Every day during baseball season, millions of Americans open a paper or a website to check how the players on their fantasy baseball teams are doing.
Every day when he gets to his office, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri does something similar, checking on the stats and progress of his players and prospects competing in summer leagues across America.
For Mainieri and the Tigers, there are much more than bragging rights at stake for 2012. What happens in summer baseball could mean the difference between who plays and who doesn’t next season based on performance and, unfortunately, injuries.
“I place a lot of stock in what they do in the summer,” Mainieri said Friday. “When they come back in the fall and they’re competing for positions, what do we watch them do? We play six-inning scrimmage games and they maybe get two at-bats. What they do over a long summer against good competition may be more indicative of what you can expect.”
For some players, like Jamie Bruno, a position player transfer from Tulane, summer ball could mean virtually everything.
“Jamie sat out this year because of the transfer rule,” Mainieri said. “I told Jaime when he went away to the Cape Cod League, ‘What you do this summer will weigh very heavily in whether you have a chance to earn a starting job with us next year.’ ”
Most players want to be in the Cape Cod League, which has an established reputation as the nation’s top summer league. Eight Tigers have played or will play there this summer, not counting former LSU bullpen ace Matty Ott who recently signed a pro contract with the region’s top club — the Boston Red Sox.
“More established guys can go to the Cape Cod League like (infielder) JaCoby Jones and (catcher) Ty Ross,” Mainieri said. “They started as freshman, so you feel, if they’re good enough to start at LSU, they’re good enough to start in the Cape Cod League. It’s the best competition they can face.”
Naturally, it isn’t feasible to send every player to Cape Cod, and Mainieri has his reasons for spreading his talent around.
Consider freshman pitcher Nick Rumbelow.
Though he possesses a lively arm, Mainieri and his staff didn’t feel he developed as quickly as LSU’s other freshman pitchers. As a result, Rumbelow pitched only 13 innings in 10 appearances.
Mainieri didn’t want to risk him getting strong-armed out of some much-needed experience again, so he placed Rumbelow with a long-time LSU summer ally — the Danville (Ill.) Dans in the Prospect League.
The results have been encouraging. Rumbelow is 2-1 with a 1.37 earned run average and 25 strikeouts in 19.2 innings, including a 14-strikeout performance Wednesday.
“He’s a starting pitcher, he’s pitched three games so far and pitched well and his confidence is growing,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri watches the progress of his pitchers closely — anxiously, even. He doesn’t want a repeat of last year’s Jordan Rittiner saga.
Rittiner threw 14.2 innings in 12 appearances and had two saves for Thomasville (N.C.) of the Coastal Plain League. But Mainieri said overwork led to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and cost Rittiner the 2011 season.
“One night they got him up four times in the bullpen and the next night they got him up three times,” Mainieri said. “You worry some teams may have these young, inexperienced head coaches who don’t know how to handle pitchers.
“It’s a scary thing sending pitchers off in the summer.”
Mainieri feared Kevin Berry, 0-0 with a 1.86 ERA and two saves in 9.2 innings work for the Cowlitz (Wash.) Black Bears of the West Coast League, was headed for a similar fate.
“He’s pitched seven times in 11 days,” Mainieri said. “His last outing was 4.2 innings.
“Now, he’s got a sore shoulder. I told him to get on the next airplane. We’re going to get him back and care for his shoulder with our medical people.”
Mainieri sent one of his freshman starting pitchers — Kurt McCune — home for the summer because he threw so many innings as a high school senior, last summer and in his first year as a Tiger (89.2).
He would have done the same with fellow freshman Kevin Gausman, except Gausman had a chance to join the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team after going 1-0 with a 0.75 ERA in two starts with the Harwich Mariners in Cape Cod.
“Kevin got an invitation to play for Team USA,” Mainieri said. “We think that’s a tremendous honor for him and one he shouldn’t pass up.
“Fortunately, it’s a short summer season for Team USA. So to stay sharp, he first went to Cape Cod, had two starts and (last) week he joined Team USA. They finish July 9 and then he gets to rest his arm for a month before we get him back on a throwing program in August.”
Gausman was slated to be replaced in Harwich by Tiger pitcher Tyler Jones, though Jones’ plans could change if he turns pro. Jones was drafted in the 11th round earlier this month by the Minnesota Twins.
As for freshman starter Ryan Eades, Mainieri weighed the pros and cons and decided to send him to Cape Cod’s Bourne Braves.
“In Ryan Eades’ case we were taking him slowly coming off the arm surgery so he didn’t pitch as much. But I think his opportunity to pitch once a week in Cape Cod is very much in tune” with his needs, Mainieri said.
Assistant coach Javi Sanchez has been LSU’s summer league liaison in the past. But with the departure of pitching coach/recruiting coordinator David Grewe, Mainieri said Sanchez will be more involved in recruiting and has handed off summer leagues to assistant Will Davis.
New pitching coach Alan Dunn is in the role of visiting and evaluating LSU pitchers and pitching prospects this summer.
Advocate staff photo by liz condo LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman will get to play on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.