College Baseball Poll - Collegiate Baseball Newspaper
For Immediate Release: Monday, Dec. 22, 2008
LSU NO. 1 IN COLLEGIATE BASEBALL NEWSPAPER PRE-SEASON POLL
TUCSON, Ariz. — Louisiana State University has been ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s Fabulous 40 pre-season NCAA Division I baseball poll.
Not since Louisiana State put together a run of five national championships from 1991-2000 have the Tigers been this loaded with talent. LSU features five Louisville Slugger pre-season All-Americans from a team that finished fifth at the College World Series last season. The players include:
Seven position player starters are back along with a number of quality pitchers. The talent level is so high that at least four players may be picked in the first or second round of the Free Agent Draft in 2009 and 2010.
Many of the starters are from a recruiting class ranked No. 1 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball in 2007. That class featured nine players who were drafted, eight high school All-Americans and three first team junior college All-Americans among the 19 players the Tigers brought in.
This year’s projected high draft picks include OF Jared Mitchell (first round), SS D.J. LeMahieu (first round) and OF Blake Dean (second round). All-American catcher Micah Gibbs is expected to be a first rounder in 2010 since he is a sophomore this season. Last year’s ball club came on like gangbusters toward the end of the season with a 23-game winning streak, the longest single-season streak in Southeastern Conference history. Tiger Head Coach Paul Mainieri has now guided two different squads to 23-game win streaks – his 2006 Notre Dame ball club and LSU’s 2008 team.
Pitching, despite losing three terrific hurlers from a year ago in Jared Bradford (10-4, 4.48 ERA), Ryan Verdugo (9-4, 4.12 ERA) and Blake Martin (5-3, 5.08 ERA), is expected to be strong.
"We brought in several talented freshmen pitchers last season who played more of a secondary role behind junior college transfers," said Mainieri.
"We needed the experience of the JUCO kids right away. While the JC guys were pitching most of the innings, (6-foot-7, 225-pound) Anthony Ranaudo, Daniel Bradshaw and Austin Ross gained valuable experience as we brought them along slowly. Ranaudo is a former 11th round pick in the draft and sat at 92-94 mph all fall for us and topped out at 96 mph. He also has a good breaking ball and changeup. He has the makings of being a top-flight Friday night starter for us. Bradshaw and Ross are solid, although not overpowering with 88-91 mph fastballs. We have a solid 3-man rotation and also have Louis Coleman (8-1, 1.95 ERA, 62 K, 10 BB) back for his senior year. He will probably be our closer. Plus, we have other quality pitchers. I am extremely happy at our prospects in this area of the team."
Mainieri said his position players are special.
"It is rare to have seven starting position players back after playing at the College World Series the year before. In fact, we really have eight. Shawn Ochinko (1B/C) played in 47 games last season. While we did lose Matt Clark who hit the most home runs in the nation last year with 28, we have a bunch of quality players who are very experienced. We also had a solid recruiting class which will help with team depth."
Mainieri said that he is striving to have a balance between power and speed on offense which his teams have been noted for over the years.
"We have some speed guys such as Mitchell and Leon Landry in the outfield who will help track down a number of balls. But both have line drive power and can hit pitches out of the park. They are tremendous athletes. A couple of others with underrated speed are Schimpf and LeMahieu."
Catching is an area Mainieri is extremely excited about.
"Micah Gibbs, after his junior year in two seasons, will be a solid first or second round pick," said Mainieri.
"He is a good receiver (threw out 17 runners trying to steal last season, only one error all season in 392 chances) and swings from both sides of the plate. He is as good as there is in the nation and was the starting catcher for Team USA last summer when they went 24-0. If you look back on our final 29 games of the season, we won 26 of them with Micah behind the plate. Then Team USA won 24 in a row through the summer. So as a starting catcher, his teams have gone 50-3 in one year which is absolutely amazing."
Other players who had memorable summers include Schimpf who was MVP of the Valley League post-season tournament.
Leon Landry was MVP of the Cal Ripkin Sr. League post-season. And LeMahieu played in the Cape Cod League for Harwich and was the regular-season MVP.
"I feel we will be extremely strong up the middle with our catcher, two middle infielders and centerfielder."
As far as injuries, LSU was healthy as Collegiate Baseball went to press.
Post-season experience is something that LSU has on its side as well after having success in regional, super regional and College World Series competition last season.
The final piece of the puzzle is post-season coaching experience. Mainieri, entering his third season at LSU, has now directed two different teams to the College World Series.
He led Notre Dame to the 2002 CWS, when the Irish posted a 1-2 mark in Omaha, and last year with LSU. He has been a college coach for 26 years with a record of 942-537-6.
For a detailed rundown on the top 40 teams, see the Jan. 2, 2009 edition of Collegiate Baseball newspaper.