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A Look at the Depth of LSU Baseball’s Position Group Ahead of 2021 Season

Tigers to rely on mixture of freshman talent, experienced veterans in return to Omaha

The freshman movement has extended across all walks of LSU sports throughout the 2020 calendar year. In football, there was Elias Ricks, BJ Ojulari, Kayshon Boutte, TJ Finley and Max Johnson who were all asked to step up in big moments. Currently on the basketball team, Cam Thomas is among the conference's leading scorers while Mwani Wilkinson and Eric Gaines have been consistent rotational pieces. 

That movement also extends to the baseball team and two of the hottest names talked about during media day were outfielder Dylan Crews and first baseman Tre Morgan. The freshman duo will be major components of getting LSU's offense back on track in 2021 after a 2020 season that saw the Tigers bat .253 in their 17 games. 

Crews comes in as a highly touted high school recruit in the same mold as past players like Alex Bregman and Daniel Cabrera. Coach Paul Mainieri has been extremely complimentary of Crews in the early going of his career, telling him all the time he's a cross between Bregman and has the swing of DJ LeMahieu. 

Those are some extremely lofty compliments for a freshman to live up to but that doesn't bother Crews at all.

"The game stays the same between the lines so you could say I had a lot of hype coming in but at the end of the day I've still got a role to play," Crews said. "It was always a dream of mine to come to LSU, there's no better place to develop than here. There's been a lot of great, talented players and I hope to be one of those guys one day."

Morgan, a Brother Martin graduate, was the talk of fall ball because of his glove and is someone who Mainieri said will bat in the two or three hole for the Tigers in 2021. In his nearly 40 years of coaching, Mainieri said he hasn't seen many players who can make a difference on the defensive end at first base like Morgan has the potential to do. 

It's also what gives him some ease as the Tigers work out the left side of the infield at third base and shortstop, two positions that have given Mainieri some concern. 

"Tre Morgan is someone to really be excited about, I love this kid," Mainieri said. "I had no idea he was this good when we recruited him but he is a tremendous ball player. I told him 'you might be the first left handed shortstop in the SEC if I have the courage to do that one day.' He has those kind of glove skills and one of the things that gives me confidence is knowing that he's over at first base."

So with Crews and Morgan providing some more firepower to the offense and on the field, turning to the litany of returning veterans is what could put this lineup in an elite category. Infielder Cade Doughty, catcher Alex Milazzo and outfielders Cade Beloso, Maurice Hampton and Giovanni DiGiacomo are among the returning vets who should be day one starters for the purple and gold. 

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The sophomore Doughty spent most of his time at second base in his freshman season, batting .278 and improving dramatically at the plate as the season went on. He has struggled defensively and admitted improving in the field was a big part of his offseason training.

"We're working really hard, I'm feeling 100% comfortable and not being a liability when I'm out there," Doughty said. "Just make the routine plays and hopefully make some more difficult plays as well to help out pitching staff."

DiGiacomo and Hampton each spent time in the outfield in 2020 and are elite level athletes. Because Hampton was playing football in the fall, it's likely DiGiacomo has the upper hand but expect that to be an extremely competitive battle over the next few weeks. Beloso has also recently made the transition to the outfield and as one of the Tigers' best veteran hitters, should be an every day player. 

One option Mainieri could elect to do in order to get all four (including Crews) outfielders in the lineup is putting one at the DH spot. If Mainieri wants defense, putting Beloso at DH would make a ton of sense to get DiGiacomo and Hampton on the field at the same time. 

For Beloso, known for his power hitting, dropping 24 pounds of weight has really helped in his transition to the outfield and is hoping it'll transition to his performance at the plate as well.

"It wasn't too bad of a transition, I played outfield a little bit in high school," Beloso said. "It's a little slower paced than first base but I'm working extremely hard to be serviceable out there. I've become more athletic and moving side to side faster and I think that goes back to getting my body right this offseason."

That left side of the infield will likely consist of sophomores Collier Cranford and Zach Arnold as well as a few freshmen like Jordan Thompson and Will Safford who Mainieri really likes. With the loss of Zack Mathis, the third base and shortstop positions will be practically new as Cranford played some at short a season ago but wasn't very effective at the plate.

"Will Safford out of U-High and played safety on a state championship team and is a baseball rat. Wherever you put him he's gonna play hard and do a really good job," Mainieri said. 

The Tigers have some options and have enough veteran players and star power freshmen to overcome some of the inconsistencies the lineup may face. This is a team that also has 18 position players so if one or two start to falter, it's easy to put out another player for a game or two and see what they're made of.