Among peers who sit stoically in the dugout analyzingplayers, Andy Cannizaro is a contrast.
The LSU baseball team’s hitting coach bounces around the dugout with vigor, yelling encouragement and often hopping up the three stairs onto the field when one of his hitters succeeds.
“You’ve got a great opportunity,” he clapped Friday. “Runner on third. Less than two outs. Great opportunity.”
The runner on third was Mike Papierski, LSU’s projected opening day catcher with all of nine collegiate hits. He took a Russell Reynolds offering to deep center, putting it past Trent Forshag for a triple.
Cannizaro continued imploring Kramer Robertson, pegged to hit at the top of Paul Mainieri’s batting order when the season opens Friday, to drive in the run. He crushed a 1-1 offering up the middle to accomplish the feat.
Antoine Duplantis will hit near Robertson at the top. He steps to the plate with Robertson in scoring position and Cannizaro still slapping his hands as if to will an RBI out of this true freshman with no collegiate at-bats but Mainieri’s fulsome preseason praise.
Reynolds, a junior, induces a wild swing and miss with a tailing two-strike offering, halting momentum.
Such is life for an LSU lineup that features eight new everyday hitters who have seldom been relied upon for clutch hits for a top-10 college team but are slowly progressing toward their potential.
Cannizaro’s already raving about Beau Jordan, twin brother Bryce Jordan and Greg Deichmann — three returners who bided time behind departed draft picks — in the middle of the order, calling them an “above-average college baseball lineup in the middle of the order.”
“Not necessarily comparing them to last year’s group that was the best lineup in the country,” Cannizaro added. “We’re light years better today than we were at the beginning of spring practice. I think with so many new guys, it’s going to be one of these things where the more time we continue to spend on the field together, the better we continue to get.”
Deichmann, particularly, awaits consistency. Mainieri has labeled him both the team’s fastest and most powerful player.
But he played in just 10 games of his freshman season as he did not record a hit, swinging and missing at an alarming rate before Cannizaro refined some mechanics.
“The opportunity that I’m going to get to prove myself, I’ve taken a hold of that,” Deichmann said. “I think I proved myself during the fall. But I haven’t proven anything yet in the spring or the games. Let’s see what I can do in the middle of the order.”
Aside from projected No. 3 hitter Jake Fraley, the lineup’s only returning starter, Robertson is the only projected opening day starter with more than 10 hits at LSU. Three players — Duplantis, Trey Dawson and Cole Freeman — have yet to register a Division I at-bat.
Robertson has had his troubles, too. The junior has had two consecutive standout summers in the Cape Cod League — he hit .310 there this summer and was an All-Star in 2014 — but hasn’t found similar success at LSU, where his career average is .211.
Self-inflicted pressure caused some of the shortcomings. Robertson said he pressed last season, partly due to “listening to outside voices” but also grappling with the reality that a slump could have cut his playing time.
“It’s been nothing to do with my talent; I’ve hit my whole life except for two seasons here,” Robertson said. “I think that, now that I’m older, it helps me that I’ve matured and realized I just need to go out there and play. It’s what I did over the summer. I knew I was going to play every day. I didn’t necessarily worry about what my batting average was, all the outside factors — and I’ve done well.”
Robertson headlines another speedy crew after a season in which the Tigers stole 130 bases on 166 attempts. Deichmann and Duplantis are threats to run. Freeman, too, could steal 50 bases, Mainieri said — if he gets on base.
That’s a caveat repeated endlessly with this lineup.
“We have new guys who don’t have a college hit yet with that same ability to run,” Cannizaro said. “We’re going to continue to do it; it’s what we want to do. We’re going to keep the same offensive philosophies we had last year; it’s just something that I really believe in and Coach Mainieri really believes in.”
“We’re going to continue to play the game we want to play it.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.