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July 21, 2014
Start of new period for LSU baseball
The beginning of preseason football practice may be just two weeks away, but the LSU baseball program was on center stage Monday safternoon.
With the deadline for drafted players last Friday, Tigers coach Paul Mainieri announced his 12-member 2014 signing class Monday. LSU only had one of its recruits sign with a major league baseball team - first baseman Bobby Bradley with the Cleveland Indians (third round).
Also on Monday, Mainieri introduced Andy Cannizaro as the Tigers' recruiting coordinator/hitting coach. Cannizaro is replacing Javi Sanchez, who had been an assistant under Mainieri at LSU for seven years.
The Tigers will be bringing back a core group of three-year starters in 2015 - shortstop Alex Bregman and outfielders Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson. But, Monday was the beginning of a new era for a LSU baseball program, which has made one College World Series appearance in the last five years.
First, there is the shift from Sanchez to Cannizaro. This change will have a huge impact on the Tigers as Cannizaro will not only be the lead recruiter, but will also be in charge of the hitters.
Cannizaro, who was the shortstop on the Tulane team which defeated LSU in the 2001 super-regional series at Zephyr Field, was on the fast track in the New York Yankees scouting department. Cannizaro had represented the Yankees at the past two major league baseball drafts.
Few college programs were going to be able to get Cannizaro to leave the crown jewel of major league baseball organizations.
"I loved working for the New York Yankees where the demands and expectations are greater than any other organization in major league baseball," Cannizaro said. "Joining the LSU baseball family means I am coming to the New York Yankees of college baseball.
"At LSU, there is the tradition, the passion, the demands and the expectations. I embrace the expectations and I look forward to the challenge. It was going to take a special place and an opportunity to work for a real special head coach for me to change."
Sanchez developed into a very good recruiter during his time at LSU. Mainieri believes Sanchez' final class could be ranked No. 1 in the country. Cannizaro has spent the past five seasons evaluating many of the same players Sanchez had been recruiting.
"I will take a lot of the concepts and the way I evaluated players into college baseball," Cannizaro said. "The pro guys and the college guys see the same players in summer ball. Javi and I have seen the same guys in summer tournaments."
Of course, Cannizaro will be coaching on the field for the first time in his career. He will be working with the outfielders as well as instructing all of the LSU hitters.
"I want to keep it simple," Cannizaro said. "The biggest goal is to have the hitters keep the ball on the barrel of the bat. They need to swing at strikes and have plate discipline. You need to use the whole field and have competitive at-bats. You don't just swing at strikes. You swing at the pitch you hit best.
"As a scout, you build relationships with players. Then, if you sign them, you turn them over to player development and you never see them on the field. I hope to develop that relationship in recruiting. But, now I will be able to coach them on the field and work with them."
The success LSU will have next season will depend greatly upon the performance of the six pitchers who will be entering the program. Three were drafted last month - Jake Latz, Mac Marshall and Jake Godfrey. The other three pitchers are Austin Bain, Alex Lange and Doug Norman.
"Our main goal was to bring in power arms," Mainieri said. "We wanted guys who could make a difference. We accomplished that. We will have deep pitching staff next year. It will be a very competitive fall."
Of course, the most noted of the power arms is Marshall, who turned down $1.1 million last Friday from the Houston Astros to come to LSU. Marshall, who has been at LSU summer school, wanted $1.5 million. Houston did not have that available money for Marshall.
"I just had to wait until 4 o'clock last Friday to see what was going to happen," Marshall said. "The LSU program speaks for itself. They contend for a national championship every year. Then AD (Alan Dunn) is the best pitching coach in the country."
Dunn is enthused about working with this group of freshmen pitchers, all of whom throw at least 90 miles per hour.
"There are power pitchers and power arms," Dunn said. "Power pitchers are guys with stuff and the ability to pitch with that stuff. Arm strength will not get people out. You have to throw the ball in the strike zone.
"Velocity allows you to make a few mistakes at times. If you are not throwing the ball in the zone, a power arm will not let you be successful. The guys we have coming in have shown they can throw the ball in the strike zone."