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2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 14 Louisiana State

Daniel_Cabrera_LSU_Getty.jpg
Daniel Cabrera (Photo via Getty Images)

Last season: 40-26 (17-13 in SEC); reached super regionals.
Final ranking: No. 15.
Coach (record at school): Paul Mainieri (591-255-3, 12 years).

Top 100 draft prospects: OF Daniel Cabrera (No. 31), RHP Cole Henry (No. 55).

The good news: LSU isn’t lacking on talent entering the 2020 season. Now it’s on Mainieri and his coaching staff to figure out how best to deploy it. Cabrera enters his junior with a chance to be a first-round pick and one of the nation’s premier hitters. Catcher Saul Garza chose to return to school instead of signing in the draft last June and is now fully healthy after being limited early last year by injury. The pitching staff runs deep thanks to a wealth of young, talented arms who went through some growing pains a year ago. Henry showed the ability to lead the rotation and righthanders A.J. Labas and Jaden Hill are back in action after injuries sidelined them in 2019. Righthander Devin Fontenot returns, ready to reprise his role as the team’s relief ace. The Tigers added another top-10 recruiting class, featuring outfielder Maurice Hampton, the highest ranked position player not to sign in the draft last June, though he remains a wild card because he spent the fall playing for LSU’s national championship football team.

The bad news: As much as the Tigers return, they also lost some real cornerstone pieces. Shortstop Josh Smith and outfielders Antoine Duplantis and Zach Watson, the team’s top three hitters, are all gone. The trio were the heart of the offense for the last few years and will be difficult to replace. Without Smith and Watson, LSU has some things to figure out up the middle. Freshman Zach Arnold was expected to be in the mix at shortstop but will be out due to injury to start the season, leaving the Tigers thin at the position. The outfield could shake out in a number of ways with the only certainty that Cabrera will be one of the starters. It may take LSU several weeks to determine its best alignment. The Tigers didn’t lose as much on the mound, but Zack Hess and Todd Peterson, who both pitched a lot of high-leverage innings over the last three years, must be replaced. The depth of the Tigers’ staff softens that blow, but it puts more pressure on Fontenot without his running mates in the bullpen.

Player to know: Cole Henry, RHP.

Henry last spring emerged as LSU’s best starter as a freshman and he grabbed the mantle as Friday starter midway through the year. He dealt with arm soreness over the season’s final month, however, and LSU will need him at full strength all season to reach its potential. When Henry is at his best, he’s a premium power pitcher who could pitch his way into the first round of the draft and LSU to the top of the SEC West.

Path to Omaha: LSU has the talent; it just needs to find its best alignment in the lineup and on the mound. That may take some time, but Mainieri’s teams typically improve as the season goes on, peaking around May. LSU has the potential to have premium run prevention, thanks in part to the depth of its pitching staff. It may need to lean on its pitching and defense for a while, but the lineup should round into form as the season continues and, if it does, LSU could be one of the more complete teams by the time the postseason begins.

Jeff Criswell Billmitchell

2020 College Baseball Top 25 Chat (2/17/20)

Our first Top 25 chat of the season has plenty to focus on, including an impressive start to the season by Michigan, Ole Miss and more.

LINEUP
POSName, YearAVGOBPSLGHRRBIAB
CSaul Garza, Jr..303.358.476527145
1BCade Beloso, So..279.339.4291052219
2BCade Doughty, Fr.HS -- Denham Springs, La.
3BZack Mathis, Jr.Transfer -- San Joaquin Delta (Calif.) JC
SSHal Hughes, Jr..174.289.188011149
LFDrew Blanco, So..176.348.35331468
CFDaniel Cabrera, Jr..284.359.5161250225
RFGavin Dugas, Jr..186.265.2330643
DHHayden Travinski, Fr.HS -- Bossier City, La.
PITCHING
POSName, YearWLERAIPSOSV
RHPCole Henry, So.423.3958720
RHPLandon Marceaux, So.524.6658430
RHPAJ Labas, R-So.Did not play -- injured
RPMatthew Beck, Sr.302.0544390
RPDevin Fontenot, Jr.543.7151547
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