As he ate lunch with his wife in California about two weeks ago, Paul Mainieri received an email. It came from the father of Kendall Burnett, a left-handed pitcher interested in playing for LSU.
Burnett’s father, an LSU graduate living outside San Diego, told Mainieri his son had spent most of his high school career committed to Southern Cal. Burnett never signed, and he sat out his freshman year of college.
Intrigued by the possibility of adding a quality left-hander, LSU checked Burnett’s background. It found a pitcher with four years of eligibility whose fastball sits in the upper 80s. The Tigers offered Burnett a spot as a preferred walk-on. He enrolled Friday, three days before the beginning of class.
"This one fell in our lap," Mainieri said. “It’s a very unusual situation, maybe one of the more unusual situations I've ever encountered.”
Cade and Braden Doughty have played baseball together their entire lives. After Cade passed on professional baseball, they are reunited at LSU.
Burnett gives LSU four left-handed pitchers before fall practice starts. The Tigers played without a left-handed pitcher last season. (Freshman Easton McMurray, the only lefty on the roster, underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in February.)
“We won't have the same situation as we had last year with no lefties available,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully some of these four guys will emerge and help us in a big way.”
Two years ago, the Tigers had four lefties. Three of them did not pitch well, and they transferred after one season. Junior Nick Bush signed a professional contract.
The Tigers signed McMurray, but an injury had kept him from pitching his senior year of high school. He tried to throw a couple times when he got to LSU. His pain persisted, so McMurray had a scope performed on his shoulder four games into the season.
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LSU believed it had some right-handed pitchers capable of matching up against left-handed batters this spring, but when McMurray had surgery, Mainieri sensed LSU’s lack of a left-handed pitcher might hurt the Tigers.
“I think it did,” Mainieri said.
Since the end of the season, LSU has added three left-handers. Freshman Jacob Hasty signed in November, with a 92 mph fastball and “one of the best curveballs we saw from anyone we scouted,” Mainieri said.
When Mainieri held a news conference in late July to announce the Tigers’ signing class, LSU also had a verbal commitment from Brandon Kaminer. He signed in early August after he graduated from Wallace Community College. Kaminer went 8-2 with 64 strikeouts in 60 innings last season.
LSU baseball has more balance between the number of pitchers and fielders on its 2020 roster.
Then the Tigers signed Burnett, who’s 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds. His brief recruitment happened so late, the Tigers have not watched him pitch.
Mainieri also thinks McMurray will be healthy for the start of fall practice.
“Every indication is he's going to be ready to start pitching this fall,” Mainieri said.
The additions of Kaminer and Burnett pushed LSU’s roster to 37 players before fall practice. The Tigers must have 35 players on their roster by the beginning of next season. Season-ending injuries to scholarship players or mid-year transfers could reduce the roster. If not, Mainieri will have to cut two players.
"Thirty-seven is a very workable number," Mainieri said. "If neither of these things happen, we'll have to make a couple of tough decisions."