By Zachary Junda
Welcome back to DIG’s series on the All-Paul Mainieri team. If you missed part one about our dream weekend rotation, setup man and closer click here. Now that you’re all caught up, let’s dive right in to the best infielders to have played under Coach Mainieri.
First Base: Mason Katz
Katz is one of the best hitters of not only the Mainieri era, but in school history. Katz finished his career with a .341 average, 52 doubles (ninth in LSU history), 33 homers and 190 RBIs (10th all-time). In his four seasons in Baton Rouge, Katz never hit below .300 (his lowest output was a .318 average his freshman season.) The man was an RBI machine. Here’s his RBI totals and where they ranked in the SEC from his sophomore season on: 53-8th, 52-6th and 70-1st. That’s what you want out of a first baseman. Katz’s best season was his senior year and it was something out of this world: Katz hit .370 with 16 homers, 70 RBIs and left approximately 37 different opposing pitchers think “…wait, is he using the old bats? I thought those were banned?” Which is a good thing. I want my best batter to make pitchers think “Something tells me he’s using the old metal bats, and those things hit homers easier than Hawkeye shooting the Chitauri in The Avengers. Better pitch around him.” Katz’s power surge peaked from March 9 through 16. Katz homered in five consecutive games, and launched a total of seven bombs in that stretch. Mason Katz, obviously you weren’t using any illegal bats or anything in 2013, but considering the fear you put in pitchers that year, it was fun thinking you were.
Honorable Mention: Sean Ochinko
Second Base: Jacoby Jones
The first word that comes to mind when I think of Jacoby Jones? Athlete. I know it sounds obvious to say that a college athlete playing baseball at a major program is in fact athletic, but man when you saw Jones you saw a guy who could do it all effortlessly. Jones will probably be a terrible baseball coach if he ever decided to be one, because the stuff that he can do can’t be taught. That’s naturally born athleticism. You know those five tool prospects scouts rave about? Jones is one of those cats. He could run, throw, field the ball, hit for power and hit for average. Anything you could think of, Jones could do it. He was the Tigers starting second baseman the day he stepped on campus. He was that talented. As a freshman he batted .338, drove in 32 and stole 12 bases en route to Freshman All-American status. He never hit above .300 his last two years at LSU (even hitting a concerning .253 in 2012), but all of his other offensive numbers were consistent with his 2011 year. Jones’ five-tool status was in full display against Oklahoma in the 2013 Super Regional, where he hit 5-for-7 with a double, triple and a homer and flashed some serious defense prowess. Next time you see a Jones highlight and you start to think can this guy really do it all? The answer is, emphatically, yes.
Honorable Mention: Ryan Schimpf
Shortstop: Austin Nola
The absence of Alex Bregman may surprise some people. We’ll get to that later, but first let’s sing the song of Austin Nola, the guy who started at shortstop for four years, including as a freshman for that 2009 National Title team; a guy who, coming out of high school was a 48th round pick by the Rockies and worked his stock all the way up to a fifth round pick by the Marlins his last year at LSU. The “other Nola” started 219 games at shortstop. This was a guy that Mainieri could not take off the field. Now back to the Bregman-Nola debate. Picking Nola over Bregman isn’t like Motley Crue having to replace Vince Neil with John Corabi where one guy (Neil. Obviously) is infinitely better than the other. This is more like Sammy Hagar taking over Van Halen for David Lee Roth. You’ll get solid production from either one. Bregman is a much better athlete and hitter than Nola and he’s improving year by year defensively. And yet I’m still taking Nola as my starting shortstop. You know why? Because even in these fantasy all-whatever teams, you have to have an intangibles guy, and Nola’s the one for this team. Here’s some descriptions of him in his LSUSports.net bio:
- “Very hard worker who is always looking to improve.”
- “Led LSU’s philanthropic efforts and was twice named to the SEC Community service team.”
- “A two time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.”
Those quotes aren’t meant to smear Bregman’s reputation, but those things said about Nola? Those are the intangibles of a guy that every team needs to have. You want a grounded, hardworking guy who doesn’t rest on his laurels. Nola’s my Tim Duncan. The type of teammate that you want to play with. And, oh by the way, Nola’s no scrub either. He only hit .300 once, but in two other years he hit .299 and .296. He could crank out doubles with ease, hitting 13 or more his sophomore year on. And Nola’s terrific in the field as well. His senior year, he had a fielding percentage of .980. Austin Nola is a great teammate, a hard worker and a very intelligent guy. But don’t forget, he’s a damn good shortstop too.
Honorable Mention: Alex Bregman
Third Base: Alex Bregman
I know, I know I’m cheating here, but come on, you thought I’d leave Bregman off this team? No chance. Instead we’re going to do the Jeter/A-Rod thing and slide one of them over to third. Bregman’s too good to keep off the field to not be on this team in some capacity. The best thing that could’ve happened to LSU Baseball was Bregman getting injured his senior year of high school. That caused his draft stock to plummet and as a result, Bregman came to Baton Rouge and only earned National Freshman of the Year, Shortstop of the Year, First Team All-American, SEC Freshman of the Year and First Team All-SEC honors. Ho hum. Bregman’s freshman season was like Return of the King at the 2004 Oscars. They both won a whole bunch of stuff and it was all deservedly so. This past season Bregman “only” hit .318, which I suppose is a letdown, but hey that’s what happens when you hit .369 the year before. Bregman did however make drastic improvements in the field this year. Where defense may have been Bregman’s Achilles heel in 2013, as best shown by his costly error against UCLA in the College World Series, Bregman made strides in 2014. He brought his fielding percentage up from .932 to a respectable .966 and he made a couple of jaw dropping plays in the SEC Tournament this year. Plays that you can only make unless you’re athletically gifted enough. Alex Bregman has been one of the best players in America from the get go, don’t expect any less in 2015.
Honorable Mentions: Tyler Hanover, Christian Ibara
Catcher: Ty Ross
Ty Ross can’t hit to save his life. It’s sad but it’s true. He had a fluke 2012 season where somehow he hit .292, but in his other two seasons as LSU’s catcher these were his batting averages: .223 in 2011 and .217 in 2013. I remember there was a point in time in the 2013 season where Ross was in danger of finishing the season hitting in the .190s. Fun fact, in his three years at LSU Ty Ross hit a total of seven homeruns. In a five game span in 2013, Mason Katz hit, wait for it…seven home runs. Yeesh. But! Ross doesn’t have to worry about swinging a bat on this team. If he makes contact, great! If not, well that’s baseball for you. No, what Ross brings you is defense, defense and defense a third time. That’s why he started almost a whole Major League season worth of games (161) in three years at LSU. As a freshman Ross threw out 10 guys trying to steal. That number increased to 16 as a sophomore. Finally, he threw out 19 guys his junior season. If nothing else he’s got a cannon of an arm going for him.
Honorable Mention: Micah Gibbs