When Paul Mainieri has to choose between two players to start, he considers every factor. Their glove. Their arm strength and accuracy. Their ability as a hitter. Their defensive range. If all of that appears equal, Mainieri picks the older player.
“I'll always go with the veteran player,” Mainieri said. “But if that freshman player is better than the veteran, I'm not afraid to play the freshman. That's the situation with Dylan Crews, Tre' Morgan and Jordan Thompson. It may end up being the case with Brody Drost.”
After mostly watching LSU’s first four games from the bench, Drost might receive some playing time this weekend against Youngstown State and Nicholls State. In his only at-bats, Drost singled and hit a 425-foot home run that immediately lodged itself in Mainieri’s mind.
With a chance to extend its winning streak, LSU hosts Youngstown State on Friday night. Below is some key information about the game.
But Mainieri’s philosophy makes him lean toward the upperclassmen on LSU’s roster, and established starters fill Drost’s positions of corner outfield and designated hitter. Junior Gavin Dugas, who’s batting .333, fills left field. Junior Cade Beloso, the most experienced hitter on the team, starts at designated hitter. Crews plays right field.
"Who are you going to move out?" Mainieri said.
The situation reflects one of Mainieri’s challenges right now: finding playing time for everyone in a crowded outfield.
“One of my biggest problems right now is trying to find at-bats for some guys that can really hit," Mainieri said. "We're going to try to work our way through that.”
Drost, a freshman from Barbe High School in Lake Charles, received the 2020 Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year award and was ranked the No. 100 player in the nation by Perfect Game. Mainieri considered LSU lucky not to lose him through the Major League draft last summer, which lasted five rounds and pushed more players to school.
Former successful LSU hitters watch Dylan Crews and see a freshman who can become the next great player in LSU baseball history.
Once he arrived on campus, Drost played well at times during fall practice, hitting a couple home runs. Mainieri said he also frequently struck out. LSU liked his potential, but Mainieri picked upperclassmen to start the season.
Drost isn’t the only player who Mainieri wants to give more playing time. LSU has nine players listed as outfielders. Only three can start.
"This team is very deep," Crews said. "We have a bunch of guys who are willing to come in and produce when they need to."
Junior center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo’s hamstring injury last weekend opened one spot, making center field a testing ground. Sophomore Mitchell Sanford started the past three games in center field. Freshman Will Safford, who tweaked his hip, can play the position, as can junior Drew Bianco and sophomore Maurice Hampton. Drost practiced there Thursday.
However, Sanford and Drost are more suited for the corner outfield spots. LSU could open one by moving Crews to center field, a position he played in high school, but Mainieri doesn't want to shift him over.
LSU pitcher Garrett Edwards scored 4,103 points in high school basketball, which ranked 29th all-time in the country.
“The possibility exists we could move Crews to center and plug Drost into right if we wanted to,” Mainieri said. “I don't really want to do that because I think Dylan has found a home, and I don't want to mess with his karma.”
This weekend, LSU faces three left-handed starting pitchers, further complicating how to find playing time for Safford, Sanford and Drost. They all bat left-handed, preventing LSU from using a right-lefty platoon. Mainieri said Sanford, who started Friday night, hits left-handed pitching better than Drost.
Still, Drost impressed with his limited chances. He might receive more, giving him an opportunity to push himself ahead of the veterans.
“You can't deny the talent that Brody Drost has, and sooner or later, he's going to work his way into that lineup,” Mainieri said. “When he does, it'll make us a better team. So we've got to figure out some ways to try to make that happen.”