The 2021 MLB draft begins this weekend and for a number of LSU veterans, it's the opportunity of a lifetime to hear their names called. There are a number of Tigers from the 2021 roster who will be interesting to keep an eye on through the middle to late rounds of the draft.
It's hard to expect Landon Marceaux, Jaden Hill or AJ Labas to return for another season. Hill, despite that UCL injury, was once a top five projected pick and still carries a ton of potential with him, which will entice some team in the second or third round. Marceaux is coming off a phenomenal season and even though he doesn't have overpowering velocity, he will be a second or third round pick and sign professionally.
Labas had his struggles down the stretch and his draft stock will likely take a big hit because of it. He's a guy that has success with location and it just wasn't there down the stretch of 2021 but he's still likely a mid to late round draft pick who will sign and start his professional career.
With that being said, there are three veterans from the 2021 roster whose return to Baton Rouge would not only benefit the team in 2022 but their draft stock as well.
Players on current roster: Gavin Dugas (outfield), Devin Fontenot (pitcher), Ma'Khail Hilliard (pitcher)
These are the three draft eligible players on the roster that have the best chance of returning to Baton Rouge for one more season. The benefits of returning to school for the two pitchers Fontenot and Hilliard is getting another opportunity to potentially start on the mound and boost draft stock.
Fontenot got off to a shaky start in 2021 out of the bullpen but became one of if not the most consistent relief pitcher for the Tigers down the stretch, finishing with a 2.86 ERA, 40 strikeouts and five saves in 34.2 innings pitched. Where it'll be interesting with Fontenot is how much he thinks returning and having a chance to be a starter will boost his draft stock. If he thinks there's a similar role waiting for him next season, it might make him more inclined to sign professionally.
Hilliard came along during the latter stages of the 2021 season, as he'd start eight games starting in late April, becoming a vital third starter for the Tigers after the Hill injury. He finished the season with a perfect 6-0 record with a 4.31 ERA and 53 strikeouts in 54 innings pitched. Another season like that as a full time starter in 2022 would boost his draft stock immensely from a late round draft pick to potential mid rounder.
Dugas is perhaps the most intriguing name on the roster. In his first full season as a starter, Dugas was simply the most clutch hitter on the team, batting .295 with 19 home runs and 66 RBI as the left fielder. Where it gets interesting for Dugas is that he still has two years of eligibility left so if he does return for another season, he'd still have some leverage with MLB teams heading into the next draft.
The hope according to everything Johnson has said is that the Tigers will be able to bring Dugas back for another season. A lineup of Dugas, Dylan Crews, Tre Morgan, Cade Doughty and Jacob Berry would challenge for one of the tops in the nation and be lethal under Johnson's instruction.
Where it will likely come down to for all three players is not so much which round they're drafted in but the signing bonus attached to the selection. The MLB draft works a bit differently than most other drafts as teams can dish out higher signing bonuses to players in later rounds if the team can't come to terms with one of the higher draft picks.
Organizations can use that money from the first, second or third round pick on those later round draft picks to secure a signing. With Dugas, Fontenot and Hilliard all expected to fall in the middle to later part of the draft, following the signing bonus will be important for each player as they make their decision on whether to turn pro or come back to school.
If LSU could retain all three of Dugas, Hilliard and Fontenot, it'd be a tremendous balance of veteran leadership and young stars making a push back to Omaha.