The Tigers open the 2016 season Feb. 19 against Cincinnati at Alex Box Stadium. LSU’s team has many returners, but it also has plenty holes to fill.
Here are five unknowns who have to be big for the Tigers if they hope to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament in 2016:
1. Jake Latz, LHP
When Jake Latz signed with LSU in 2014 after being drafted in the 11th round of the MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, there were plenty of people (myself included) who expected huge things from Latz in Baton Rouge. Those plans fell to pieces in 2015 when the powerful lefty suffered a stress reaction in his left elbow and was given a medical redshirt. LSU coach Paul Mainieri expects Latz to be ready for late April or May, and the lefty could play a huge role for the Tigers once he’s fully healthy. Don’t be shocked if he ends up being an integral piece of the Tigers’ pitching rotation by the end of the season.
2. Austin Bain, RHP
I thought Bain’s contributions last season were incredibly overlooked. As a freshman, the Louisiana-born righty made an impact, helping the Tigers eat up 54.2 innings, while recording a 2-3 record and a 3.95 ERA. With an entire offseason to polish his craft and work on control, there’s little doubt that Bain will have a better season as a sophomore. He should be a pretty consistent innings-eater again this spring.
3. Michael Papierski, C
The teammate of Latz in high school and a 16th round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2014 MLB Draft, many folks were a bit disappointed by Papierski’s .214 average last season as a freshman. But the young catcher’s highlight tape is pretty sick, so we’d be very shocked if he wasn’t able to hit for a much higher average this year, which would enable him to get consistent, regular playing time.
4. Jordan Romero, C
LSU always seems to find a way to strike gold with junior college transfers, and Romero might just be the next in line. The new Tigers catcher was both an offensive and defensive threat at LSU-Eunice, earning a Gold Glove in 2015 by the National Junior College Athletic Association. At the plate, Romero batted .345 in 42 games, while being elected as the Bengals’ team captain. Romero and Papierski will battle one another heavily for time at the dish, and whoever isn’t on the diamond will certainly be a valuable weapon as a pinch-hitter and/or a late-game defensive substitution.
5. Collin Strall, RHP
The average LSU baseball fan may not even know who Strall is, but he figures to be an important piece in the Tigers’ bullpen this spring. The strike-throwing pitcher recorded a 3-0 record for LSU last season in just 18.1 innings, including a couple wins in SEC play. In the offseason, Strall worked on his velocity, which should allow for his giant leap forward.