If you were to describe the LSU baseball team in one word, it could be “inexperienced.”
Because the 2020 season abruptly ended last March before the conference portion of the schedule, over half of the team has yet to face SEC opponents, while those that have haven’t done so in nearly two years.
But, if you were to describe the LSU baseball freshmen in one word, it could be “impact.” That’s what Head Coach Paul Mainieri hopes to receive from his youngsters.
“I’m not going to be afraid to throw them into the fire,” Mainieri said. “I’m not going to be afraid to use them.”
Even with a pair of Preseason All-American pitchers, a handful of reliable upperclassmen and a solid group of juniors and sophomores, the freshman class — ranked second best in the nation by Baseball America — was all anyone wanted to talk about during Friday afternoon’s virtual media day. They were then on full display later Friday evening during the scrimmage portion of the team’s first practice of the spring. Five freshmen position players in total took the field for either team, and four freshmen pitchers tossed a combined eight innings.
The class is headlined by outfielder Dylan Crews and first baseman Tre’ Morgan. The two 18-year-olds led the way for the home team Friday night, batting first and second in the order. It’s something Mainieri says he’ll look to do frequently this season.
Crews was the 13th ranked high school player in the country in the 2020 class, and the highest ranked recruit to choose college baseball over the MLB Draft. He earned high praise from his coach, drawing comparisons to LSU standouts of the past.
“Dylan is one of those kids that arrives at LSU, and you know there’s something different about him,” Mainieri said. “[DJ] LeMahieu had that same aura, [Alex] Bregman had that aura, [Antoine] Duplantis had that aura. I tell him he has Bregman’s passion and LeMahieu’s swing.”
When asked about Morgan, Mainieri said he was surprised to see what his first baseman could do when he arrived on campus in the fall.
“I had no idea he was this good when we recruited him,” he said.
Just as he put Crews in a category with former LSU stars, he may have placed Morgan in an even more prestigious one.
“I’ve coached now, this will be my 39th year, and I would put him in a category of maybe five first basemen that I’ve coached in my entire lifetime as far as his defensive skill around first base,” he said.
Morgan’s defensive wizardry was on display Friday evening. He picked ball after ball out of the dirt, displayed his wingspan to reach for errant throws and nearly did a few full splits.
“He’s got the ability to pick balls in the dirt, but he’s also got the stretch and footwork on the bag to be able to give maximum distance,” Mainieri said. “He’s just got great instincts over there.”
Morgan’s defensive abilities at first base gave Mainieri enough confidence to move junior Cade Beloso from first base, the position he had played his entire collegiate career, to left field. Beloso and Morgan, coincidentally, are longtime friends. Their relationship goes back to their high school days in New Orleans, and Morgan says Beloso’s help in transitioning to the college game has been instrumental to his early success.
“He has such a mature approach,” Beloso said Friday. “He doesn’t act or play like a freshman. He’s been one of our best hitters. It’s been so good to see Tre’ come in and do well.”
Another position player that has caught the attention of coaches is Will Safford. Mainieri says Safford, who stands just 5-feet-8-inches tall, is “tough as nails” and a “baseball rat,” bringing up the fact that he was a safety on a state championship-winning football team in high school.
“I have to catch myself from saying little Will Safford,” Mainieri said. “I say that affectionately because I can look at him eye-to-eye.”
Others who Mainieri noted were outfielder Brody Drost, who he says is a “young, budding Greg Deichmann type of player” and infielder Jordan Thompson, who he says he feels “really good about.”
“The talent is there, there’s just inconsistencies right now,” Mainieri said about Thompson.
Mainieri also said he’s excited about new pitchers Garrett Edwards, Will Hellmers, Ty Floyd and Blake Money.
“They (Edwards and Hellmers) maybe weren’t the most highly touted guys out of high school, but they just pitch,” he said. “Ty Floyd has made a lot of improvement. Blake is really getting himself into great shape, and this kid is a personality as wide as the Mississippi River bridge.
“Some of these freshman arms are really going to
surprise some people. They are all team oriented and just want to be good baseball players.”
As the spring season kicked off last Friday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium, the freshmen of LSU baseball were the focus. You could sense what Mainieri had stressed, that they would be relied on in big moments and in key spots.
“They don’t really look like freshmen,” sophomore infielder Cade Doughty said. “It’s pretty incredible what they’re going to do.”
Junior right-hander and Preseason First Team All-American selection Jaden Hill kept it short and sweet, but may have said it as best as anyone could.
“The freshmen coming in are really going to make an impact.”