Heading into the offseason, after the Major League Baseball draft but before the professional signing deadline arrived, LSU coach Paul Mainieri figured his best fall competition would be at shortstop.
That was before LSU’s All-American shortstop, Kramer Robertson, announced his decision to return. The Tigers are now decidedly set at shortstop.
But even with most of last season’s roster joining Robertson in returning for 2017, it doesn’t mean Mainieri has his lineup set months ahead of time. The return of Robertson, Cole Freeman and Greg Deichmann has just shifted the battles to different spots.
“We’re returning one of the best players in the country at shortstop,” Mainieri said. “You could say the same thing about second base. So really, the remaining infielders are all competing at third base.”
True freshmen Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter — both high school shortstops who figure to play that position at some point — are getting work at third base this fall, along with returning starter Chris Reid.
Reid started 47 games at third base as a freshman last season, batting .287 while committing 10 errors in 110 defensive chances.
He’ll have to hold off a couple newcomers who come in with high expectations, but Mainieri said not to count out Reid.
“Chris Reid is not giving up. He’s played well this fall,” Mainieri said. “But Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter are obviously very talented players as well. That competition is going to be ongoing.”
The other cornerstone positions of the infield — first base and catcher — also feature multiple viable options battling for playing time.
Deichmann started 50 games at first base last year, but Mainieri has so far been pleased with his offseason transition to the outfield and Deichmann will likely stay there.
That leaves three players vying for first base — senior Bryce Adams and freshmen Mason Templet and Rankin Woley. Mainieri said Bryce Jordan could also be in the mix at first base if he’s not the designated hitter.
Adams struggled at the plate as a junior college transfer last season, hitting just .150 in 20 at-bats. But Mainieri was impressed with the way Adams played during the summer in the Northwoods League, especially because that confidence carried over when he returned to Baton Rouge.
“Last year did not go well for him,” Mainieri said. “But instead of giving up, quitting and hanging his head, saying, ‘Coach doesn’t like me,’ and making excuses, he went away in the summer ... he spent the entire long summer up there and got (220) at-bats, hit .314 with a half-dozen home runs (five) and a bunch of RBIs (33).
“He’s come back here as a different cat. He’s confident in himself now. He’s practicing hard, he’s done well. He’s hit the ball better than anybody so far in the first week and a half.”
But like Reid, he’ll have to hold off a pair of freshmen that have turned in impressive early showings.
“I love the two freshman, Rankin Woley and Mason Templet,” Mainieri said. “I think those two kids are going to have terrific careers at LSU. They bring some real impact to the batter’s box when they hit the ball.”
Mike Papierski and Jordan Romero handled all of the catching duties last season, but both are being pushed by LSU-Eunice transfer Nick Coomes, who has also caught Mainieri’s eye in the first few weeks of the fall.
“Nick Coomes is emerging as a guy who can do it back there,” Mainieri said.