LSU’s baseball program will enter the 2023 season with high expectations after engaging in No. 1 freshman classes and a transfer gate — but in the conclusion of fall training, sophomore head coach Jay Johnson said his team is far from being the best.
It’s one thing to have talent. It’s another thing to put it to good use.
“One of the biggest jobs I have with this generation is understanding the difference between substance and image, or propaganda and reality,” Johnson said. “It’s about the play. Baseball is a unique sport, in that it’s not the team that has the best players; it’s the team that plays best that day.”
After fall practice, Johnson has an idea of which freshmen can make an immediate impact and how transfers are evolving, as well as the veterans who are back with the best.
One of the Tigers’ greatest holes last year was depth – especially in the starting rotation. Not only did Johnson add three transfers from Division I programs, including right-handers Paul Skenes (Air Force), Christian Little (Vanderbilt), and Thatcher Hurd (UCLA), but also nine pitchers in the junior season, including Including two from junior college level.
Of these, right-handers Chase Shores, Aidan Moffitt and left-handers Griffin Herring can see instant time as true freshmen.
Perfect Game ranked Schurz as the No. 1 right-hander in Texas and Moffett the No. 1 right-hander in Mississippi. Herring was all-state and helped Southlake Carroll to the Texas state championship.
“Chase Shores is the one most poised to make a big impact. We were very fortunate to be able to get him from the MLB baseball draft, and it’s easy to see the talent, but the poise, presence and confidence are very advanced for a player that age,” Johnson said.
“We think Griffin Herring is going to be a really good left fielder. We are trying to add more and his fastball is up to 93 (mph), kind of surprising, and he has a really good breaking ball.”
Moffitt made a statement on the final day of the Purple and Gold World Series, hitting five in two innings with his fastball reaching 98 mph.
Among the transfers, Skenes has emerged as a two-way player. But LSU first man Treh Morgan also mentioned the key returnees from last year’s team.
“Skenes is silly. Going up there, he’s got a 99-mph fastball and a 70-mph curve ball. But (right-hander) Grant Taylor is on his mind this year. It looks different. … You can only see the changes he made to his body. It feels in the box – that fastball feels really heavy. He’s the only pitcher this fall that I haven’t been hit by.”
Johnson said that kind of development is a by-product of new coach Wes Johnson, who surprisingly left his position with the number one-place Minnesota Twins this summer.
“When you hire someone like Wes, you get instant approval,” Johnson said. “All these guys want to do is be a major league player one day, and we just got a guy who was a major league coach from a first-place team. Are you talking about credibility?”
Jay Johnson also named Derek Grommer as the team’s new strength coach from UAB. Former coach Travis Roy left to pursue other opportunities.
Another source of weakness for LSU last season was the middle court, where the Tigers struggled early in the season.
Jordan Thompson was recovering from a leg injury for the first few months, and his play improved during the back half of the season. With his drop ball, Jay Johnson said Thompson only committed one error on the field.
The Tigers also lost third baseman Jacob Perry and second baseman Kid Doughty to the draft, but Guy Johnson added North Carolina State’s Tommy White and University of North Carolina’s Ben Nebolt with the intention of patching holes immediately.
While White was a designated hitter at NC State, he came to LSU hoping to get back on the field. Nebolt played shortstop, second and third base while at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“I’ve played third base my whole life, so it was kind of hard not playing last year at NC State,” White said. “I just need a confidence boost again. I’ve been there (at three) every day in the fall. It’s just as comfortable as it was in high school, so I have confidence to be back out there and I’m really excited.”
Jay Johnson also named freshman Gavin Guidry as one of the true freshmen who can watch time on the field this year along with outfielder Paxton Kling and catcher Brady Neal. Guidry and Kling were members of the United States National 18U Team in 2021. Neal was drafted in the 17th round by the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It’s hard being a contributing new player,” said Jay Johnson. Per the SEC, “12 of the 14 teams we played last year, counting the conference tournament, only had eight freshmen started against us as position players. That’s out of 108 guys. And I think those guys have the talent to make a positive contribution early on.” “.