On the recruiting trail, LSU coaches have a pecking order when it comes to outfielders.
They want consistent power hitters. They want fast, base-stealing guys. They want speedy, web-gem-producing players.
Your arm? Meh.
“In order of priorities,” coach Paul Mainieri said, “that’s where it is.”
As top-ranked LSU readies to host Missouri in a three-game series starting Friday, the team’s outfielders are making one thing clear: They’ve got arms. An outfield known to be one of the fastest in the game is showing off its guns lately.
Outfielders have made two — and almost three — putouts at home plate this season in plays that staved off a loss.
First, there was center fielder Andrew Stevenson’s one-hopper from short center field to nab Alabama’s potential game-ending run in the bottom of the ninth inning of an eventual win over the Crimson Tide.
Second, left fielder Jake Fraley threw out Mississippi State’s potential game-winning run in the 11th inning of the series opener in Starkville last week.
Two days later, Mark Laird, playing center, threw a laser to catcher Mike Papierski in State’s walk-off hit — a bang-bang play that was ruled safe.
That’s quite the trio.
“Coach (Mainieri) really drills in us that we’re not going to throw many guys out — but in big opportunities, we try to do our best ... with what little we have,” a smiling Laird said.
“That’s one of the things we lack if you want to say something that we lack — all three of us,” Fraley said of the outfield arms, “but we’ve got the arms to get the job done when we need to get it done.”
This weekend might mark the last time the three outfielders — Fraley in left, Laird in right and Stevenson in center — will play together in a regular-season series at Alex Box. Laird and Stevenson are draft-eligible juniors whom Mainieri expects to lose to the draft.
Stevenson is ranked as the 29th-best college player, and Laird is No. 141, according to D1Baseball.com’s midseason prospect rankings released last month. The two are batting over .330 and have on-base percentages of at least .400.
They’re not alone. Mainieri expects to lose junior shortstop Alex Bregman, a first-round projection, and first baseman Chris Chinea, a top-100 prospect, too.
And then there are the host of starting seniors: third baseman Conner Hale, catcher Kade Scivicque, second baseman Jared Foster and designated hitter Chris Sciambra. There’s Zac Person in the bullpen, too.
All of those guys will be a part of senior day Sunday before their last regular-season home game.
In all, LSU might lose eight of nine everyday starters from this squad.
“Can I worry about next year a little bit later?” Mainieri joked earlier this week when discussing the departures.
There’s still, of course, plenty of baseball left — as many as six or seven weeks.
LSU (40-8, 16-7 Southeastern Conference), the consensus top-ranked team in the nation, enters the series against Missouri (28-21, 14-10) in line to secure a top eight NCAA national seed and a half-game outside of first place in the SEC standings.
These Tigers might be playing for a while — with that strong-armed outfield intact.
Mainieri doesn’t make his outfielders’ arm strength (or lack thereof) a secret. He pokes at them about it at times and mentions it to reporters when he gets the chance.
“From what little arm strength we have, we make up with accuracy,” Laird said, smiling as Mainieri stood nearby.
The coach explains the staff’s recruiting scheme: “Generally, if a player can hit, go catch a ball (with speed) and throw, they’re getting drafted in the top couple of rounds and signing (professionally),” Mainieri said. “The reasons guys aren’t in the draft is they’re lacking one of those tools, and if they’re lacking one of those tools, I prefer it to be their throwing arm.”
LSU doesn’t have many opportunities for putouts at the plate anyway, said assistant Will Davis: The Tigers preach hitting the cutoff man constantly.
“We don’t want to give up those extra bases,” he said. “We feel like giving up one run is fine but don’t turn it into two or three.”
So who’s got the best arm of the outfielders? The consensus is Fraley, a muscle-bound player with a different body type than that of the slender Laird and Stevenson. But don’t count out any of them.
They’ve proven that.
Said Davis of his outfielders’ arms so far: “Definitely pleasantly surprised.”
LSU (40-8, 16-7) vs. Missouri (28-21, 14-10)
When: 7 p.m. Friday; 7:30 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge
Rankings: LSU is ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation in all six polls. Missouri is ranked No. 21 in two polls.
Projected starting pitchers:
LSU So. LHP Jared Poché (7-1, 2.65) vs. MU Jr. RHP Reggie McClain (6-5, 3.69)
LSU Fr. RHP Alex Lange (8-0, 2.22) vs. MU Fr. RHP Tanner Houck (7-3, 3.28)
LSU TBA vs. MU Jr. RHP Peter Fairbanks (4-4, 2.64)
TV: None on Friday; SEC Network on Saturday and Sunday
Online Streaming: All games online at SEC Network-plus, which is accessible at SECNetwork.com and the Watch ESPN app.
Radio: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 FM (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM, WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans)
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv, @BarrecaAdvocate
What to watch: Jared Poché is in the midst of a torrid stretch. The sophomore lefty has allowed 10 earned runs in his last six starts, spanning 43.1 innings. He’s struck out 24 and walked six during that stretch. It all follows what he called the worst outing of his baseball-playing career at Arkansas on March 19.
Know your opponent: Missouri leans heavily on its three starting pitchers. Pitching depth is an issues, and that’s led to a 4-7 record in midweek games. MU’s RPI, despite being fifth in the SEC, is at 57. MU is a bubble team right now.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.