Cain settling in as top recruiter
Last week, coach Paul Mainieri announced the players in LSU’s 2017 baseball recruiting class.
There will be 18 newcomers to the Tigers program – meaning more than half of next season’s roster will be first-year players. In football, such a turnover would not result in high expectations. But, Mainieri stressed that LSU is expected to make another run at a College World Series berth.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Mainieri said. “We will not enter the season as highly touted as we were last year. But, I feel very confident about this group and I’m really looking forward to working with them.”
Recruiting in baseball is the most challenging of any college sport. As is becoming the case in football, baseball players are committing earlier and earlier. LSU has 17 commitments for its 2018 class and 11 commitments for its 2019 class.
Then, travel ball coaches have more impact with the players than the high school coaches. So, college recruiters must develop relationships with two coaching staffs. In addition, college teams will lose their signees two months before they are supposed to enroll because of the major league draft.
LSU had four of its top signees opt for professional baseball after being drafted in June. So, new Tigers recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain had to go to work after the team returned from the CWS. Cain had to fill up the new openings on the 2018 roster.
“We had to form a backup plan as the 2017 class came together,” Cain said. “You have to listen to what the scouts are saying about (signees). You have to be able to pick up a JUCO arm when things go sideways in the draft.”
LSU signed four players following the draft – three junior college players and one high school player. Three of these newcomers were pitchers – freshman AJ Labas and junior college transfers Clay Moffitt and Brandon Nowak.
Labas had signed with North Florida, but asked for his release after coach Smoke Laval was fired. Major league scouts are quite high on the 6-3, 215 pounder from Fleming Island (Fla.). Moffitt, the son of LSU conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt, played at LSU-Eunice.
Nowak, who played at Oakton (Ill.) Community College, is a 6-4 southpaw who can earn a role in the bullpen. Nowak had originally committed to Miami. The fourth newcomer is infielder Brandt Broussard, who played at Delgado Community College in New Orleans.
“You hope to find a premium arm lying around after the draft,” Cain said. “We may have gotten two of those guys in Labas and Nowak.”
So, Cain has been doing double duty since the conclusion of the College World Series – filling holes left by draft defections and building the recruiting classes for the next two years.
“I wanted to get out this summer and see the kids we have committed,” Cain said. “I want to build relationships with those players and make them feel comfortable with me.”
Mainieri is extremely pleased with Cain’s work since replacing Andy Cannizaro as recruiting coordinator last November.
“Nolan Cain is going to be a superstar in the coaching profession,” Mainieri said. “Coaching is so much about relationships. He has great rapport with travel team coaches and pro scouts. Nolan gets along with everyone who can influence these kids. Plus, his evaluations are good.
“Andy had a lot to do with this class. It was important for Nolan to emerge this year. He jumped in his first week and did a fantastic job. We have not slipped a bit.”
Newcomers could fill as many as three everyday positions in 2018. The top catchers are projected to be freshman Mason Doolittle and junior college transfer Hunter Feduccia. Broussard is a candidate for second base, while freshmen Daniel Cabrera and Nick Webre will compete for the open outfield spot.
Of course, LSU needs many of the 11 new pitchers to be able to log significant innings. With Eric Walker out due to Tommy John surgery, Zack Hess and Caleb Gilbert are the only two established pitchers on the 2018 staff.
“Somebody will emerge like an Eric Walker, an Alex Lange or a Jared Poche did as a freshman,” Mainieri said. “I couldn’t have told you in the summer before their freshman year that they would be a starting pitcher.
“We must expedite the learning process this year. We have a handful of junior college pitchers. It happens a little quicker for them.”
Here is the 2018 LSU baseball roster by class.
P Austin Bain, 6-1, 190, Geismar Dutchtown High School
1B Nick Coomes, 5-11, 195, LSU-Eunice – will miss fall practice due to hip surgery
OF Beau Jordan, 5-9, 200, Lake Charles Barbe High School
OF Brennan Breaux, 6-0, 180, Lafayette St. Thomas More High School
IF Brandt Broussard, 5-10, 160, Delgado (La.) Community College
OF Antoine Duplantis, 5-11, 180, Lafayette High School
C Hunter Feduccia, 6-2, 200, LSU-Eunice
P Caleb Gilbert, 6-2, 180, Hoover (Ala.)
1B Bryce Jordan, 5-9, 205, Lake Charles Barbe High School
P Clay Moffitt, 6-4, 240, LSU-Eunice
P Brandon Nowak, 6-4, 190, Oakton (Ill.) Community College
P Taylor Petersen, 6-1, 185, Chandler-Gilbert (Az.) Community College
IF Chris Reid, 5-9, 185, Baton Rouge St. Michael High School
P Cameron Sanders, 6-2, 170, Northwest Florida Community College
P Matthew Beck. 6-7, 230, Alexandria High School
P Nick Bush, 6-1, 195, Leesburg (Ga.)
P Zack Hess, 6-6, 215, Forest (Va.)
P Todd Peterson, 6-5, 225, Lake Mary (Fla.)
P Will Reese, 6-4, 190, Anacoco High School
IF Jake Slaughter, 6-2, 195, Monroe Ouachita Christian High School
SS Josh Smith, 5-10, 180, Baton Rouge Catholic High School
1B Mason Templet, 6-1, 205, Lafayette St. Thomas More High School
P Eric Walker, 6-0, 170, Arlington, (Tex.) – will miss the 2018 season because of Tommy John surgery
OF Zach Watson, 6-0, 165, West Monroe West Ouachita High School
IF Rankin Woley, 6-0, 215, Atlanta (Ga,)
OF Daniel Cabrera, 6-1, 185, Baton Rouge Parkview High School
C Mason Doolittle, 6-4, 220, Jupiter (Fla.)
C Braden Doughty, 6-1, 175, Denham Springs High School
P Devin Fontenot, 6-1, 175, The Woodlands (Tex.)
P Ma’Khail Hilliard, 6-0, 150, Central High School
IF Hal Hughes, 5-11, 165, Norman, Okla.
P John Kodros, 6-4, 170, Coppell (Tex.)
P AJ Labas, 6-3, 215, Fleming Island (Fla.)
P Matt Schroer, 6-4, 200, Phoenix (Az.)
P Nick Storz, 6-6, 255, Brooklyn (N.Y.)
P Trent Vietmeier, 6-3, 210, Pittsburgh (Pa.)
OF Nick Webre, 5-10, 190, Lafayette Teurlings High School