BATON ROUGE, La. — After his pitching rotation and his catcher, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri lists finding defensive replacements at second and third base as his third most pressing concern heading into the 2018 season.
With second baseman Cole Freeman and shortstop Kramer Robertson moving on to pro ball, the Tigers have two holes in their infield. The hole at shortstop will almost certainly be filled by Josh Smith, the Tigers’ starting third baseman in 2017. But moving Smith to shortstop just creates another hole.
Mainieri listed a host of LSU baseball players who could fill the spots, some familiar names and some newcomers. But the most familiar – and perhaps anger-inducing – name on the list of rising sophomore Jake Slaughter.
A right-hander who hit .257 in 53 games and 40 starts as a freshman in 2017, Slaughter is perhaps best known as the player who erased a run off the scoreboard in a College World Series loss with a takeout slide. But Slaughter is more than his notorious mistake.
A natural shortstop, Mainieri said he would feel comfortable playing Slaughter there if he didn’t have Smith. But thanks to Slaughter’s range, Mainieri said the former first baseman will slot easily at either second base or third base, whichever one better suits his talents.
“I certainly think that Jake could play second base or third base defensively and at minimum be adequate,” Mainieri said Wednesday. “At best, he can be outstanding like we had with Cole Freeman [at second base] and Josh Smith and third base.”
Mainieri said he expects Slaughter to probably win one of those positions. But he’s not the only returning player competing for the job. Described by Mainieri as “old reliable,” infielder Chris Reid is returning for his junior year. Reid is working at both second base and third base this summer with the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the Prospect League.
There’s also Rankin Woley, who had surgery Wednesday on his arm and will have another surgery on his other arm later in the summer to relieve stress and tension that he felt when he swung his bat. When he’s recovered and rehabbed, Woley will figure in as an option at either position.
As will junior college transfer Brandt Broussard. Broussard took an eerily similar path to LSU as Freeman did, transferring to LSU after two years at Delgado Community College. But where Freeman hit .380 as a sophomore at Delgado, Broussard hit .425 last year per Mainieri.
Like Reid, Mainieri said Broussard has been working at both second and third this summer. But Broussard isn’t the only incoming infielder.
The LSU baseball team can also call on Hal Hughes to play anywhere in the infield. The freshman son of former Oklahoma coach Pete Hughes is a multi-positionalist who is capable of playing second base, shortstop and third base. That said, Mainieri said he isn’t sure if Hughes is ready for the everyday rigors of a starting spot.
“Right now I wouldn’t say he has the body strength to be an everyday player,” Mainieri said. “But I think that he’ll get stronger and he’s very fundamentally sound with his swing… I know that he can play defense for us and at the very least he’ll be a valuable utility player for us. As he gets stronger and older and starts to swing the bat with a little more authority, hopefully he’ll be able to fight his way into the starting lineup at some point.”
Until fall practice begins, Mainieri won’t know what he has in Slaughter, Reid, Woley, Broussard and Hughes. But he’s pretty sure of what he’s got in Smith.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Josh Smith is going to be capable of being our every day shortstop,” Mainieri said. “He’s playing everyday shortstop for Harwich in the Cape Cod League right now. I talked to his coach on a couple of different occasions and the guy just can’t rave about Josh adequately enough to satisfy him. He thinks Josh is really outstanding. Unless something shocks me, I think Josh will end up being our shortstop.”