When an LSU baseball newcomer makes a mistake during fall practice, the corrections aren’t all coming from the usually serene voice of head coach Paul Mainieri.
Instead, they’re replaced by the person Mainieri called “a good ol’ country boy from Monroe.”
Seizing leadership of the team after the departure of Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover, senior Monroe native Raph Rhymes has taken initiative and asserted himself as a team leader, along with senior Mason Katz, according to Mainieri.
Even if that includes doing some of Mainieri’s usual coaching duties.
“I stop in my tracks, and I kind of get a little smile [on] my face because I really love when that happens,” Mainieri said. “It shows players taking ownership of a team.”
Assessing the first three weeks of fall camp, Mainieri said the team has made tremendous strides since last year’s super regional loss to previously unheralded Stony Brook.
Mainieri lamented the less-than athletic Tigers outfield after seeing the Seawolves’ swiftness in covering the gaps, something he said he has been addressed in the offseason.
“We felt like we were hitting against five outfielders, and [Stony Brook] probably felt like they were hitting against two,” Mainieri said. “We’ve got much more speed and a couple of the guys who have much more pop in their bats.”
Four players are competing for the two remaining outfield positions: junior college transfer Sean McMullen, true freshmen Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson and sophomore Chris Sciambra. Mainieri lauded the speed all four left-handed hitters possess when covering the gaps.
Mainieri especially welcomed back Sciambra, whose grisly neck injury at the beginning of conference play hindered the Tiger outfield play last season.
“I don’t think it got enough play in the media of the impact that Chris Sciambra’s injury had on our team,” Mainieri said. “Losing Chris, who was an outstanding outfielder defensively and offensively, I thought that was a big drop-off for us.”
Katz said the character of the group of incoming talent, including junior college transfer Christian Ibarra and true freshman Alex Bregman, has made his and Rhymes’ job simple.
“[We] don’t have to push the young kids to want to work hard and want to win, they already want to,” Katz said. “We’ve got a group of young guys who work super hard.”
Mainieri pointed to both Bregman and junior JaCoby Jones as possible replacements for Nola at shortstop, adding Bregman has been “everything we thought he could be.”
With Katz and sophomore Tyler Moore switching between first base and third base, Moore said he sees third base as a natural position.
“I played a lot of third when I was younger and pretty much every summer until I got here,” Moore said. “It was pretty natural to me, and I love it.”
With changes and turnover sure to take place between now and the Feb. 15 season opener, both Moore and Katz said the flip-flopping of positions during fall doesn’t necessarily dictate the positions they’ll play regularly.
But for Moore, he doesn’t have a preference — he’s just happy to be back.
“I don’t know [what position I want to play],” Moore said. “I just love playing.”