2019 Preseason Top 25 Capsule: No. 2 LSU
Last Year: 39-27 (15-15 SEC); reached regional final.
Final Ranking: NR.
Head Coach (record at school): Paul Mainieri (551-229-3, 11 years).
Top 100 Draft Prospects: RHP Zack Hess (No. 48), SS Josh Smith (No. 76).
The Good News: Louisiana State was the unquestioned winner of the draft among college programs. Not only did the Tigers hold together nearly their entire recruiting class—giving them the top-ranked class in the country—but righthander Zack Hess and outfielders Antoine Duplantis and Zach Watson, all key, draft-eligible players, chose to return to Baton Rouge instead of going into pro ball. Hess will reprise his role as Friday night starter, and while he was inconsistent last season, he’s a year older and coming off a strong summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Duplantis and Watson, along with sophomore Daniel Cabrera, will again form one of the best outfields in the country. LSU’s recruiting class was heavy on pitching, which it needed. Righthander Landon Marceaux is as polished a freshman as the Tigers have had since Aaron Nola and figures to step right into the rotation. The Tigers also get back shortstop Josh Smith and righthander Eric Walker, who last year were sidelined by injuries but as freshmen played key roles on the team that was the runner-up at the 2017 College World Series.
The Bad News: LSU has all the pieces to be great, but there are still several question marks. Hess was inconsistent last year, and some scouts see him more as a reliever. He’s worked to improve his control and changeup, which he’ll need to establish himself as an ace. Walker is 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery, but he’s still coming off a major injury. The freshmen pitchers unquestionably have talent—Marceaux, Jaden Hill, Cole Henry and Chase Costello could be the core of the pitching staff for the next few years—but they’re unproven. Offensively, the infield aside from Smith is still taking shape, though there are plenty of options at each position. LSU’s depth behind the plate took a hit when Saul Garza needed knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He’s cleared to hit and expected to be able to catch by midseason, but until then fellow junior college transfer Brock Mathis will have to handle the bulk of the load.
Player To Know: Josh Smith, SS.
Smith in 2017 was a Freshman All-American at third base after hitting .281/.407/.409 with 16 doubles. He moved to shortstop as a sophomore to replace Kramer Robertson, but his season was derailed by a stress reaction in his back that he suffered Opening Weekend and lingered all year. Now healthy again, Smith is primed for a big junior season. He has solid, all-around tools, and LSU will be looking for him to stabilize the infield and provide another big bat in its lineup.
Path To Omaha: LSU has the pieces to contend for a national championship. But to get there the Tigers will need the rotation to be strong, starting with Hess. LSU has a deep, athletic lineup and don’t need to be reliant on any one player to drive in runs, especially if Smith takes a step forward. LSU needs its freshmen to grow up quickly, but if they’re ready for prime time, the Tigers can go a long way this spring.
2019 Draft Stock Watch: 10 Prospects Rising And Falling
With the caveat its still small sample sizes, a look at five draft prospects who have already boosted their stock, and five who need to heat up soon.
|C||Brock Mathis||So. -- Transfer (Northwest Florida State JC)|
|1B||C.J. Willis||Fr. HS -- Ruston, La.|
|3B||Drew Bianco||Fr. HS -- Oxford, Miss.|
|DH||Saul Garza||So. -- Transfer (Howard (Texas) JC)|
|RHP||Landon Marceaux||Fr. HS -- Destrehan, La.|
|RHP||Eric Walker||R-So. (Did not play -- injured)|