Only a lack of pitching depth and experience kept Louisiana State from topping Baseball America’s preseason rankings, and the Tigers took a hit in both of those areas this weekend. LSU announced that senior righthander Jordan Brown, whose 67 innings a year ago were the second-most of any returning Tiger, has retired from baseball because of knee and elbow injuries.
Brown was a key part of LSU’s No. 2 ranked 2007 recruiting class, a junior college transfer with a 90-94 mph fastball and good curve. But he took a cleat to the knee while jumping over the dugout railing to celebrate LSU’s dramatic College World Series win against Rice last June, and it never has felt right since, according to Tigers coach Paul Mainieri. Brown also faced the prospect of potentially needing Tommy John surgery on his elbow, and he decided he did not want to climb that mountain.
"I hate the fact he’s hurt and his career is over," Mainieri said this morning. "This makes us a little more thin on the mound, but I still think we’ve got the arms to compete."
Mainieri said that sophomore righthander Anthony Ranaudo has shown signs of blossoming into a premier college ace. He did not throw a pitch below 92 mph in the fall and topped out at 96, to go along with good feel for a curveball and changeup.
"He’s 6-foot-7 but very athletic, the most athletic pitcher on our staff," Mainieri said. "He’s got great body control–he’s a good athlete that happens to be a pitcher. When he’s throwing downhill from that high-three-quarters arm slot, it explodes in there. He’s got everything it takes, it’s just a matter of does he have something extra that the great ones have, the ability to make that big pitch at a big time, and compete against other teams’ best hitters? Obviously if he does that, he’s the cornerstone of our staff."
In other news, Pittsburgh quarterback Kevan Smith decided to switch from football to baseball after falling to fourth on the team’s QB depth chart. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Smith could be an impact catcher for the Panthers on the diamond. Here’s what we wrote about Smith in the 2006 draft preview:
Kevan Smith "has the body of a Greek god," according to one scout, but he will be difficult to sign because he’s going to Pittsburgh as a football quarterback. He has good bat speed but is a raw hitter with no load in his swing. Smith has soft hands, good arm strength and intelligence behind the plate, but he might never set foot on a baseball field at Pitt.
It turns out he’ll be stepping on the diamond after all, and he could see meaningful playing time sooner than expected.
"I think my opportunity with football is dead right now, unless there is some kind of miracle," Smith told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Baseball, I’ve been practicing a couple of days, and it’s like riding a bike. I’m stronger now, so my hitting is coming back and my catching is still there. It’s like I never stopped playing baseball."
• Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman lambasted Texas for levying just a four-game suspension against coach Augie Garrido for his DWI arrest. I tend to agree with Kirk: Garrido should not have been fired, but four games is too light a penalty. Surely one of his players would have received a harsher sentence for the same offense, and Garrido is supposed to set an example for the young men he leads.
• Finally, on a lighter note, Southern California coach Chad Kreuter was the big winner at the Coaches’ Cook-Off Classic at ESPN Zone in Ahaheim. Check out the colorful recap from the Long Beach post.
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