Fresh approach to opener, newbies crack LSU lineup

Scooter Hobbs

Theoretically LSU should have a tough lineup to crack this season.

An extra year of eligibility from last year’s coronavirus pandemic-aborted season, plus a mere five rounds in last year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, left many teams with an near-embarrassing wealth of experience.

But three incoming freshmen will be in the starting lineup when the Tigers open the season against Air Force at 1 p.m. today.

It’s a one-day delay to the season’s start due the unseasonably frosty Louisiana weather for an extended weekend when the Tigers will play the Air Force again at noon Sunday and get Louisiana Tech on Monday.

“We’re going to have baseball at The Box,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. How exciting is this? Just excited to … see how these guys get out there and perform.”

At least three will make their collegiate debut — and probably several other freshmen will follow as the weekend goes on.

“Not surprised,” Mainieri said, “because I knew we had a special (freshman) class. Because of the shortened draft, we had not just the players coming back but freshmen coming to school that maybe we didn’t anticipate getting.”

Right fielder Dylan Crews would have been drafted anyway, but the Longwood, Florida, native withdrew his name in advance and is the highest-ranked high school player from last year who ended up in college.

“He has the potential to be a true five-tool player,” Mainieri said. “We are expecting Dylan to make an immediate impact, have a great career at LSU, and leave as a very high draft pick in three years.”

Two New Orleans freshmen, first baseman Tré Morgan and third baseman Will Hellmers, will also be starters.

Of course, today’s lineup is just the starting point, hardly carved in stone.

Mainieri is a habitual tinkerer, constantly fiddling with the lineup, particularly in the games leading up the start of the Southeastern Conference schedule.

“But I really like to win the games too,” he said. “So I’m going to give us the best chance as well as finding out what the best combination is. When the lights come on and you’re playing for real, that stuff just kind of works itself out. I’m always going to use my gut feeling.”

If that’s a freshman, he said, then so be it.

“If all factors are considered equal I go with the experienced guy,” Mainieri said. “But if the freshman is better, you go with talent. This is not intramurals. I’m loyal to our players, but I’m most loyal to our team. It’s their responsibility to gain the confidence of the coaches that they’re the guys that can be counted on.”

Mainieri has never lost in five games against Air Force, where he was head coach from 1989-94. Current Falcons’ head coach Mike Kazlausky, played for Mainieri at the Academy.

Projected LSU Lineup

C — Alex Milazzo (So.): The best defensive option at the moment.

1B — Tre’ Morgan (Fr.): Best defensive 1B Mainieri has had and touted as best hitter out of New Orleans in years.

2B — Cade Doughty (So.): Came on strong at the plate before the season was halted last year.

SS — Zach Arnold (So.) or Drew Bianco (Jr.): Bianco moves in from OF. Mainieri calls it a dead heat between the two and both will play this weekend.

3B — Will Hellmers (Fr.): Spent most of fall practice on mound, but emerged as viable option at trouble spot. Mainieri says the former boxer has “a little edge to him.”

RF — Dylan Crews (Fr.): Probably the most highly touted LSU incoming freshman since Alex Bregman (2013-15).

CF — Giovanni DiGiacomo: (Jr.): Athletic OF who needs to be more consistent at the plate.

LF/DH — Cade Beloso/Gavin Dugas: Mainieri hasn’t decided which one will be on the field. Beloso probably Tigers’ best power hitter.

Pitching Matchups

(2020 Statistics)

1 p.m. Today

LSU, RH, Jaden Hill (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 11.2 IP, 5 BB, 17 SO) vs. Air Force, LH Stevan Fairburn (0-1, 4.91 ERA, 22 IP, 5 BB, 13 SO).

Noon Sunday

LSU, RH Landon Marceaux (2-0, 2.70 ERA, 23.1 IP, 7 BB, 22 SO) vs. Air Force, RH John Byrnes (2-1, 5.91 ERA, 10.2 IP, 4 BB, 8 SO).

1 p.m. Monday

LSU, RH A.J. Labas (missed 2020 season) vs. Louisiana Tech, TBA.Jaden Hill will start on the mound today for the LSU Tigers in their season opener against Air Force.

Associated Press

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