LSU Tops Collegiate Baseball's Poll
Jan. 5, 2009
Courtesy of LSU Athletics
BATON ROUGE - When Paul Mainieri was introduced as LSU’s baseball coach on June 28, 2006, he said his goal was to return the program to the “pinnacle position in college baseball.” Just two-and-a-half years later, that goal has been realized, as LSU is the No. 1 team in the nation in the annual Collegiate Baseball magazine poll released Monday.
At his introductory press conference in 2006, Mainieri said, “Make no mistake about it. The goal is to return LSU to the pinnacle position in college baseball. I have all the confidence in the world that we can do that here.”
On Monday, Mainieri expressed satisfaction that his vision came to fruition.
“Certainly, winning the national championship is our ultimate goal,” Mainieri said, “but I think the preseason No. 1 ranking is an indication of how far we’ve come as a program. We’re very flattered to receive this type of recognition, and it’s now our intention to affirm the belief of those who think we are the best team in the nation.”
The Tigers were ranked as high as No. 2 last season, when they posted an SEC-record 23-game win streak and advanced to the 2008 College World Series. LSU returns 25 players who were significant contributors to the ’08 squad.
LSU’s ranking marks the second time Mainieri coached a No. 1 team, as his 2001 Notre Dame club reached the top of the polls in the latter half of the season. Mainieri, who has a 942-537-6 record in 26 seasons as a collegiate head coach, guided the Irish to the 2002 College World Series.
Not since LSU put together a run of five national championships from 1991-2000 have the Tigers featured such a talented squad.
The ’08 LSU club features several preseason all-America candidates, including outfielder Blake Dean, shortstop DJ LeMahieu, catcher Micah Gibbs, second baseman Ryan Schimpf and outfielder Jared Mitchell.
At least four players are projected to be selected in the first or second round of the Major League Draft in both 2009 and 2010. This year's projected high draft picks include Mitchell (first round), LeMahieu (first round) and Dean (second round). Gibbs is expected to be a first rounder in 2010.
Many of LSU’s current starters are from a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball in 2007. That class featured nine players who were drafted, eight high school All-Americans and three first team junior college All-Americans among the 19 players the Tigers signed.
Though LSU must replace three terrific hurlers from last season -- Jared Bradford (10-4, 4.48 ERA), Ryan Verdugo (9-4, 4.12 ERA) and Blake Martin (5-3, 5.08 ERA) – the Tigers’ pitching is expected to be strong.
"We brought in several talented freshmen pitchers last season who played more of a secondary role behind junior college transfers," Mainieri said. "We needed the experience of the JUCO kids right away. While the JC guys were pitching most of the innings, Anthony Ranaudo, Daniel Bradshaw and Austin Ross gained valuable experience as we brought them along slowly. Ranaudo is a former 11th round pick in the draft and sat at 92-94 mph all fall for us and topped out at 96 mph. He also has a good breaking ball and changeup. He has the makings of being a top-flight Friday night starter for us.
"Bradshaw and Ross are solid, although not overpowering with 88-91 mph fastballs. We have a solid 3-man rotation and also have Louis Coleman (8-1, 1.95 ERA, 62 K, 10 BB) back for his senior year. He will probably be our closer. Plus, we have other quality pitchers. I am extremely happy about our prospects on the mound."
Mainieri said his position players are special.
"It is rare to have seven starting position players back after playing at the College World Series the year before,” he said. “In fact, we really have eight -- Sean Ochinko (1B/C) has been a starter for most of his career at LSU. While we did lose Matt Clark who hit the most home runs in the nation last year with 28, we have a bunch of quality players who are very experienced. We also had a solid recruiting class which will help with team depth."
Mainieri said that he is striving to have a balance between power and speed on offense, something for which his teams have been noted over the years.
"We have some speed guys such as Mitchell and Leon Landry in the outfield who will help track down a number of balls,” he explained. “But both have line drive power and can hit pitches out of the park. They are tremendous athletes. A couple of others with underrated speed are Schimpf and LeMahieu."
Catching is an area Mainieri is an area in which Mainieri is extremely excited.
"Micah Gibbs, after his junior year in two seasons, will be a solid first or second round pick," Mainieri said. “He is a good receiver (threw out 17 runners trying to steal last season, only one error all season in 392 chances) and swings from both sides of the plate. He is as good as there is in the nation and was the starting catcher for Team USA last summer when they went 24-0. If you look back on our final 29 games of the season, we won 26 of them with Micah behind the plate. Then Team USA won 24 in a row through the summer. So as a starting catcher, his teams have gone 50-3 in one year which is absolutely amazing."
Other players who had memorable summers include Schimpf, who was MVP of the Valley League postseason tournament. Landry was MVP of the Cal Ripken Sr. League playoffs, and LeMahieu was the regular-season MVP for the Harwich Mariners in the Cape Cod League.
LSU opens the season on Feb. 20 versus Villanova in the New Alex Box Stadium.
“We can’t wait to get started,” Mainieri said. “There’s an aura of confidence surrounding our team that makes me feel we can reach significant goals this season.”