33-for-123) with three doubles, five triples, two homers, 15 RBI, 40 runs and 14 steals.
Sophomore Mason Katz, who swung a hot bat in the 2010 postseason, is the Tigers' projected starter in right field. Katz, a native of Harahan, La., batted .417 (10-for-24) in LSU's seven postseason games with one double and six runs scored.
Sophomore Alex Edward, a Baton Rouge product, will begin the season as the starter at first base after starting 12 games at third base and 11 in the outfield last season. Edward hit .357 (10-for-28) in the Tigers' seven postseason games with two doubles, one homer, two RBI and eight runs scored.
True freshman JaCoby Jones of Richton, Miss., the 19th-round selection of the Houston Astros last summer, will start at third base and the Tigers' primary DH will be sophomore Raph Rhymes, who was the 2010 Division II National Junior College Player of the Year at LSU-Eunice.
Highly-touted true freshman Tyler Ross of Naples, Fla. will be the Tigers' starter behind the plate with junior Jordy Snikeris and freshman Jackson Slaid providing back-up support.
Junior Grant Dozar is a versatile performer who could see action at catcher and first base, while sophomore infielders Beau Didier and Matt Fury will contend for playing time. Junior infielder Mike Lowery, redshirted last season due to a back injury, and freshman outfielder Spencer Ware, also a running back for the LSU football team, should also make contributions to the lineup.
PRIMARY RETURNING POSITION STARTERS
Player Pos. Cl.-Exp. B/T Avg. HR RBI Notable
Mikie Mahtook OF Jr.-2L R/R .335 14 50 2010 Preseason All-American
Tyler Hanover INF Jr.-2L R/R .332 2 35 2010 Cape Cod League All-Star
Austin Nola INF Jr.-2L R/R .320 5 52 2010 Second-Team All-SEC
Trey Watkins OF Jr.-1L R/R .268 2 15 .423 on-base percentage; 14 steals in 2010
TOP NEWCOMERS-POSITION PLAYERS
Player Pos. Cl. B/T Hometown (2010 School)
JaCoby Jones INF Fr. R/R Richton, Miss. (Richton HS)
Raph Rhymes OF So. R/R Monroe, La. (LSU-Eunice JC)
Tyler Ross C Fr. R/R Naples, Fla. (Barron Collier HS)
PRIMARY STARTING POSITION PLAYERS LOST
Player Pos. Exp. B/T Avg. HR RBI Reason for leaving
Micah Gibbs C 3L S/R .388 10 60 3rd-round draft choice of Chicago Cubs
Blake Dean 1B 4L L/L .341 12 70 8th-round draft choice of Los Angeles Dodgers
Leon Landry OF 3L L/R .338 6 45 3rd-round draft choice of Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Gaudet DH 2L R/R .283 19 67 completed eligibility
A young but very talented staff is led by junior right-hander Matty Ott of Chalmette, La., who enters his third season as LSU's closer. Ott, a 2009 second-team All-American and the SEC Co-Freshman of the Year, has 27 career saves, just two shy of the LSU record of 29 held by Rick Greene (1990-92).
The weekend starting rotation will be anchored by senior right-hander Ben Alsup, who emerged as one of the Tigers' best pitchers over the second half of last season. The product of Ruston, La. was 5-1 with a 3.88 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. Alsup fired a brilliant one-hit shutout to defeat Ole Miss in the semifinals of the 2010 SEC Tournament.
The top candidates to join Alsup in the weekend rotation are freshman right-hander Kevin Gausman and junior right-hander Tyler Jones. Gausman, a native of Centennial, Colo., was the sixth-round selection last summer by the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he features a mid-90s fastball. Jones, a product of Madison (Wisc.) Area Tech, was a 2010 first-team JUCO All-American and he was chosen in the 21st round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago White Sox.
Senior right-hander Daniel Bradshaw, a product of West Monroe, La., will be the Tigers' primary starter in mid-week games. Bradshaw, who has 13 career wins, was 5-1 last season with a 5.01 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 46.2 innings.
Other returning pitchers who could make an impact on the mound include sophomore left-hander Chris Cotton, sophomore right-hander Michael Reed and freshman Forrest Garrett, who was redshirted last season due to an elbow injury.
Newcomers projected to contribute significantly on the hill include sophomore right-hander Kevin Berry, a transfer for the University of New Orleans, freshman right-hander Ryan Eades, the 19th-round draft selection of the Colorado Rockies, freshman right-hander Kurt McCune, freshman right-hander Samuel Peterson and junior right-hander Jimmy Dykstra, a two-time MLB Draft selection. Eades, Berry and Dykstra are two-way players that might also factor into the LSU batting order.
PRIMARY PITCHERS RETURNING
Player R/L Cl.-Exp. W-L ERA IP BB SO Notable
Ben Alsup R Sr.-3L 5-1 3.88 48.2 16 33 2010 SEC All-Tournament Team
Matty Ott R Jr.-2L 2-4 6.38 42.1 21 40 16 saves in 2009; 11 saves in 2010
Daniel Bradshaw R Sr.-3L 5-1 5.01 46.2 12 29 2009 SEC All-Tournament Team
Player R/L Cl. Hometown (2010 School)
Kevin Gausman R Fr. Centennial, Colo. (Grandview HS)
Tyler Jones R Jr. Milwaukee, Wisc. (Madison Area Tech)
Ryan Eades R Fr. Slidell, La. (Northshore HS)
Kevin Berry R So. Metairie, La. (University of New Orleans)
PRIMARY PITCHERS LOST
Player R/L Exp. W-L ERA SV IP BB SO Reason for leaving
Anthony Ranaudo R 3L 5-3 7.32 0 51.2 27 54 Comp A round choice of Boston Red Sox
Austin Ross R 3L 5-4 5.22 1 88.0 19 98 8th-round draft choice of Milwaukee Brewers
Paul Bertuccini R 4L 1-0 2.56 0 31.2 12 31 completed eligibility