BASEBALL: An early bird practice report

It's funny how college sports practices are named. In football, you have "fall" practice in August, when it's 108 degrees outside. Then there's "spring" baseball practice in January, and it's barely 50. Go figure.

Anyway, on the second day of a chilly fall practice session for the 2005 baseball Tigers, I watched a few rounds of batting practice to try to get an early gauge on how the squad looks.

 

Though it is early and it was only a couple of rounds of BP I watched, I did take note of a few things.

 

Bryan Harris, a JUCO transfer who was expected to make a big impact for the Tiger infield last season before suffering a knee injury in pre-season drills, is back and notes he's "in good shape."

 

Harris, who batted a stellar .407 with eight homers, 19 doubles, 51 RBI and 16 stolen bases at Santa Ana College, wasn't awe-inspiring in the cage, but did show some talent, pulling hard shots through the infield gap. From what I saw, not a power hitter but definitely one to hit for high average. It remains to be seen what this guy can do in the field.

 

Will Harris (no relation) looks to be in the same form as last year. Not many of his shots cleared the fence, but the one that did were a LONG way out.

 

Another returning Tiger who seems to be continuing from where he left off last season was Nick Stavinoha. He didn't drill many deep balls, but did show the fast liners through the gap that earmarked some of his clutch doubles last season.

 

A pleasant surprise was freshman Kade Keowen. The lanky, 6-foot-5 outfielder/first baseman from Central definitely drew my interest by blasting one ball after another far out of the park, to all fields. The ones that didn't clear the fences were either to deep outfield or hard shots that would be base hits.

 

Keowen is listed on the roster as 190 pounds, but that would have to be soaking wet with weights in his pockets; he looks more like 170. But the guy has a large frame, and if he could muscle up to over 200, it would be unbelievable what he might be able to do.

 

Returning from a redshirt last season, Quinn Stewart showed some signs of rust. Though he had a few hard hits, many of his swings resulted in balls that ricoched off the batting cage on off the plate . . . definite fouls or pop-ups in real-game situations.

 

True freshman infielder Michael Hollander, though small in stature, brings to mind another small but prolific LSU infielder - Mike Fontenot. Like Fontenot, Hollander seems to generate his power strictly through bat speed. Hollander has one of the strangest swings I've seen, where his upper body does all the work while the lower half does not move at all. Picture a toy action figure that you hold at the waist and twist the torso, release it and watch it swing around in a blur. That's as about as good an image as I can generate.

 

It doesn't look like Hollander has the home-run power that Fontenot did, but the amazingly quick hands could indicate an excellent hitter in a leadoff role.

 

LSU will play its annual Alumni Game, an exhibition contest against a team of former Tigers, at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 5, in Alex Box Stadium.

 

LSU begins the 2005 regular season on Friday, Feb. 11, when the Tigers play host to Nicholls State in Alex Box Stadium

 

That's all of note for now, but check back for further updates on the 2005 Tiger baseball practice session.

 

 

Breaking Down the Tigers:

 

Senior shortstop Blake Gill, the 2004 NCAA Baton Rouge Regional Most Outstanding Player, is the Tigers' top returning hitter. Gill batted .343 last season with five homers and 42 RBI, and he was selected in the 37th round of the major league draft by the Cleveland Indians.

 

Blake Gill (LSU) 

 

Other returning infield starters include senior third baseman Clay Harris (.297, 7 HR, 51 RBI), a 2004 second-team all-SEC selection, and junior first baseman Will Harris -- Clay's younger brother -- who hit .329 with seven homers and 39 RBI.

 

Junior Bryan Harris -- no relation to Clay and Will -- a product of Santa Ana (Calif.) College who received a medical redshirt last season, should play a prominent role in the LSU infield, as will senior Derek Hebert (.278, 1 HR, six RBI), redshirt freshman Jordan Mayer, and true freshmen J.P. Padron and Michael Hollander.

 

LSU features a pair of talented catchers in junior Matt Liuzza and senior Dustin Weaver. Liuzza (.328, 9 HR, 45 RBI) started 60 games in 2004 and sparked the Tigers in the postseason with a .417 average in the NCAA Tournament. Weaver appeared in 27 games last season and responded with a .360 batting average (18-for-50) and 12 RBI.

 

Senior Ryan Patterson (.341, 14 HR, 67 RBI), a 2004 second-team all-SEC choice, returns as the Tigers' starting left fielder. Patterson was the leading hitter last summer in the prestigious Cape Cod summer league, batting .327 with six doubles, five homers, 25 RBI and five stolen bases.

 

Patterson will be joined in the outfield by junior center fielder Bruce Sprowl and senior right fielder Nick Stavinoha.

 

Sprowl, who redshirted last season, started 61 games for LSU in 2003, when he hit .290 with one homer and 33 RBI. Stavinoha (.323, 8 HR, 42 RBI) moves to the outfield after serving as the Tigers' primary DH last season.

 

Junior Quinn Stewart will contend for the playing time in the outfield. A redshirt in 2004, Stewart made 44 starts in '03, batting .297 with seven homers and 30 RBI.

 

Seven pitchers return to the staff this season, including senior left-hander Lane Mestepey, a two-time first-team all-SEC selection. Mestepey, who missed the 2003 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, came on strong at the end of the '04 campaign, finishing with a 7-4 mark and a 3.51 ERA in 100 innings.

 

Junior right-hander Justin Meier (6-2, 3.84 ERA, 100.2 IP, 15 starts), LSU's leader last season in innings pitched, and sophomore left-hander Clay Dirks (8-2, 3.43 ERA, 81.1 IP, 13 starts), a 2004 Freshman all-American, combine with Mestepey to give the Tigers a trio of experienced starters.

 

Clay Dirks (LSU)

 

Junior left-hander Greg Smith (2-0, 2.35 ERA, 1 save), one of the Tigers? top relievers the past two seasons, is expected to challenge for a starting role this year.

 

Junior left-hander Jason Determann (6-5, 4.14 ERA, 76 IP, 20 appearances), an Academic all-America candidate, returns to the mound, along with senior right-hander Jordan Faircloth (3-3, 2.79 ERA, 4 saves), a proven veteran who stabilizes the LSU bullpen.

 

The staff may be bolstered by the return of senior right-hander Brandon Nall, who hasn't pitched since undergoing shoulder surgery in the spring of 2003. Laval said Nall has been impressive in off-season workouts.

 

Junior right-hander Edgar Ramirez, a transfer from Florida International University, and junior right-hander Chris Cahill, a transfer from Florida Gulf Coast University, should make significant contributions on the mound. Junior right-hander Chase Dardar, a product of Delgado Community College in New Orleans and true freshman right-hander Eric English of Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Fla., are also slated for substantial pitching appearances.

 

Smoke Laval (LSU)

 

Quoting Smoke Laval:

 

"We've got some goals to reach this year, and that's what our focus is on right now. We had 46 wins last year and a trip to Omaha, but we'd like to go beyond that."

 

"I like the mix of players that we have this year. We have guys who have been four-year players for us along with some new players who can help us right away. We feel good about our offense, though it's always tough to replace guys like Holt and Zeringue."

 

"We feel like in order to take another stride forward, we need to improve our pitching staff. We have several new, quality arms that should pitch this year. And, most of the guys who pitched last year are back, with the exception of (right-hander) Nate Bumstead, who graduated and was drafted (32nd round, Detroit Tigers). The pitchers who are back have improved. Barring injuries, we think we'll be better on the mound."

 

----

 

Tiger Rag's annual baseball and softball preview hits the streets February 8. Be watching you mailboxes for this year's special report.

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