LSU baseball Twitter Mailbag: You asked about the catcher, the closer, the Sunday pitching slot _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- LSU players stand along the baseline during the playing of the national anthem before first pitch against Sacramento State on Feb. 27.

The Twitter mailbag will run every Tuesday morning during baseball season, but questions are welcomed throughout the week @Chandler_Rome. Follow along for analysis and coverage throughout the season and, if you feel so inclined, ask away.

Paul Mainieri entrusted Romero to catch Jared Poche in the Sacramento State series opener, so he obviously has confidence in the junior college transfer, who rewarded his coach with a base hit and a nice throw to nab a would-be base stealer. When Mainieri said he’d catch Romero in that game last week, I asked where exactly Romero had to improve defensively and Mainieri was effusive in his praise of Romero’s progress in receiving the ball, blocking dirt balls and handling the pitching staff.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS --LSU's Jordan Romero (28) takes a swing at a pitch in the third inning of LSU's 12-4 win over Cincinnati Sunday in LSU's Alex Box Stadium.

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS –LSU’s Jordan Romero (28) takes a swing at a pitch in the third inning of LSU’s 12-4 win over Cincinnati in LSU’s Alex Box Stadium.

As we’ve detailed before, Romero has the best arm of the two, but Papierski still inches ahead on the other defensive assignments (blocking, receiving). Remember, too, Papierski’s masterful game behind the plate in LSU’s 4-0 win against Cincinnati, where Alex Lange threw a bevy of dirt breaking balls and Papierski was 9-for-9 blocking them with runners on base. Romero’s more than proven that he can catch a game or two on the weekend and that’s a luxury for Mainieri. The two will continue to split time back there, but Papierski’s experience and slight defensive superiority still inch him ahead.

No reliever has thrown in more than three games and only one — Caleb Gilbert — has thrown more than 3.2 innings, so it’s hard to say anyone’s separated themselves. With a fastball that can sit mid-90s and a year of closing experience, Stallings has refined his mechanics with his offspeed pitches and is a prime candidate for the role.

Gilbert, though, has also emerged as a viable candidate. Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn were high on him throughout the fall and have thrust the true freshman into two unenviable situations to begin the season. His team clinging to an 11-10 lead, Gilbert entered with the bases loaded and no out against Lamar, throwing 13 of 14 pitches for strikes, getting one strike away from escaping the inning scoreless. He issued the go-ahead single on a get-me-over breaking ball in a two-strike count.

Caleb Gilbert's impressed throughout the offseason in a bullpen full of veterans.

Caleb Gilbert’s emerged as a viable candidate to close for LSU.

He entered Saturday’s 5-4 loss to Sacramento State with the go-ahead run on and one out in the seventh, skirting damage, before two late-inning errors were the impetus for another loss. With an advanced breaking pitch and command of his lower 90s fastball, Gilbert’s thrown the ball extremely well even if his win-loss record doesn’t indicate it. He’s got the makeup of a closer and he’s shown the poise needed to close out tight games.

First, the elephant in the room, I do not have a concrete update on Jake Latz. He is in a throwing program in recovery from elbow surgery and it is a slow process, but we’ll remind you that both Latz and Mainieri are “holding out hope” for an April return.

John Valek III has 13 strikeouts in 12.2 innings pitched with no walks and three earned runs in two Sunday starts. He’s been nothing short of spectacular in a role that’s been a thorn in LSU’s side the last two seasons. Time will tell if Valek’s funky stuff can win in SEC play, but for right now, he’s entrenched into that Sunday role barring an injury.

I’ve heard Greg Deichmann won the fall 60-yard dash by an eyelash over Antoine Duplantis. Paul Mainieri called Deichmann the fastest player on the team at media day in January.

But in the first two weeks, Cole Freeman’s shown himself to be a menace on the basepaths. Mainieri loves that speed at the bottom of the order and Freeman’s delivered with a .407 on-base percentage and a team-high six stolen bases. Freeman’s always a threat to drop a bunt down the line and, if he puts the ball on the ground, it’ll be a bang-bang play.

I’m not sure how to use this scale, but let’s just say this — Antoine Duplantis has been very, very impressive in his first seven collegiate games.

(HILARY SCHEINUK)

Antoine Duplantis has met expectations through seven games. (HILARY SCHEINUK)

He’s been lockdown in right field, one bad angle at Lamar aside, and even showed a plus arm on opening night when he gunned a runner down at the plate. When he’s at the plate, Duplantis has struck out once in his first 25 at-bats, sharing the batting average lead among everyday starters with Cole Freeman at .360. The two are tied with Jake Fraley for the team lead with nine hits.

Duplantis has ascended to the three-hole permanently, a spot Alex Bregman occupied in the lineup for a good portion of his career. His swing is short and his “barrel aptitude” (thank Andy Cannizaro for that term) lends itself to a lot of contact. Duplantis has more pop than most think and it’ll only become more pronounced as he matures, gets stronger and continues to work with Cannizaro on an aggressive approach.

By the time I was born, LSU had won two national championships. And by the time I was intelligent enough to grasp baseball proficiency, the man who won those championships had retired, so in fairness to those guys, I’ll only judge the players I can coherently recall watching.

Here’s my all-time starting lineup of the Paul Mainieri era. Some positions may be flipped to get players on the card.

  • Ty Ross (C)
  • Blake Dean (1B)
  • DJ LeMahieu (2B)
  • Alex Bregman (SS)
  • Christian Ibarra (3B)
  • Jared Mitchell (LF)
  • Mikie Mahtook (CF)
  • Andrew Stevenson (RF)
  • Raph Rhymes (DH)
  • Aaron Nola (SP)