By Trey Mongrue
Outside of metal bats and the middle-America pageantry of Omaha, Neb., one of the more unique things in the world of college baseball is how a coach puts his signing class together.
The process starts with hundreds of coaches scouring the country for prospects, then the recruiting pitches begin, just like it is with any other NCAA sport. But unlike football and basketball, the recruitment doesn’t end when a high school baseball player signs letter of intent. The coach then has to compete with the Major League Baseball Draft and having professional teams throw seven figure-checks at the best prospects.
Whether it has been Zack Von Rosenberg, Zach Lee or Nick Longhi, LSU coach Paul Mainieri has seen a signing class or two lose its crown jewel due to the allure of pro ball.
“Every kid wants to play professional baseball,” said Mainieri. “You know that going in.”
So when it seemed like the Houston Astros were going to swipe the highly touted left-handed pitcher Mac Marshall away from LSU on the last day the MLB teams could sign draftees, Mainieri was rightfully antsy.
But July 18th came and went and Marshall remains at LSU. And if he is upset about having to delay his dreams of toeing the rubber in a MLB game, he is wearing a heck of a poker face.
“I kind of knew the outcome was that I was going to stay and I was excited about that,” said Marshall who is one of eight incoming freshmen that are enrolled at LSU for the summer semester. “I’m happy to be here and I can’t wait to get back for the fall to get ready for the season.”
Despite having yet to actually put on a LSU uniform, Marshall’s journey to this point has already been one that has taken many detours. The Lilburn, Ga. native has had many potential destinations before finally settling on Louisiana.
Heading into the MLB draft, Marshall viewed himself as a first round talent, but due largely to his solid commitment to LSU, it took until the 21st round when the Astros finally selected him.
After turning down an initial offer of $1.1 million, Marshall, his family and Mainieri all figured he was in the clear to go to LSU. But that changed when the Astros contacted him two weeks before the signing deadline following the organization’s troubles of coming to a deal with first overall pick and fellow pitcher, Brady Aiken.
“I really didn’t have much contact with the Astros until the whole Brady thing happened,” recalled Marshall. “After that, they called my family and we thought it would be kind of foolish not to think about it.”
But as the deadline approached and the stalemate between the Astros and Aiken continued, Marshall was held in limbo, much to Mainieri displeasure.
“Mac told me before the draft that he wanted to be a first round pick and wanted $1.5 million,” he said. “Had he gotten that, I would’ve shook his hand, wished him well and had no bad feeling whatsoever. It didn’t happen for him so he dealt with the disappointment but put it behind him and geared himself up to come to LSU and has worked hard all summer.
“But then all of the sudden because of this alleged elbow problem of Brady Aiken, Houston circles back and starts talking to Mac,” Mainieri continued. “The poor kid, you can’t imagine the emotions he was dealing with for something like that.”
In the final hours, Houston could not come to terms with Aiken, which cost them roughly $8 million in signing bonus money. For a Friday afternoon that had many LSU fans and coaches sitting on pins and needles, the Astros never extended a final offer to Marshall.
“Going from high school to getting drafted, it’s the goal for any kid,” Marshall explained. “But when you put things in perspective, you can only go to college once.”
Following the deadline, Mainieri made sure to contact Marshall to make sure that his new pitcher was feeling okay with the way everything transpired.
“It has taken him a couple of days to kind of shake it off now,” Mainieri said. “He’s a really good kid and I don’t have any doubt that he’ll digest this and get back out there working as hard as anybody.”
It’s no secret why Mainieri wanted Marshall at LSU.
In his four seasons at Parkview High School where he won two state championships, the lanky 6-foot-2, 185-pound Marshall showed a three-pitch arsenal that includes a fastball that can get up to 94 miles-per-hour and a sweeping curveball.
As a senior, he posted a 9-1 record and went nearly 40 innings before giving up his first earned run of the season, which earned him the Gwinnett County Pitcher of the Year and a spot on the under-18 United States National Team, which won a gold medal.
“As long as I’ve got command to get ahead in the count,” Marshall says of his pitching, “velocity comes later in the count when you need it, but it’s more about placing your pitches and trusting the defense behind you.”
Marshall admits that LSU was “a dream school” for him when he saw the likes of Mikie Mahtook, Louis Coleman and Jared Mitchell hoist the program’s sixth College World Series trophy in 2009. However, before LSU even knew who he was, Marshall committed to play for Georgia, just an hour drive from Lilburn, before his freshman season at Parkview even began.
But after Bulldogs head coach David Perno was fired after the 2013 season, Marshall reopened his commitment and the first team to call him was LSU.
“You could see the talent level very quickly,” said LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn who made a few trips out to Georgia to watch Marshall pitch. “He is a guy that has pitched in big games and has expectations thrust on him in high school and met them head on.”
While Georgia remained on his radar, along with other Southeastern Conference teams such as Alabama and Vanderbilt, Marshall’s recruitment ended after a visit to LSU. Although he went in with high expectations, he was still blown away.
“It exceeded everything I thought it would be, it was just incredible.” Marshall remembered of his trip to Baton Rouge. “When you walk into Alex Box, you just go, ‘wow’. Then you walk around the locker room and the Champions Circle and you’re immediately hooked.
“They had me right away.”
With more than four years of questions on where he would play now firmly in the past, Marshall is just happy that he can go back to fully concentrating on baseball once again. As one of the headline pitchers on the top signing class in the country, he comes on the heels of the departure of one of LSU’s best pitchers of all-time in Aaron Nola.
In fact, Mainieri hopes that there is not too much outside pressure being placed on him. It’s not even a given that he will make it into the weekend rotation right away.
“It’s kind of like Leonard Fournette and everybody is going to expect this kid to throw every pitch 100 mph for a strike,” he joked. “He’s got a long way to go to become Aaron Nola.”
Marshall welcomes the pressure, though. And while he knows that he is not Nola or Kevin Gausman, it doesn’t mean that he can’t make his own name at LSU.
He knows that professional baseball will come eventually, but for now all he wants to do is to add another trophy to the collection.
“I get to live my dream out here,” he said. “I just want to become the best pitcher here and win national championships, that’s the goal here.”