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Projecting LSU Baseball’s Opening Day Lineup

Tigers will trot out a mixture of vets and newcomers on Opening Day

For the first time in recent memory, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri enters the final days before Opening Day without a set lineup. That’s what happens when you lose veteran stars like Josh Smith, Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis.

Mainieri has dropped hints all throughout spring ball about how most of the position battles have shaken out and will go into the Indiana series with three potential lineups. The most likely lineup Mainieri chooses for Friday is what he calls the “experience” lineup.

"I generally like to play the most experienced lineup on opening day just because for some of the young kids, they get here on opening day and 12,000 people are here, it's kind of an eye opener for them," Mainieri said. "We'll probably end up playing at least one freshman, possibly two and then a new player with Zack Mathis so it'll be a little bit unavoidable."

Here’s what Mainieri will most likely decide to do with his Opening Day lineup.

First Base: Cade Beloso

This one isn't hard at all as Beloso is pretty much the only full time starter from a season ago returning in the infield. As a freshman, he instantly became one of the go to power hitters in the lineup, batting .279 with 10 homeruns and 52 RBI. 

On the defensive end, Beloso said he's put in a ton of work on his fielding and sees a dramatic improvement from last year. He'll be one of the vocal leaders in the infield and the team as a whole.

Second Base: Gavin Dugas

Second base is one of the true unknowns going into 2020 as Mainieri has tried a number of players, including Dugas, to get a better feel for who's best positioned to start. If Mainieri is content with going for the experienced lineup on Opening Day, Dugas will likely draw the start over freshman Cade Doughty.

As a freshman last year, Dugas batted .186 with six RBI but a broken hand suffered a few games into his time as a starter derailed much of his season and he wasn't the same upon returning from the injury. Doughty is a highly touted prospect and will likely have an opportunity to prove himself as the season wears on, but for now experience wins out.

Shortstop: Hal Hughes

Entering his third year with the program, Hughes has proven to be one of if not the best defensive player on the team but unfortunately his bat keeps holding him back. In 53 games a season ago, Hughes batted .174 with 11 RBI and a .289 on base percentage.

The glove is what's kept him on the field the last two years and it's what will give him the start come Friday against Indiana. Mainieri did say this spring Hughes has seemed to catch on a bit with the bat with a new and improved approach that could benefit him throughout the season.

"When he uses the whole field and handles the bat either with his bunting or hit and run, he becomes an asset for us," Mainieri said. "I think it's sinking in now with age and maturity and experience and all those kinds of things."

Third Base: Zack Mathis

Mathis has proven to be the best addition to the team in his short time in Baton Rouge. The JUCO transfer will immediately step in and be the three hole hitter in the lineup and start the season at third base.

In his two year career at San Joaquin Delta College, Mathis had a batting average of .348 with 14 homeruns and 134 RBI. According to how Mainieri and players describe him, he's picked up right where he left off  and will be a major asset to the team in 2020.

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Catcher: Saul Garza

A late bloomer a season ago while recovering from injury, Garza showed he has the potential to be LSU's best hitter this season after batting .303 with five homeruns and 27 RBI in 2019. Staying healthy will be the key for Garza as he is currently recovering from another hand injury.

Freshman Alex Milazzo has caught the eye of Mainieri and will be used in the Saturday game as the primary catcher for his defensive versatility behind the plate.

"Not only does he have a strong arm, but it's a very accurate arm and he gets rid of the ball extremely quick," Mainieri said of Milazzo.

Left Field: Drew Bianco

As a freshman with a veteran outfield already in place, Bianco was never able to crack the rotation on a consistent basis. He did most of his work as a DH in 2019, batting .176 with three homeruns and 14 RBI.

Bianco has been in a battle with freshman Wes Toups out in left field, but like Dugas at second, Mainieri could elect to go with experience on Friday night. Bianco enters 2020 as one of the more intriguing players to watch in terms of his development.

Centerfield: Giovanni DiGiacomo

DiGiacomo is an asset in the field because of his speed and quickness in chasing down balls but his bat is still a work in progress. On the bags, DiGiacomo will be one of the only consistent base stealers for the Tigers but he needs to be able to get on base first.

Like Bianco, he was behind centerfielder Zach Watson in 2019 but saw action in 53 games, batting .275 with one homerun and 15 RBI. Those aren't bad numbers by any stretch for a freshman but Mainieri will want to see more consistency at the plate. 

Freshman Maurice Hampton, fresh off of winning a national championship in football, could see action later in the year but Mainieri said his swing still has some catching up to do before he can be put in a game.

Right Field: Daniel Cabrera

Cabrera enters his junior season with all the expectations in the world to lead this team that has so many new faces. He was named a Preseason All-American and was honored with the No. 8 jersey from Antoine Duplantis after last season.

Mainieri is toying with the idea of batting Cabrera in the leadoff spot which is an interesting move considering his big play ability as a hitter. Cabrera saw his average dip in 2019 after a Freshman All-American season in 2018, batting .284 with 12 homeruns and 50 RBI.

Designated Hitter: Cade Doughty

The freshman Doughty, while needing to get his defense up to speed, has impressed Mainieri with his poise and long at bats at the plate. Ranked as the No. 42 player in the nation by Perfect Game, Doughty batted .505 his senior year at Denham Springs with six homeruns and 27 RBI.

"He gets his money's worth at the plate which you always like to see as a coach," Mainieri said. 

Doughty will compete with Dugas for reps at second base but seems to have carved out a role as a hitter until he shows more consistency on the field.