BATON ROUGE, La. — Now that the 2017 LSU baseball season is behind us, it’s officially time to start waiting ’til next year.
Waiting is a frustrating game, though. To make things a little more bearable, we’re forecasting ahead at what the LSU lineup might look like in February.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of players. We’ve included those we deemed most likely to compete for positions.
Departing: RF Greg Deichmann
Returning: LF Antoine Duplantis, CF Zach Watson
Incoming: OF Daniel Cabrera
The outfield takes the smallest hit with two-thirds of the starters returning. But it also loses the biggest hitter. Replacing Deichmann and his 19 home runs and 73 RBI will be one of the bigger challenges Paul Mainieri faces next year. No returning player has his pop, though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Josh Smith or Jake Slaughter develop more power.
Deichmann’s most likely replacement in right is incoming freshman Daniel Cabrera. Cabrera also pitched at Parkview Baptist High School, so he has the arm needed for a right fielder.
Departing: SS Kramer Robertson, 2B Cole Freeman
Returning: 3B Josh Smith, 1B Jake Slaughter, 1B Nick Coomes, IF Rankin Woley, IF Chris Reid
Incoming: 2B Brandt Broussard, 2B Hal Hughes
All the Tigers have to do here is replace a senior double-play combination. No sweat, right?
Josh Smith is arguably the smoothest infielder on the team already, so logic dictates that he will be LSU’s next shortstop. And that’s probably what will end up happening, but it’s rare for a player to field third base as naturally as he does. Slaughter also played shortstop in high school, and if he can do the same next year it could be beneficial. Whichever mysterious person figured out the calculation for “Wins Above Replacement” probably would give the Tigers more credit in that metric with Smith at third.
Cole Freeman’s replacement could end up being his clone — a scrappy transfer from Delgado Community College named Brandt Broussard.
Broussard wasn’t even part of the picture until LSU signee Andrew Bechtold opted to ink his pro contract instead. A Baton Rouge University High grad, Broussard hit .429 at Delgado this year. By comparison, Freeman hit .385 at Delgado in 2015.
Current freshman Rankin Woley is another candidate to take over at second base. There’s also Hal Hughes, an incoming freshman from Norman, Okla., who could crack the starting lineup the same way Smith and Slaughter did this season.
Should Smith move to short, Chris Reid potentially would win back the third base job that he ceded to Smith this season.
Departing: Michael Papierski
Returning: Nick Coomes
Incoming: Hunter Feduccia, Mason Doolittle
Papierski, drafted by the Houston Astros in the ninth round, will be the hardest player to replace on LSU’s roster. Papierski will sign his contract on Monday.
Coomes started seven games behind the dish, so there’s a chance he could win the job next year. Hunter Feduccia is a promising transfer from LSU-Eunice who hit .394 with 6 homers in 52 games. If Mainieri trusts a freshman to handle a young pitching staff, Mason Doolittle also could come in and become LSU’s starter.
Returning: Bryce Jordan, Beau Jordan
The Jordan twins will return to their full powers next year as Bryce comes back from the torn right ACL that kept him out of the lineup this season.
An all-SEC DH in 2016, Bryce figures to be the starter. But if Beau swings well enough in fall ball, Mainieri might have to contemplate moving one of them into the field to get both into the lineup.
Departing: Alex Lange, Jared Poché
Returning: Eric Walker
This is where things get tricky.
We’re still awaiting news on Eric Walker’s MRI, the results of which will tell us whether he’s able to pitch next year. If the news is good, it’s a huge boost to the Tigers as he figures to be the Friday night starter. If the news is bad, LSU faces the prospect of replacing its entire rotation next season.
Regardless of Walker’s condition, we can assume Caleb Gilbert will have a place in the rotation. He showed what he’s capable of with an unexpected 7.1-inning gem in LSU’s must-win game against Oregon State in the CWS semifinal.
Zack Hess has the stuff to be a starter, but has anyone ever had a better mentality to be a closer? Necessity probably will move Hess into the rotation, but there’s no one on the current roster more capable of being lights-out on the back end.
Incoming freshman Nick Storz, who eschewed his 31st-round selection by the Detroit Tigers, will have a shot at the rotation. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, it seems like he also could quite easily fill Hess’ role as an end-of-game intimidator.
Todd Peterson, Matthew Beck and Nick Bush are other potential candidates for the Sunday starting gig. Each were wild at times as freshmen, but with better control, any one of them is capable of being in the rotation — whether it’s weekend or mid-week.