BATON ROUGE — LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri appreciates the preseason attention the 2013 Tigers have received; however, he knows his team must satisfy high expectations with exemplary performances on the field.
LSU opens the 2013 season at 7 p.m. today when the Tigers host Maryland in Alex Box Stadium.
LSU is ranked No. 3 in the USA Today preseason poll, and the Tigers are No. 4 in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper preseason poll. The preseason ranking is LSU’s highest since 2010, when the Tigers began the year at No. 2.
The Tigers (47-18 overall, 19-11 in Southeastern Conference in 2012) are the reigning SEC champions and were the NCAA Tournament No. 7 National Seed last season.
LSU won the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional and played host to an NCAA Super Regional, falling just one win shy of reaching the College World Series.
Maryland was 32-24 overall last season, and the Terrapins posted a 10-20 Atlantic Coast Conference record.
“The high rankings are certainly a compliment to our program, but we realize we can’t just pick up this season where last season ended,” Mainieri, who has directed the Tigers to one national championship and two SEC titles in six seasons, said in a university release. “We have a lot of work to do to get where we need to be at the end of the season, and we feel like we have a talented ball club with a very experienced pitching staff.”
The 2013 roster features 19 lettermen, including nine position players with starting experience and nine pitchers that recorded innings last season.
The LSU veterans are complemented by a talented class of 14 newcomers, including two players selected in the 2012 Major League Draft.
“We’re very excited to see what kind of impact this class will make upon our program,” Mainieri said. “I truly believe we’ve addressed our needs in all phases of the game, and I know our fans will enjoy watching these young men perform in Alex Box Stadium.”
LSU features six 2013 preseason all-Americans — senior outfielder Raph Rhymes, the 2012 SEC Player of the Year; senior all-SEC outfielder/first baseman Mason Katz; sophomore pitcher Aaron Nola, a 2012 first-team Freshman all-American; junior second baseman JaCoby Jones, junior catcher Ty Ross and junior pitcher Ryan Eades.
Other returning position players include senior outfielder Alex Edward, sophomore outfielder Chris Sciambra, sophomore infielder/catcher Tyler Moore, senior infielder Casey Yocom and sophomore infielder Jared Foster.
Nola and Eades are joined on the pitching staff by a stable of seasoned veterans, including junior right-handers Kurt McCune and Nick Rumbelow, senior left-handers Chris Cotton and Brent Bonvillain, senior right-handers Joey Bourgeois and Kevin Berry, and sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn.
“I think our fall and preseason practice periods demonstrated that we can be outstanding in all phases of the game — hitting, pitching and defense,” Mainieri said. “I’m convinced we’ll be in the hunt for everything we’d like to accomplish this spring. We came so close to realizing all of our goals last season; however, we recognize there are areas in which we need to improve, and we’re confident that we’re heading in the right direction.”
LSU has nine returning position players with starting experience. Rhymes, a 2012 first-team all-American in left field, hit an NCAA-leading .431 (100-for-232) last season, establishing an LSU record for single-season batting average. The Monroe native recorded 11 doubles, four homers, 53 RBI, a .530 slugging percentage and a .489 on-base percentage.
Rhymes led the conference in hits with 100 and on-base percentage at .489, and he was No. 5 in the league in RBI with 53, No. 6 in slugging percentage with a .530 clip and No. 8 in total bases with 123.
Sciambra, who has recovered from a season-ending neck injury suffered March 25 at Auburn, is the Tigers’ projected starter in center field. The Baton Rouge product made 16 starts last season prior to his injury, batting .246 with 11 RBI and 10 runs scored.
The Tigers have a trio of new outfielders who will contend for a starting role and significant playing time — junior Sean McMullen, a JUCO All-American from Delgado Community College in New Orleans; freshman Mark Laird, the Louisiana Class 1A Player of the Year from Monroe; and freshman Andrew Stevenson, an All-State performer from Lafayette.
The first base position will be occupied by Katz, a 2012 second-team all-SEC selection who hit .320 last season with 15 doubles, one triple, a team-high 13 homers and 52 RBI. Katz, a product of Harahan, led the SEC in runs scored with 65, and he was No. 3 in the league in home runs, No. 4 in slugging percentage at .552, No. 4 in total bases at 133 and No. 6 in RBI.
Jones, a Richton, Miss. native, is returning for his third season as the Tigers’ starter at second base. A Freshman All-American in 2011, Jones batted .253 in 2012 with four homers, 29 RBI and a team-best 11 stolen bases.
The Tigers have a pair of newcomers patrolling the left side of the infield — freshman shortstop Alex Bregman and junior third baseman Christian Ibarra.
Bregman, a product of Albuquerque (N.M.) Academy, was touted as one of the nation’s best high school hitters last season, and he was selected in the MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox.
Ibarra transferred to LSU from Rio Hondo College in California, where he played shortstop and was regarded as one of the state’s best defensive players.
Ross, a product of Naples, Fla., is back for his third season as LSU’s starting catcher. He batted .292 last season with three homers and 41 RBI, and he was named to the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional All-Tournament team.
Moore, a Baton Rouge product, and freshman Chris Chinea, a high school All-American catcher from Miami, gives the Tigers solid depth behind the plate.
The Tigers’ experienced staff has nine pitchers that recorded innings last season. Nola, a right-hander from Baton Rouge, was voted to the Freshman all-SEC team by the league’s coaches. He was 7-4 last season with a 3.61 ERA in 89.2 innings, recording 89 strikeouts and only seven walks.
Nola finished No. 1 in the SEC in fewest walks allowed and in batters struck out looking with 40, and he was No. 9 in the league in overall strikeouts. He was named to the 2012 NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team after defeating UL-Monroe in the Tigers’ opening game of the regional on June 1.
Eades, a Slidell native, has a been a part of the Tigers’ weekend starting rotation for the past two seasons, posting a 5-3 mark and a 3.83 ERA in 2012 with 63 strikeouts in 94 innings.
Bonvillain, a product of Houma, has an opportunity to work as a starter this season after firing 28.1 innings in relief in 2012, recording a 4-0 mark and a 3.49 ERA.
Bourgeois was superb for the Tigers last season in middle relief, as the Paulina native was 3-2 with a 2.38 ERA in 34 innings, recording 37 strikeouts.
McCune again should be prominent in the Tigers’ pitching plans after working 42.1 innings in 2012, and Glenn may see extended action as a mid-week starter after firing 16 innings in 11 appearances last season.
Berry made solid contributions last seasons from the bullpen, registering a 3.09 ERA in 16 appearances.
Cotton and Rumbelow form an outstanding late-inning relief tandem. Cotton, a Shreveport native, was brilliant last season, recording a 7-0 mark and a 1.59 ERA in 45.1 innings (36 appearances) with seven walks and 40 strikeouts.
Rumbelow, a product of Bullard, Texas, made 29 appearances in 2012, posting a 3.65 ERA in 24.2 innings with 34 strikeouts.
Freshman right Russell Reynolds of Baton Rouge will contend for innings this season after earning All-State recognition in 2012.
Junior right-hander Will LaMarche, selected in the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins, will bolster the Tigers’ bullpen after an excellent career at Chabot Community College in California.