It's no small secret that the biggest hurdle first year LSU coach Jay Johnson must clear is the situation with the pitching staff. Not for a lack of talent but rather roles and carving out a specific one for each pitcher will be the goal over the next several months.
Part of that process was bringing in renowned pitching coach Jason Kelly to lead the charge with the staff. Between Kelly and newly appointed recruiting coordinator Dan Fitzgerald, Johnson interviewed 12 coaches face to face to find the right fit. What ultimately stood out about Kelly above all else was trust and ability to develop talent.
"With coach Kelly, I went to this place of 'ok it's 3-3 in the sixth inning against Arkansas, what pitching coach do I want standing next to me?' Their ability to call pitches, work with me on that side of the ball," Johnson said. "I think he's going to put our pitchers in position to be successful in terms of preparation, knowing their strengths, opposing hitters weaknesses and really give us a lift.
"I'm very comfortable with his ability to develop throwing programs, long toss routines, script bullpens. He's very adept at the new age modern technology, helping pitchers design pitches and really help them become the best they can be."
Since arriving in the latter part of the summer, Johnson says Kelly has done a tremendous job building relationships with the current staff, which has really helped with the buy in process from the players. But finding the right roles for every player will take time.
Over the next several weeks before fall camp the pitchers will be focusing on getting their arms strong enough and developed for a strenuous fall session, where each pitcher is expected to pitch seven or eight times according to Johnson. Kelly is also well versed with modern pitching technology so studying each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses and how to improve will be another primary source of focus for this staff.
Though he didn't say exactly who was standing out among the pitchers, Johnson did give an idea of how this staff will operate come the spring.
"We're not quite there yet because we're going slow, we've pushed the fall back as far as we can," Johnson said. "I think the strength in our staff this year is going to be in the numbers. You may see more of a passing the baton approach and matching up kind of old school Tampa Bay Rays. I've never been afraid to do it a little bit different with the pitching, I do think there are some guys who are gonna emerge and step into those key roles. I'm impressed by what I see in the arm talent."
LSU returns a number of key arms from last season's team including closer Devin Fontenot and starter Ma'Khail Hilliard. Second year players like Ty Floyd, Garrett Edwards, Blake Money and Will Hellmers all showed signs of promise but will need to further develop their secondary pitches this fall.
The Tigers also welcome transfer Eric Reyzelman to the staff, who was just recently listed on D1 Baseball's top 100 college prospects list for the 2022 season, as well as a number of exciting freshman arms as well. Of this group, the natural leaders Johnson is looking forward to seeing step up are Fontenot and Hilliard, the two most tenured members of this staff.
But Johnson also expects a wide net of leadership from this core next season, instead of one or two guys taking the brunt of the leadership responsibilities.
"The leadership thing is earned by earning the respect of your teammates. I think they're still learning that, I think they have really good qualities where they can lead into that but in our program we want everybody to be a leader. Earning the respect of your teammates by doing the right things on a daily basis."