LSU took the field for its first scrimmage of the spring semester, a moment that coach Jay Johnson has been building towards since taking the job last summer.
For Johnson, the three weeks before LSU's season opener against Maine is always his favorite time of year. He's had an entire fall session to evaluate the pitching staff and lineup combinations. These next three weeks will be about locking in what he and this team feel most comfortable with at the start of the season.
Johnson went into detail about where this team is in terms of locking in on a pitching rotation as well as a lineup combination that's wasted plenty of legal pad paper over the last few months.
Updated Look on the Pitching Staff
This is still a pitching staff very much up in the air, which is exciting for all of the pitchers looking for extended roles with the team this season.
As a little tease, Devin Fontenot is one of the pitchers who will be extending his pitch count throughout the spring as a potential starting candidate. LSU has more of a luxury this season with more left handed arms available to it than last and also a larger pool of players deserving of starting consideration.
In addition to Fontenot, senior Ma'Khail Hilliard, and sophomores Ty Floyd, Javen Coleman, Garrett Edwards and Riley Cooper are just a few names who makes sense as potential starters.
"It's been a good thing to think about. Obviously I'm looking forward to that opportunity to potentially start but with the staff as deep as it is, we really have a good bit of guys who can do anything," Fontenot said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how it all plays out."
Johnson was extremely complimentary of this staff and the improvements it made throughout the fall as a strike throwing machine.
"Right now the important piece has been the ramp up in terms of getting them all conditioned," Johnson said. "We've kind of itemized a group of guys we're going to extend pitch counts with and a group of guys who need to go multiple times a week."
An Infinite Number of Lineup Combinations
Much like the pitching staff, this is a lineup and defensive rotation that could go any number of ways come the season opener against Maine on Feb. 18. It's important to note that Johnson and this staff still don't really know what this group could look like from one game to the next.
That's both a blessing and a curse for a team that's this talented and deep. The outfield will obviously start with some combination of Dylan Crews and Gavin Dugas. After playing right field most of his freshman season, Crews could very well wind up in center where he played in high school, a comfortable position for him.
Where it'll get very interesting is that third outfield spot, where any number of players could earn playing time, affecting the rest of the lineup. Giovanni DiGiacomo and Brody Drost are the two returning outfielders with playing experience.
But Johnson also let slip that Tre Morgan has been earning some reps in the outfield and could see a bit more time away from first base this season. That's been a possibility with Morgan having elite hand eye coordination as a left hander.
"I think he's a little bit stronger than he was a year ago. Great player, terrific around the bag in saving outs, very good athlete," Johnson said. "You'll see some of him in the outfield until we find the right combination.
"I've wasted a lot of legal pad paper on combinations. Offense, defense, saved runs, create runs, balance in the order. It's more of a global look. I'm not doing my job if I'm not looking at all of those possibilities and we'll land where we're supposed to."
With so many different combinations, it's impossible to not get sucked into a rabbit hole but a combination of Jacob Berry, Cade Doughty, Jordan Thompson, Cade Beloso, Drew Bianco and Jack Merrifield are all possibilities in the infield depending on what rotations Johnson and the staff ultimately settle on.
"What I've always noticed is the biggest jump a player typically makes is in their first to second year with us," Johnson said. "We have a benefit as some freshmen playing last year in high leverage games. Getting an opportunity to go to a regional and super regional, I hope they will draw from that experience. We don't want to look the same physically and certainly not mentally and I think you'll see that."