Out of The Box: LSU baseball’s opening weekend catching plans are complicated

LSU baseball season is here, so welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly column covering all things Tigers baseball. Check out SEC Country every Monday at noon ET for your dose of news, notes, updates and analysis on Tigers baseball!

Catching fire

Less than a week out from the start of the 2018 LSU baseball season, coach Paul Mainieri has a complicated situation at catcher.

Junior college transfer Hunter Feduccia spent the entire fall and preseason working as LSU’s starting catcher and, according to Mainieri, projected cleanup hitter. But Feduccia fractured a bone in his left hand in practice last week, sidelining him for a few days. In his place stepped in former junior college teammate Nick Coomes, a second-year Tigers infielder who missed the fall with an injury of his own.

Coomes played through injury for most of 2017, struggling with a hip ailment that, as he described it, “split his labrum” every time he tried to crouch. As a result, Coomes played mostly at first base in 2017, hitting .303 with 2 home runs, 24 RBI, 20 runs scored and an .803 OPS in 132 at-bats.

Coomes is one of two Tigers returning for 2018 who had an on-base percentage better than .400 in 2017. Mainieri raved about the way Coomes has stepped up for Feduccia, saying if he was able to play this way in the fall he’d have competed with Feduccia for the starting job.

But here’s where things get complicated: Feduccia appears to be back. According to LSUBaseballData on Twitter, Feduccia went 1-for-4 with a double in a team scrimmage Sunday. Feduccia told SEC Country last week that he’d only play opening weekend if he’s comfortable he can play without pain, and he said he was more concerned about hitting than defense.

If he felt good enough to grip a bat, Feduccia might be ready to go. Does this mean he’ll start Day 1? It’s unclear. But at this point, expect to see both Coomes and Feduccia this weekend. Coomes seems to have earned the playing time, and Feduccia might need the rest anyway.

All-SEC awards

The SEC announced its preseason All-SEC standings and first- and second-teams last week, with LSU being surprisingly low in most places. The Tigers came in predicted to finish fourth in the SEC West. Mainieri said he believes this is the lowest LSU has ranked in the West since 2008, his second year in Baton Rouge and the first of his fifth times leading LSU to the College World Series.

LSU had two outfielders including on the All-SEC teams, with junior right fielder Antoine Duplantis making first-team status and sophomore centerfielder Zach Watson earning second-team honors. This is a bit of a surprise, as Watson has been a consensus preseason All-American outfielder and is coming off a star showing in the 2017 College World Series, while Duplantis hasn’t received as much hype heading into the year.

Either way, it’s no surprise both players were included. Duplantis hit .316 with 61 RBI and 14 doubles in 2017 while Watson led LSU with a .317 batting average and smacked 9 home runs, the most among returning Tigers.

Checking in with the scrimmages

LSU held a couple of scrimmages last week trying to get the players into game shape in preparation for this weekend. Here, according to LSUBaseballData, are the most pertinent stats from the scrimmages:

LSU baseball preseason player power rankings

Every week in “Out of The Box,” we’ll post power rankings of the five best players on the LSU baseball team. With the season starting out this weekend, here are SEC Country’s preseason predictions for the top 5 players on the 2018 Tigers:

  • No. 5: RF Antoine Duplantis: The junior leader of the team and new owner of the No. 8 jersey, Duplantis should drive in a ton of runs from the three-hole in the lineup and play a solid right field.
  • No. 4: SP Zack Hess: Hess was downright dominant as a relief pitcher in 2017. Will that dominance translate into becoming a feared starting pitcher? That’s yet to be seen. But his fastball-slurve combination alone is enough to crack the list.
  • No. 3: SS Josh Smith: As a freshman in 2017, Smith was an All-SEC defender playing third base. He makes the transition to his natural position of shortstop in 2018, and he’ll assume the leadoff spot in the lineup. Chances are, he builds on his .407 on-base percentage from 2017 at the top of the order.
  • No. 2: SP Caleb Gilbert: Gilbert was six kinds of filthy and two more kinds of unhittable in the postseason last year. Gilbert threw 23.2 innings in the postseason, earning a 0.76 ERA with 26 strikeouts. On that goodwill, Gilbert will be the Tigers’ Friday ace this season, a role the junior has certainly earned.
  • No. 1: CF Zach Watson: The pressure is going to be on for Watson. He’s a preseason All-America centerfielder who hit .346 with a home run, a double, 2 RBI, 5 runs and 2 stolen bases in the 2017 College World Series. Now he’s going to be the centerpiece of LSU’s lineup and one of the most feared hitters in the SEC. Let’s see how the sophomore lives up to expectations.

What’s next for LSU baseball?

LSU baseball opens up the 2018 season this weekend with a three-game series versus Notre Dame. The season opener is Friday at 7 p.m. CT, followed by a game Saturday at 4 p.m. CT and Sunday at 11 a.m. CT. All games will be available for stream through WatchESPN.

Be sure to follow LSU beat writers Nick Suss and Alex Hickey for updates throughout the weekend.

Miss last week’s edition of Out of The Box?  Click here to find it!

The post Out of The Box: LSU baseball’s opening weekend catching plans are complicated appeared first on SEC Country.

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