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June 15, 2012

Doing the most with talent at hand

Three Southeastern Conference teams find themselves in the College World Series which will start Friday in Omaha.

No one should be surprised by the three SEC representatives - Florida, South Carolina and Arkansas. The Gators were the preseason favorites to win the national title after coming up empty in appearances at the CWS the past two years.

The Gamecocks have won back-to-back national titles and have rolled off 21 consecutive NCAA tournament victories. The Razorbacks were the preseason favorites to capture the SEC West crown - ahead of LSU.

The Tigers did come up short of a trip to Omaha as they were beaten by unheralded Stony Brook in the rubber game of the Baton Rouge Super-Regional last Sunday night.

LSU's Paul Mainieri didn't win the SEC Coach of the Year Award, which went to Kentucky's Gary Henderson. But, according to the major league scouts, Mainieri should have been the winner of that honor.

The Tigers won the SEC regular season championship by one-half game ahead of South Carolina. From a talent standpoint, LSU trailed a few other SEC teams.

The Tigers had five players drafted. Five SEC teams - Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt - had more players selected than LSU. South Carolina had the same number of draftees as the Tigers.

LSU had more players drafted than five teams - Auburn, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Tennessee. Of that group of teams, only Mississippi State made the NCAA tournament. The five players were the fewest draft choices for the Tigers since 2007, Mainieri's first year as coach.

Three of LSU's draft choices went in the first ten rounds - pitchers Kevin Gausman and Nick Goody and shortstop Austin Nola. Florida and South Carolina had more players selected in the first ten rounds. Arkansas and Vanderbilt had the same number of players picked in the first ten rounds as the Tigers.

If major league scouts were putting together an all-SEC team, the only LSU representative would be Gausman. Nola was the No. 2 shortstop - behind Florida's Nolan Fontana. Goody was the No. 4 reliever - behind Florida's Steven Rodriguez and Austin Maddox and Vanderbilt's Drew Verhagen.

Raph Rhymes, the league's Player of the Year, was the tenth SEC outfielder drafted. Ten infielders, excluding first basemen, were chosen ahead of Tigers third baseman Tyler Hanover.

Now, one may wonder why there was a lack of experienced professional baseball-caliber talent on the 2012 LSU roster. But, it is unfair to criticize the work done by Mainieri and his staff this season on the field.

One can make a case that five teams had more talent that the Tigers this season - Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. Three of those teams are in Omaha - Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina. The other two teams - Kentucky and Vanderbilt - won two of three games from LSU.

But, when the ten-week grind of the SEC schedule was over, the Tigers were sitting alone in first place. Since the SEC went to a 30-game regular-season schedule in 1997, LSU had won the outright league title on just two other occasions - 1997 and 2003.

Tigers national championship teams in 2000 and 2009 were unable to accomplish that feat. The 2000 team finished second to South Carolina, while the 2009 team shared the title with Ole Miss. Mainieri and his staff should receive high marks for what they did with the available personnel.

Here is a breakdown by SEC school of last week's major league baseball draft.

9 draft picks - 8 in the first ten rounds: C Mike Zunino (1), P Brian Johnson (1), SS Nolan Fontana (2), P Steven Rodriguez (2), P Austin Maddox (3), OF Preston Tucker (7), P Hudson Randall (7), OF Daniel Pigott (9)

9 draft picks - 2 in the first ten rounds: OF Brian Adams (8), C Luke Maile (8)

8 draft picks - 3 in the first ten rounds: 3B Matt Reynolds (2), P Nolan Sanburn (2), P D.J. Baxendale (10)

6 draft picks - 3 in the first ten rounds: P Sam Selman (2), P Drew Verhagen (4), SS Anthony Gomez (6)

6 draft picks - 2 in first ten rounds: 2B Alex Yarbrough (4), 1B Matt Snyder (10)

5 draft picks - 4 in first ten rounds: 1B Christian Walker (4), P Matt Price (7), OF Evan Marzilli (8), P Michael Roth (9)

5 draft picks - 3 in first ten rounds: P Kevin Gausman (1), SS Austin Nola (5), P Nick Goody (6)

4 draft picks - 1 in first ten rounds: P Derek Varnadore (9)

3 draft picks - 1 in first ten rounds: OF Taylor Dugas (8)

3 draft picks - 1 in first ten rounds: P Alex Wood (2)

3 draft picks - 1 in first ten rounds: P Chris Stratton (1)

1 draft pick - 1 in first ten rounds: P Drew Steckenrider (8)



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