Preseason Top 25 Capsules: No. 17 LSU

2017 Record: 52-20 (21-9 in SEC); CWS runner-up. Final ranking: No. 2 Coach (Record at school): Paul Mainieri (512-202-3, 10 years). Top 200 2018 Draft Prospects: OF Zach Watson (43), RHP Zack Hess (81), OF Antoine Duplantis (117).

The good news: LSU put together an excellent 2017, winning the Southeastern Conference Tournament and upsetting Oregon State to reach the College World Series finals, before falling to Florida. Along the way, several freshmen emerged as the Tigers’ next set of stars. Josh Smith started nearly every game at third base last season and will now move to shortstop, and Zach Watson emerged as the latest in a long line of premier LSU center fielders. Righthander Zack Hess became LSU’s go-to pitcher out of the bullpen down the stretch and infielder Jake Slaughter saw plenty of action throughout the year. Watson, a draft-eligible sophomore, will be a part of another outstanding outfield, teaming with junior Antoine Duplantis, who will move back to right field, and blue-chip freshman Daniel Cabrera, who is expected to see some time on the mound in addition to manning left field.

The bad news: LSU was an older team last year as several players chose to return to school to make a run at the national title. Now, that group is gone, leaving LSU to replace its ace (Alex Lange), the winningest pitcher in program history (Jared Poche’), its starting middle infield (Kramer Robertson and Cole Freeman), its catcher (Mike Papierski) and its best power hitter (Greg Deichmann). Additionally, All-Freshman righthander Eric Walker, expected to be the one rotation holdover, suffered an elbow injury at the College World Series and is out for the year while he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Returner to know: Josh Smith, SS: Smith took over at third base as a freshman last season and was one of four LSU players to play all 72 games. He more than held his own at the plate, as he hit .281/.407/.409 and walked (39) more often then he struck out (33). Now, he will slide over to shortstop, taking over the position from Robertson. Smith is a talented defender and should be up to the challenge. But being the shortstop at LSU comes with heavy expectations and a lot will be asked this spring of the sophomore.

Path to Omaha: Several of the players LSU lost from last year’s team will be remembered in Baton Rouge for a long time to come. But the Tigers have the talent to fill those roles. It may take them some time to settle in this spring, but coach Paul Mainieri always seems to have his team playing its best baseball in late May. To make a return to the CWS, the Tigers will need to find a couple reliable starters and for their young, talented players to step up on the big stage.

2018 lineup:

C Hunter Feduccia, Jr. Transfer – LSU-Eunice JC
1B Bryce Jordan, R-Jr. Did not play – injured
2B Brandt Broussard, Jr. Transfer – Delgado (La.) JC
3B Jake Slaughter, So. .257/.358/.351 | 148 AB | 3 HR | 26 RBI
SS Josh Smith, So. .281/.407/.409 | 242 AB | 5 HR | 48 RBI
LF Daniel Cabrera, Fr. HS – Baton Rouge, La.
CF Zach Watson, So. .317/.376/.507 | 221 AB | 9 HR | 37 RBI
RF Antoine Duplantis, Jr. .316/.358/.400 | 285 AB | 2 HR | 61 RBI
DH Beau Jordan, Sr. .268/.351/.381 | 168 AB | 4 HR | 29 RBI
RHP Caleb Gilbert, Jr. 7-1, 2.16 ERA | 58 IP | 67 SO | 3 SV
RHP Zack Hess, So. 7-1, 3.12 ERA | 61 IP | 83 SO | 4 SV
RHP Todd Peterson, So. 3-1, 4.19 ERA | 34 IP | 21 SO | 0 SV
RP Austin Bain, Sr. 1-0, 4.74 ERA | 25 IP | 32 SO | 0 SV
RP Nick Bush, So. 1-1, 3.75 ERA | 24 IP | 22 SO | 0 SV

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