2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 10 Louisiana State
Last season: 12-5
Final ranking: No. 20
Coach (record at school): Paul Mainieri (603-260-3, 13 years)
The good news: For LSU, it starts on the mound. The Tigers lost Friday starter Cole Henry in the second round of the draft but return rotation-mates Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas. Also back are closer Devin Fontenot and veteran relievers Matthew Beck, Aaron George, Ma’Khail Hilliard and Trent Vietmeier, giving them plenty of experience throughout the pitching staff. While Henry is a significant loss, LSU has a replacement ready in righthander Jaden Hill. Injury and the pandemic have limited him to just 21.2 innings during his LSU career, but at his best he’s electric. If he can carry that stuff over a full season as a starter, he’ll be in the mix at the top of the draft and LSU will have an ace for its already talented staff. Marceaux also has high-end upside and is coming off a strong fall, while Labas gives the Tigers a quality third starter. Fontenot is a proven closer who can anchor the bullpen, which has plenty of depth between the returners and a strong group of newcomers who form part of the second-ranked recruiting class.
The bad news: LSU’s lineup doesn’t have nearly the same level of proven college players that the pitching staff does. The Tigers must replace Daniel Cabrera, their best all-around hitter, who was drafted in the second round. Also gone are veterans Saul Garza and Zack Mathis, who signed as nondrafted free agents. Dylan Crews, one of the most talented true freshmen in the country, will step into Cabrera’s place in the outfield. Crews fits a corner outfield profile well and he impressed this fall with his tools and maturity, a combination that should help him smoothly transition to college. The biggest question LSU faces going into the season is on the left side of the infield. Zach Arnold missed nearly all of the abbreviated 2020 season due to injury, but the second-year freshman figures to be in the mix along with third-year sophomore Collier Cranford, who started at shortstop in his place. Between that pair, third-year sophomore Gavin Dugas and true freshmen Will Safford and Jordan Thompson, the Tigers have options. The battle for the starting roles will likely continue through the first few weeks of the season.
Player to know: Cade Doughty, 2B.
Doughty was one of the highest-rated players in LSU’s 2019 recruiting class and he last spring quickly stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman. He hit .278/.365/.407 with two home runs in 16 games. He’s coming off an impressive summer in the South Florida Collegiate League and this fall led LSU in hitting. Doughty will look to carry that momentum into the spring and give the Tigers an all-around offensive threat.
Path to Omaha: If Hill takes the step forward that many expect him to and develops into a true ace, LSU’s pitching staff has the depth and high-end talent to lead it to the College World Series. This might not be as offensive as LSU teams of old, but a core of Cade Beloso, Giovanni Digiacomo, Crews and Doughty can carry the load. They’ll need some other players to step up—maybe freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan or second-year sophomore outfielder Maurice Hampton, who enters the season playing catchup due to injury and his football commitments, can be an X-factor. But regardless, with their pitching leading the way, the Tigers are again strong CWS contenders.
2021 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Bearing Down On First Round College Pitchers
Analyzing what we saw from some of the top arms this weekend, including Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter and Jaden Hill.
|C||Alex Milazzo, R-Fr.||.186||.340||.279||43||1||6|
|1B||Tre' Morgan, Fr.||HS -- New Orleans|
|2B||Cade Doughty, R-Fr.||.278||.365||.407||54||2||12|
|3B||Zach Arnold, R-Fr.||.000||.000||.000||2||0||0|
|SS||Collier Cranford, R-So.||.286||.394||.357||28||0||6|
|LF||Cade Beloso, R-So.||.313||.353||.453||64||1||12|
|CF||Giovanni DiGiacomo, R-So.||.351||.429||.459||37||0||4|
|RF||Dylan Crews, Fr.||HS -- Lake Mary, Fla.|
|DH||Gavin Dugas, R-So.||.286||.412||.607||28||3||5|
|RHP||Jaden Hill, R-Fr.||0||0||0.00||12||17||2|
|RHP||Landon Marceaux, R-So.||2||0||2.70||23||22||0|
|RHP||AJ Labas, R-Jr.||1||2||3.55||25||20||0|
|RP||Matthew Beck, R-Sr.||1||0||0.00||12||11||0|