1. Can the freshman starting pitchers handle the spotlight?
Five of LSU’s top six pitchers might be freshmen. At least four of them could start games over the first month of the season, including weekend guys Jake Godfrey and Alex Lange. This is the biggest uncertainty on a squad with a veteran lineup — these young, talented pitchers.
2. Will Alex Bregman avoid any kind of hitting skid?
LSU’s star shortstop will start the season batting in the No. 2 hole. His 4-for-41 skid in the middle of last season was a rough patch that he eventually overcame. The Tigers need their junior leader to be hitting like he did toward the end of 2014.
3. How is Danny Zardon’s defense at third base?
Coach Paul Mainieri calls former third baseman Christian Ibarra the best he’s ever had at the position. Zardon, a sophomore, steps into those spacious shoes this year at the hot corner. And no matter how many homers he gets, Zardon won’t keep the spot without great defense.
4. Will Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque provide needed power?
The Tigers lose a pair of RBI guys in Tyler Moore and Sean McMullen. Expect Chinea to fill McMullen’s role at DH, and Scivicque to replace Moore. Mainieri isn’t afraid to admit that he needs both players to give the Tigers’ lineup some power.
5. Who’s the closer?
For the second straight year, LSU loses a solid closer (Chris Cotton in 2013 and Joe Broussard last season). The Tigers search for a closer has honed in on redshirt freshman Jesse Stallings. He has an overhand delivery and fastball similar to that of Broussard.
The Roster: Position-by-position breakdown
Kade Scivicque, Mike Papierski, Chris Chinea
LSU’s lineup is better with Scivicque behind the plate, Mainieri said, but that doesn’t mean he won’t give the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Papierski a try. The freshman is talented. Chinea provides depth.
Conner Hale, Chris Chinea, Bryce Jordan
If Kramer Robertson can maintain his spot at second base, Hale should be your permanent first baseman, but he can play some second and, even, third. If Hale moves to second, expect Chinea at first.
Kramer Robertson, Conner Hale, Greg Deichmann
Robertson can’t make enough snazzy plays to keep him in the lineup if he makes the costly blunders. He needs to hit too. He’ll be the No. 9 hole guy, a “second leadoff man,” according to Mainieri.
Danny Zardon, Beau Jordan, Conner Hale
Zardon is the guy Mainieri wants to keep there, but will he do well enough defensively? That’s the big question. The coach isn’t afraid to replace him if he’s not defending good enough.
Alex Bregman, Kramer Robertson, Grayson Byrd
Bregman has started 130 of 131 games in his LSU career. As long as he’s healthy, he’ll start every game this season, likely his last in Baton Rouge. He’s draft eligible this summer.
Jake Fraley, Jared Foster, Beau Jordan
Fraley gets the nod here at the start of the season, but the pressure’s on for the sophomore. He had a shaky fall, and Foster is surging late at the plate. Expect both of them to play.
Andrew Stevenson, Mark Laird
Stevenson started all but four games here last season. Don’t expect much of a chance this season. He and Laird have developed into one of the nation’s best outfield duos.
Mark Laird, Chris Sciambra
Laird’s importance increases this season since he’ll be leading off, at least to start the year. But his defense in right field isn’t bad. He hasn’t made an error in two years at LSU.
On the mound
Jared Poché, Alex Lange, Jake Godfrey, Doug Norman, Austin Bain
Four of the above five have something in common: They are freshmen. Poché is the veteran of the group, and he’s pitched all of one year. Poché, Lange and Godfrey begin the season as the weekend rotation, while Norman and Bain will handle midweek duties. But that could change. Mainieri plans to rotate the three weekend starters during the first three non-conference weekends of the season, giving each a Friday night start.
In the pen
Jesse Stallings, Zac Person, Kyle Bouman, Russell Reynolds, Parker Bugg, Alden Cartwright
Stallings will begin the season as the team’s closer, but his performance over the first two to three weekends will determine if that changes. Person begins as the set-up guy. Bouman, Bugg and Cartwright are long relievers who can eat up innings.
UP FIRST: A glance at the opening nonconference schedule
A Classic In Houston
LSU may face its three toughest non-conference foes in the last non-SEC weekend of the season in the Houston College Classic: Houston (the same Houston that won last year’s Baton Rouge regional), Baylor (77 RPI last year) and Nebraska (a 2014 regional team).
Don’t Sleep On
Kansas. The Tigers open up with, maybe, their best opponent in Mainieri’s tenure in Baton Rouge. The Jayhawks lost much of their starting pitching from last season, but they’re a 2014 regional club that won two of three from LSU in a 2010 series in Baton Rouge.
Coaches will tell you that no win is easy, and that may be true, but 10 of LSU’s 17-game pre-SEC schedule includes games against teams with RPIs last year of 100 or worse. That includes a three-game set against Princeton (224 in RPI last season).
WHAT AWAITS: A glance at the 2015 Southeastern Conference schedule
Bypassing The Bests
LSU had to travel to Vanderbilt and Florida last season, winning just one of those six games against the Gators and the Commodores. And this year? They avoid both in a 10-series league schedule. In many preseason polls, Vanderbilt and Florida are two of the SEC’s top three teams.
Five of LSU’s 10 SEC series this season begin on a Thursday. Four of the Thursday-Saturday series are on the road: at Arkansas (March 19-21), at Alabama (April 2-4), at Mississippi State (April 30-May 2) and at South Carolina (May 14-16).
Vanderbilt, the defending national champion, is ranked No. 1 in all six preseason polls. The Commodores return much of a team that claimed the national title and finished with 51 wins in 2014, including RHP Walker Buehler and shortstop Dansby Swanson.