Mainieri speaks; We listen: Nuggets before practice begins

Paul Mainieri: coach, chatterbox, comedian, etc. (AP)

Paul Mainieri: coach, chatterbox, comedian, etc. (AP)

If you know LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri, you know he enjoys talking. If you know journalists, you know we enjoy people who enjoy talking.

During an hour interview Friday morning, Mainieri touched on the success of last year’s regular season, the tumbles of the 2013 trip to Omaha, this year’s expectations and the 2014 crop of players – where will they play, who will play, etc.

For the entire Q&A, you’ll have to pick up a copy of Sunday and Monday’s Advocate.

For some newsy nuggets on this year’s team, you’ll only have to use that vertical scrolling bar to the right —>

Before we dive in, know that practice begins next Friday, Jan. 24, and the season starts Feb. 14 with a game against UNO at Alex Box.

To the newsy nuggets!

  • Let’s start with an always attention-grabbing subject: starting pitchers, specifically SEC weekend starting pitchers. Aaron Nola is the ace, to no surprise, Mainieri said. As for the No. 2 and No. 3 starters, that’s yet to be determined. A group of three to five pitchers will be vying for the two spots after Nola.
  • So who are those pitchers: junior Cody Glenn, sophomore Hunter Newman and true freshman Jared Poche are the primary candidates, Mainieri said. Don’t count out these guys, though: junior college transfer Kyle Bouman, senior Kurt McCune and junior Joe Broussard (and, maybe, Brady Domanque, who we’ll get to later).

    Cody Glenn has to earn his spot this season. (Bill Feig | The Advocate)

    Cody Glenn has to earn his spot this season. (Bill Feig | The Advocate)

  • Mainieri said he has seven weeks to decide on the starting pitching rotation (three weeks of practice and four weeks of non-conference play) . Don’t put too much thought on when pitchers hurl – weekend or mid-week – during the non-conference schedule, Mainieri said. He’ll sprinkle them throughout the month-long schedule.
  • Before we move off the mound, we asked Mainieri why Cody Glenn must earn a weekend starting spot. Glenn went 7-3 with a 2.68 ERA last season, but was suspended for LSU’s regional for violating team rules. Answered Mainieri to that question: “He disappointed us at the end of the year. Had a violation of team rules right before the regional tournament. We’re really disappointed in that, that he let his team down when they needed him the most. That’s one of the reasons. The second reason is Cody is not an extremely hard thrower. He’s crafty, but every year is an entity into its own. If we can upgrade then that person will pitch ahead. I think that’s a sign of a good program, if you’re always attempting to improve. If there’s somebody who’s better than Cody, he’ll pitch in front of Cody.”
  • Before we leap off the mound and behind the plate to the catcher position battle, know that LSU lost seven of 11 pitchers from last year’s team. So how’s the bullpen shaping up? It’s still very much in flux, Mainieri said. The only thing the coach would say for sure is that he likes junior college transfer Brady Domanque as his closer. That doesn’t mean Domanque will be the closer, of course. If those previously mentioned starting pitcher candidates flop, Domanque could move into a starting role. “He’s got that bulldog mentality,” Mainieri said. Thing is, coaches didn’t get much time to “groom” Domanque for the closer role in the fall because of a knee injury that sidelined him for fall camp. He’s fully healthy now.
  • Mainieri couldn’t say much about the other relievers. Why? He hasn’t had a lot of time with many of them. “Imagine starting fall practice we had so many new guys, just had a pile of clay and we’re trying to sculpt it into something pretty. We’re about halfway done. We need these next three weeks to have a better idea about what roles we can plant guys into.”
Tyler Moore leads the catching trio. (Catherine Threlkeld | The Advocate)

Tyler Moore leads the catching trio. (Catherine Threlkeld | The Advocate)

  • We’re now taking the plunge off the mound and behind the plate to what is likely the hottest competition battle on the team. LSU is replacing catcher Ty Ross with what might be a three-man rotation at the catcher spot. The current competition pecking order: “Tyler Moore is a notch above Chris Chinea. Chris Chinea is a notch above Cade Scivicque,” Mainieri said.
  • Mainieri said he has enough “confidence” in all three and that he might use each this season. None of them, he said, are as good defensively as Ross, but they “may be better hitters” than Ross, Mainieri said.
  • Whoever doesn’t start at catcher is a candidate to start at first base, Mainieri said. “That tells you how much I think of those guys,” he said.
  • LSU lost its first and second basemen from last season so who are front-runners for those spots? As previously written, the three involved in the catcher competition have a shot at starting at first base. Outside of that, junior college transfer Conner Hale, originally brought in to play third if Christian Ibarra went pro, is a candidate for both first and second base, and true freshmen Kramer Robertson and Danny Zardon battled in the fall at second. It’s a good bet that Hale will start at one of the spots. First, second and catcher are moving pieces and the starters at those positions will depend upon the starter at the other. For instance, if Mainieri feels good enough about Zardon and/or Robertson at second, Hale might stay at first. If he loses confidence in one of the freshmen, Hale could move to second and one of the catcher candidates would move to first. That might have the better chance of happening. Mainieri: “It’s very difficult to thrust a freshman into the SEC at LSU and expect them to perform like seasoned veterans. It doesn’t happen often.”
  • So we’ve touched on three freshmen who could see playing time this season (Robertson, Zardon, Poche), but are there any more? Parker Bugg, a right-hander out of San Diego, caught Mainieri’s eyes during the fall. The top freshman recruit, from an evaluation standpoint, was outfielder Jake Fraley from Delaware, Mainieri said, but the coach called Fraley’s fall “very, very poor.” That said, Mainieri saw him hit earlier this week and it was impressive. “Maybe it all clicked,” Mainieri said. “We’ll see.”
  • Lastly, we’ll hit on the batting lineup. Right now, Mainieri’s top of the lineup looks like this:

    Sean McMullen will likely lead things off again this season. (Catherine Threlkeld | The Advocate)

    Sean McMullen will likely lead things off again this season. (Catherine Threlkeld | The Advocate)

  1. Sean McMullen (LF/DH)
  2. Mark Laird (RF)
  3. Alex Bregman (SS)
  • This is where things get interesting. “The key for us this year is figuring out the 4-5″ hole hitters, the coach said. The candidates for those spots are Ibarra and the group of catchers.
  • The rest of the lineup will include Stevenson, Hale and whoever gets the nod in left field. Those candidates: Jared Foster, Chris Sciambra, Fraley. If McMullen plays left field, Mainieri said, it would free up the DH for someone.
  • That’s about a wrap. We didn’t touch too much on the outfielders as LSU returns center fielder Andrew Stevenson and right fielder Mark Laird. And we didn’t get much into the right side of the infield because staples Bregman and Ibarra are hunkered there.
  • Again, for more, check out Sunday’s Advocate.