As the nature of the sport dictates, attrition took its toll on the LSU baseball team as the Tigers lost two stout defensive players and an unquestioned team leader from last season’s squad.
However, LSU retained one player who coach Paul Mainieri said embodies all three characteristics.
Junior catcher Ty Ross, the self-proclaimed “quarterback” of the diamond, returns to anchor an LSU defense missing some integral parts from last season’s regular season Southeastern Conference champion team.
“I have to be the most consistent, most even-keeled guy,” Ross said. “Playing those games [last season] and playing Cape Cod helps improve your stamina so that you’re able to go out there and be 100 percent every day.”
Catching for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League in the summer, Ross drove in 14 runs while batting .226 and committing only two errors as his team captured the CCBL championship for the seventh time.
After seeing his progression last season coupled with his success in the Cape, Mainieri made one of his trademark bold predictions about his third-year man behind the plate.
“The guy never has passed balls, he blocks balls in the dirt, he’s got presence back there with his size,” Mainieri said. “I’m expecting Ross to have his best year this year, and I think he’s going to be a real catalyst for our success.”
Mainieri acknowledged Ross still has issues to resolve in handling adversity, but he had no doubt the Naples, Fla. native could emerge as a team role model.
“I think Ross has the capabilities of being an outstanding leader,” Mainieri said. “When he’s on the field and he’s practicing, he’s a really good leader by example.”
In fact, Ross’ leadership has already been on display this season.
Freshman catcher Chris Chinea, who will share backup duties with fellow freshman and Floridian Michael Barash, grew up with Ross as the duo played in the same summer league since sixth grade.
Chinea, a Miami native, credited Ross with influencing his decision to come to LSU and said he has enjoyed being under Ross’ tutelage as he transitions to the college game.
“He’s helped me out a bunch,” Chinea said. “Ever since I got here, he’s taken me under his wing and has taught me everything he knows.”
Though Ross is a constant behind the plate, it’s muddled who he’ll flash signs to late in the game, as the Tiger bullpen is a work in progress.
Shut-down closer Nick Goody has moved on to the New York Yankees organization, leaving seniors Chris Cotton and Joey Bourgeois and juniors Kurt McCune, Nick Rumbelow and Will LaMarche as viable candidates to fill his shoes as a closer.
As those five contend to close, LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said one may not even be chosen until a few weeks into the season.
“Right now, our whole focus is getting our guys’ innings built up and their pitch counts and facing hitters while working on the location of our stuff,” Dunn said. “We have two weeks to continue to do that and we go into the season and it still may not be decided.”
Cotton had a breakout season in 2012, during which he showcased his unorthodox style in 36 relief appearances, maintaining a 1.59 earned run average with 40 strikeouts.
The Shreveport native said he’s put last season behind him, and focus on extending his innings over the summer while building up more arm strength.
“It was a fun year last year,” Cotton said. “I just threw strikes and was able to get my defense to help me out. But it’s a new year and I’m just trying to go out and work as hard as I did last year.”
LaMarche, a Chabot College transfer, is seemingly the only closer Tiger fans will be unfamiliar with out of the bullpen. However, he was quick to distinguish himself from the other unfamiliar names on the Tiger roster.
“I’m not a freshman,” LaMarche said. “I’ve been a freshman before at my old school … What I’ve learned over those years is knowing my own strengths then showing that to others as far as mentality.”
Dunn called LaMarche the prototypical guy out of the bullpen with a power arm who would serve the Tigers well at the end of games.
Perhaps the most confusing piece of the bullpen is McCune, who shined his freshman season as a weekend starter with a 7-3 record while opponents hit .221 against him.
The Destrehan native took a step back last season, stumbling to a 3-4 record and losing his spot in the rotation to freshman Aaron Nola.
Now with a new pitch in his arsenal, McCune is primed to regain his form from his freshman season, according to his teammates who expect big things in McCune’s third season.
“He’s coming out here everyday before practice, getting in early work, and I really think it’s going to be a good year for Kurt,” Bourgeois said.