LSU hasn’t had a 6-foot-3 catcher on its roster since Bill Clinton worked in the Oval Office.
The Tigers have, at long last, found another one.
Freshman Mike Papierski will be the tallest catcher at LSU since 2000, when Brad Cresse crouched behind the plate in the original Alex Box Stadium and helped deliver the Tigers’ fifth national championship.
In other words, Papierski has a lot to live up to. And a lot of work to do.
LSU’s pitching staff includes four freshman starters fighting for weekend rotation slots. With that in mind, a smart, 6-foot-3, 204-pound catcher is a welcome asset.
“It’s like throwing to a big huge rocking chair rather than trying to throw it into a little teacup,” said assistant coach Will Davis, himself an LSU catcher from 2004-2007.
But until Opening Day on Feb. 13, Papierski is simply another player fighting for a spot in LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s lineup. With senior Kade Scivicque and junior Chris Chinea also jostling for time behind the plate, Papierski will have to earn his role in the coming weeks.
“I’m just coming here to work and keep my mouth shut,” said Papierski, a native of suburban Chicago. “I always see (the veterans) working every day. I’m just trying to learn the little things from them so that I can get that much better.”
The switch-hitting Papierski is supposed to add offensive pop to the catcher position, perhaps more than any LSU catcher since Micah Gibbs hit a team-leading .388 in 2010.
A natural right-handed hitter, Papierski began taking cuts from the opposite batter’s box at the age of 8.
Throughout middle school and his four years at Lemont High School, he grew more comfortable from the left side of the plate. Now it’s his power side.
“I have a little more lift (as a) lefty,” Papierski said. “Righty, I’m more of a line drive hitter.”
And then there’s his glove.
Davis, who began coaching the catchers this season, said there’s always room for freshmen to improve defensively, though he believes Papierski has come into the program more polished than any rookie catcher during his tenure.
“He’s a real student of the game,” Davis said. “He wants to be a good catcher, and he’s always asking questions and trying to perfect his receiving and blocking. And he’s such a natural, gifted thrower.”
Papierski has been consistently clocked at roughly 1.90 seconds on his throws from the plate to second base, Davis said.
“He really gets downhill,” Davis said. “It looks like a big 6-foot-5 Tom Brady in the pocket throwing down the field. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Even with his skill set, Papierski faces challenges. He’s in a new environment, and he’s working with plenty of freshman pitchers.
Fortunately for the rookie, he was accompanied by a familiar face to Baton Rouge.
Former Lemont High stud southpaw Jake Latz committed to LSU only a few weeks before Papierski. The duo were battery mates for four years.
But their chemistry dated to when they were 8-year-olds on a travel team started by Papierski’s father. Latz has been pitching to Papierski ever since.
After years of working together, Latz said he can throw Papierski any pitch.
“If it’s 0-2 with a guy on third, I’m not afraid to put a curveball in the dirt,” Latz said. “I know he’s going to be there to block. I can trust him enough to where I don’t have to be overly quick to home plate because he can get the guy out at second, too.”
But Latz and Papierski have their own respective battles on the roster.
Even with all the early praise, Mainieri hasn’t decided how much playing time Papierski will get.
“If we didn’t have Scivicque and Chinea, I would have zero hesitation about throwing Michael Papierski right in there and playing him every day,” Mainieri said. “He’s that good.”
With the season fast approaching, Papierski said he has a few nerves, but he isn’t concerned about the ongoing battle for the starting catcher spot.
He had a different focus.
“If I get some playing time, then great,” Papierski said. “If not, that’s OK. But if we win a national championship, that’s all I’m here for. I’m here to win.”