LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri stays away from “anointing” anyone as a starter during fall practice, he said.
So much can change from the fall to the spring. And, even for an experienced team, naming starters this early would discourage competition.
Enter sophomore outfielder Brennan Breaux, one of the returning non-starters battling for a spot in the 2017 outfield.
“He’s one of our top two defensive outfielders that we have,” Mainieri said Friday, “(Antoine) Duplantis being the other one.”
Breaux’s speed and arm strength have impressed Mainieri in center field, where Duplantis is likely to replace Jake Fraley in the spring. Greg Deichmann, who played first base last season, is moving to right field.
That leaves Beau Jordan, last year’s starting left fielder, and Breaux, whom Mainieri envisions having a role even if he’s not a starter.
Even though Jordan sputtered at the plate at the end of last season, Mainieri acknowledged that Jordan had a leg up on Breaux, having a year more experience. Breaux played in 49 games with three starts in 2016, but his largest impact didn’t come until the second game of the Arkansas series in early May.
You might remember that game as the “Rally Possum” game.
The St. Thomas More High School product came off the bench in the sixth inning and notched hits in all three of his plate appearances, including a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth.
“It was huge,” Breaux said. “Coming in and not having too many at-bats, but when my number was called, I was glad I could put a couple of good swings on a couple of balls and ultimately help my team get the win.”
Breaux started in left field in the Arkansas series finale and drove a two-out single that scored two runs. Four of his five hits and four of his five RBIs for the year came in those two games.
But Breaux is a different player now, Mainieri said. Facing elite college arms in the Cape Cod League over the summer translated quickly to fall practice, with Breaux hitting the ball with more “authority,” the coach said.
Still, consistency is key for Breaux at this point. Mainieri said Breaux started strong last fall but didn’t finish as well.
“I got a good thing going here,” Breaux said. “I feel really good with my game right now. So, if I can keep that consistent and keep it going as long as possible, that would be great.”
As far as his pitching staff is concerned, Mainieri can be certain about one thing: Starters Alex Lange and Jared Poché and reliever Hunter Newman don’t need to prove anything in the fall. The rest of the staff is a question mark.
Two freshman right-handers, though, are standing out.
“Todd Peterson and Eric Walker really threw well,” Mainieri said. “I think Walker threw three shutout innings against the No. 1 lineup. Peterson, I tell you, he’s got some really electric stuff.”
Peterson pitched in Thursday’s scrimmage and allowed only one earned run in three innings. Walker was even better Tuesday, allowing only one hit in his three-inning stint.
Peterson and Walker have been the bright spots in what Mainieri calls a “work in progress” for the freshman hurlers. Zack Hess was roughed up in a recent outing after falling behind in counts. Matthew Beck has been dealing with a groin injury and has yet to pitch. Mainieri likes Will Reese’s potential but said he has “a ways to go.”
“My goal was this week, next week and the following week — the three weeks prior to the Purple and Gold World Series — I’m going to run eight starting pitchers out there and hope we can find four good ones out of those eight,” Mainieri said. “And the other four, hopefully, will have a role in the bullpen.”