Paul Mainieri begins his 12th season at LSU when the Tigers play host to Notre Dame on February 16.
LSU Athletics Creative Services

2018 Tigers Open Preseason Practice in Alex Box Stadium

Bill Franques
Bill Franques
Communications Sr. Associate

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

LSU, ranked No. 9 in the USA Today preseason poll, returns six players who filled everyday starting roles on last season’s College World Series runners-up team, though the Tigers must replace their entire weekend starting rotation from 2017.

“I think there’s a wide range of what people might think about our team this year because of the newness of our team,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who has directed the Tigers to one national championship, five College World Series appearances, four SEC overall titles, six SEC division titles and six SEC tournament championships in 11 seasons.

“We have 32 active players on our team this year, of which 17 are first-year players. If you do the math, we only have 15 returning players from last year’s College World Series runners-up team. Fortunately for us, those 15 players are very significant guys.”

Returning starters include junior outfielder Antoine Duplantis, sophomore outfielder Zach Watson, sophomore shortstop Josh Smith, senior outfielder/DH Beau Jordan, sophomore third baseman Jake Slaughter and senior catcher/first baseman Nick Coomes.

The Tigers are bolstered by the return of junior first baseman Bryce Jordan, a 2016 All-SEC designated hitter that missed the 2017 season due to a knee injury, and junior infielder Chris Reid is another returning player with starting experience.

On the mound, LSU will have to replace its entire weekend starting pitching rotation as Alex Lange and Jared Poche’ have moved on to professional baseball, and right-hander Eric Walker, a 2017 Freshman All-American, will be sidelined in 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Junior right-hander Caleb Gilbert (7-1, 2.16 ERA in 2017) and sophomore right-hander Zack Hess (7-1, 3.12 ERA, four saves in 2017) are the top returning members of the LSU staff.

“When we look at the pitching staff,” Mainieri said, “there’s where the anxiety can be created because of the inexperience. We lost our entire starting rotation from last year. I do know this, I have a lot of confidence in Caleb Gilbert and Zack Hess as returning pitchers. Both of them came into their own in the second half of last year.

“We have some arms that we think can step in and become starting pitchers. We have another group of guys that we are going to use out of the bullpen initially. I feel excited about our pitching staff. Of course, I think we have the best pitching coach in the country in Alan Dunn, and I believe that he will bring those guys along very quickly.”

The Tigers’ talented group of 17 newcomers consists of 11 pitchers and six position players. The class contains four players that were selected in the 2018 MLB Draft – right-handed pitcher AJ Labas, right-handed pitcher Cam Sanders, outfielder/left-handed pitcher Daniel Cabrera and right-handed pitcher Nick Storz. Other new players to watch include catcher Hunter Feduccia, infielders Hal Hughes, Brandt Broussard and Nick Webre, and pitchers Ma’Khail Hilliard and Devin Fontenot.

The class was rated as high as No. 5 in the nation in the annual recruiting rankings.

LSU opens the season at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 16, when the Tigers play host to Notre Dame in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

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