LSU coach Paul Mainieri doesn’t care for the word “swagger.” It connotes a sense of arrogance to him.
But it’s only natural for him acknowledge this year’s team is different from the one last season, when it had eight new starters.
“They just seem more composed,” Maineri said, “and it makes it a lot easier to coach a team when you don’t have to tell them everything to do from A to Z.”
It’s even easier on the coach when veteran players are schooling rookies on proper ways to practice, Mainieri said. However, two freshmen, Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter, aren’t looking like they need much tutoring. They are two of only three players Mainieri has coached to play on a summer league team before their freshmen seasons.
“I couldn’t tell which of them is more ready to play than the other,” Mainieri said.
Smith, a Catholic High graduate, appeared in a scrimmage for the first time Thursday and impressed Mainieri from his first at-bat. He made solid contact in three plate appearances, two of which ended with hits. It was more of the same in Friday’s scrimmage, driving a double into left-center field.
Smith suffered an ankle injury over the summer and recently re-aggravated it. Then a doctor discovered bone spurs in his ankle and thought Smith would need surgery. A CT scan later revealed the ankle pain was unrelated to the bone spurs, however.
“I probably could have played a little bit," Smith said, "but coaches just wanted to make sure that nothing was actually super wrong with it.”
He no longer has to worry about his first fall practice being lost to injury, and he’s not limited in any way. He’s played third base and shortstop and either position is just fine with him. But he’s enjoying learning behind senior shortstop Kramer Robertson.
“He’s a leader,” Smith said of Robertson. “He leads by example. Always gives good tips to me. Just a very good guy. Good player.”
Who’s on first?
With so few spots to fill, one of the few question marks for the Tigers is who will play first base.
But Mainieri has no shortage of options.
With plans to move Greg Deichmann to right field once he is fully recovered from a stress fracture in his foot, Mainieri is taking a “hard look” at Bryce Adams.
In 220 at-bats with the Mankato MoonDogs in the Northwoods League this summer, Adams hit .314 with five home runs and 33 RBIs. Adams also went 2-for-2 in Thursday’s scrimmage and had an RBI double off Jared Poché in Friday’s scrimmage.
“Bryce went off this summer and had a really terrific summer," Mainieri said.
"He’s a fifth-year guy. He’s a big strong guy. I want to see if he’s better than he was last year after having (220) at-bats in summer ball.”
Mainieri also mentioned freshmen Rankin Woley and Mason Templet as candidates for first base, but Catholic High alum and LSU-Eunice transfer Nick Coomes has also stood out. Though he played catcher and first base in his two years in junior college, Mainieri said he believes he’s athletic enough to handle first base.
Mainieri won’t test Deichmann’s foot in right field until after LSU returns from a five-day fall break (Deichmann suffered the injury during the summer). However, Mainieri said he's been impressed with Deichmann's judgement in non-running drills in the outfield.
“He looked very confident and calm out there,” Mainieri said. “I know he’s a good enough athlete to do it.”
Bush’s setback 'nothing serious'
Though Mainieri is impressed with his pitching staff, believing it to be ahead of where it was last fall, he’s still concerned about the amount of left-handed arms he has.
One of his lefties, redshirt freshman Nick Bush, isn’t quite ready yet, either.
Bush, who had Tommy John surgery last fall, suffered a minor setback in his recovery, but Mainieri said it was “nothing serious” and doesn’t affect the plan for him to begin pitching simulated games in December.
“We had another MRI done, and there’s nothing at all,” Mainieri said of the 2015 Perfect Game All-American. “So we wrote it off as as scar tissue that he’s just got to work his way through, but it’s always been the plan, that he wasn’t going to pitch this fall competitively.”