BATON ROUGE, La. — For at least a month, the LSU baseball team will be without sophomore shortstop Josh Smith, who is out with a back injury. In his place, LSU will rely on freshman Hal Hughes, a utility infielder known more for his defense than his offense.
“I think we all have known since the first day of the fall that I’m really excited about Hal Hughes,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think Hal Hughes can step in and do a tremendous job defensively for us. He’s not the offensive force that Josh is, of course, not many are, but Hal can be a productive offensive player.
“I think he can handle the bat, he can be a tough out, he can lay down the bunt and steal a bag. He doesn’t have to go out there and hit .400 to be a good player for us. But the most important thing Hal can do for us is go out and make the plays at shortstop. I don’t have any doubt he’ll do that.”
Speaking with the media on Tuesday, Hughes couldn’t help but feel badly for Smith, but he’s also thrilled to see what he can do as an everyday player.
“It’s pretty cool,” Hughes said of taking over at shortstop. “I hate this for Josh. I really feel for him. He’s worked so hard to get to where he’s at right now, so I feel terrible for him. But at the same time, I’m ready to go. I’m excited to get my opportunity and I’m just going to run with it.”
With Hughes poised to take over at shortstop, here are five things you need to know about the new LSU contributor:
1. He is versatile
Prior to this injury, Hughes was LSU’s backup at shortstop, second base and third base. Mainieri hinted during the preseason that in late-game situations, he favored putting Hughes in at third base and moving third baseman Jake Slaughter to first base to give LSU its best possible defensive lineup.
2. He’s a coach’s son
Hughes is the son of former Virginia Tech and Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes. The elder Hughes won more than 500 games as a head coach, 250 of which came at Boston College, where he often coached against Mainieri, who worked at Notre Dame at the time. Pete now works as an assistant coach at Georgia.
3. His defense isn’t a myth
For his efforts in high school, Hughes was voted the 2017 Oklahoma Defensive Player of the Year. He made just one error during his entire senior season.
4. Where he goes, teams win
Hughes is the winningest player in the history of his high school, leading his program to district championships as a freshman and senior and region championships as a sophomore and junior.
5. He’ll hit near the back of the lineup
Though he hit .360 as a high school senior, Hughes’ bat doesn’t define him. The freshman is more of a spray hitter who will be used for singles and sacrifice bunts, likely from the No. 8 or No. 9 spot in the lineup. Between him and junior college transfer second baseman Brandt Broussard, LSU’s middle infield shouldn’t pack too much of a punch over the next month.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
The Tigers host New Orleans on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. CT at Alex Box Stadium. The game will be available for stream online through WatchESPN.