Very few things in life ever end up being worth the hype.
Star junior pitcher Alex Lange was a rare exception for LSU fans, and frankly, the entire city of Baton Rouge and state of Louisiana.
A prized recruit out of Lee’s Summitt West High School in Missouri, Lange signed with the Tigers in 2014 with a ton of fanfare.
He walked on campus as an immediate weekend starter—rare air for a young player in such a storied program.
Lange never disappointed, posting three-straight dominant seasons as LSU’s ace, helping push the team to new levels.
On June 12, he got the pay-off for his efforts and was selected in the first round (No. 30 overall) in the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs—a team more than capable of paying him seven figures in a professional deal.
That’s too much money for Lange to pass up. Barring the miraculous, he will take the deal and lose his final year of eligibility in Baton Rouge.
But Lange said no matter what happens in the pros, he has a permanent home at LSU—a place he said has his heart for the rest of his life.
“My years here were the best years of my life,” Lange said during Super Regional Weekend—after tossing solid innings to help LSU beat Mississippi State. “I learned so much as a pitcher and I grew so much as a person. The fans are great. My coaches and teammates have been great. I don’t regret anything and I wouldn’t change anything.”
But Lange is likely to be a dominant pro, as well, because all he’s ever done throughout his career at any level is get people out—most times with the strikeout.
Standing 6-foot, 3-inches and weighing just north of 200 pounds, Lange has done nothing but dominate since signing with LSU.
It’s a behavior he learned back in Missouri.
In high school, Lange cruised, posting a 12-0 record with a 0.82 ERA as a senior, striking out nearly two batters per inning (114 strikeouts in 68.1 innings).
While at the prep level, Lange was a five-time All-State selection and a 4.0 student—a member of the 2013 Under Armour All-American Team.
But unlike most dominant prep pitchers, Lange actually wasn’t drafted in the MLB Draft out of high school, which paved a clear path for him to enroll at LSU.
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri accepted him with open arms and immediately raved about the pitcher’s stuff from his first days on campus.
“He’s so poised,” Mainieri said in 2015 about his then-freshman arm. “He doesn’t act like a freshman out there. He’s wise beyond his years.”
As a freshman, Lange made good on his coach’s prognostications, taking college baseball by storm and showing everyone that he was perhaps underrated out of high school.
In 2015, Lange had one of the best seasons in LSU history, posting a 12-0 record with a 1.97 ERA. In 114 innings, he allowed just 87 hits and 25 earned runs, while striking out 131 hitters.
LSU went to the College World Series in that season and won one game in three tries.
Guess who got the win?
It was Lange—a complete-game victory over Cal-State Fullerton.
“The kid is electric,” Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said. “He’s going to be a special pitcher for a very, very long time.”
But Lange said losing at the College World Series was tough and dealing with all of his freshman success was even tougher, which made the 2016 season a little rough.
As a sophomore, virtually all of Lange’s numbers went down. He sometimes struggled with his command and had a few rough outings.
Truth is, even his “bad” season was still pretty good. He was 8-4 with a 3.79 ERA.
But unlike the 2015 team, which made it to Omaha, last year’s team lost in the Super Regionals—a stinging blow which resonated in the LSU locker room throughout the offseason.
That pain helped Lange bounce back in a big way in 2017, re-establishing himself as a top-tier All-American pitcher, while also again sending the Tigers back to the College World Series.
Lange said he savored every pitch of his junior season—holding on to every, single last moment while it lasted.
LSU fans showed their appreciation, too, offering the standout several curtain call moments in the year.
“I’ve been watching LSU baseball for 48 years of my 54 years of life,” said Bill Reeves, who frequently attends games at Alex Box Stadium. “That kid has been one of a kind – on the field and off it. He pitches well, but you can see he is a good kid. He signs balls for the young ones. He laughs and is well-spoken. He’s a great Tiger.”
With the Cubs, Lange’s next challenge will be climbing the ranks of minor league baseball—an often difficult climb.
But the Cubs believe he’s capable of doing it, obviously, if they spent that high of a pick on the right-handed pitcher.
Lange’s fast ball tops out at around 95 or 96 mph and he has a filthy curveball. At the next level, he will likely pick up a third pitch.
He projects as either a starter or reliever and Lange said he’s open to either.
After all, this kid just gets outs—that and making friends along the way, too.
“We are Cubs fans now,” said Tiffany Breaux, a life-long LSU fan, when hearing word of Lange’s draft position. “We’re going to root for him no matter what.”
Lange said he appreciates that sentiment, adding that walking off the diamond for the last time at The Box was hard, but an emotional moment that he’ll replay in his mind forever.
“It was a pretty emotional day today, to be honest with you,” Lange said after his Super Regional start, his final outing in Baton Rouge. “A lot of thinking. Just reminiscing on how awesome this university is, and how much these fans and this team means to me. It was pretty cool coming off (the mound), obviously, and you don’t want to be down, but that’s something I’ll remember forever. It was a pretty emotional moment.”
Photo by Sean Gasser.