LSU’s influx of infielders sets stage for competitive fall
The scariest part of Cade Doughty’s workout with the Miami Marlins was how well he did.
As LSU prepared to host regional play late in the 2019 season, Doughty – a prized commitment from Denham Springs High School – was wrapping up a session in South Florida, less than five days from the 2019 MLB Draft.
The good news was, he’d done really well, and the Marlins liked him. The bad news was, he’d done really well, and the Marlins liked him.
“I was kind of getting nervous,” Doughty said Tuesday, as Paul Mainieri announced LSU’s 2020 recruiting class, headlined by the top-100 shortstop from just down the road, “because they were thinking about taking me pretty high. And that's when I just sat down with my family, and I realized, ‘This is not what I want to be doing right now when I'm 18. I want to come to my dream school, LSU, and put on the purple and gold.'”
So Doughty raised his asking amount for MLB teams and priced himself out of the draft. He’d follow in the footsteps of his father, Richard – a catcher for the 1989 Tigers – and his brother, current Tiger catcher Braden.
Starting this fall, he’ll wear an LSU hat every day in Alex Box, headlining a 2020 recruiting class heavy on infielders and with big shoes to fill in the batter’s box.
Gone are what Mainieri called Tuesday “the three-headed monster” of Josh Smith, Antoine Duplantis, and Zach Watson, all of whom parlayed productive careers at LSU into professional careers. Add in the graduations of Brandt Broussard and Chris Reid, and Mainieri’s task in the 2020 class was to replace five everyday players, including his shortstop, third baseman, and second baseman.
Doughty’s not the only infielder joining the squad next year. In addition to players previously signed, like Collier Cranford, Tom Biggs, and catchers Alex Milazzo and Hayden Travinski, Mainieri picked up two more infield gloves this summer.
Both come to the Tigers thanks to coaching changes at their originally decided destinations. Junior college transfer Zack Mathis hit .352 at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Calif., and he first signed with Cal State Northridge. A coaching change there allowed him a release from his National Letter of Intent, and Mainieri scooped him up.
Likewise, Zach Arnold, a freshman from Southern California, got a release from his NLI with Oregon after their coaching change, and he joins the Tigers after hitting .406 in his prep career at Great Oak High School in Temecula, Calif.
The Tigers return to the field September 29 for the start of fall ball, when Maineiri will open up the competition for starting spots across the diamond. Daniel Cabrera will be back to fill one outfield spot, and the addition of first-round talent Maurice Hampton, the return of Giovanni DiGiacomo, and the possibilities of CJ Willis, Drew Bianco, and Gavin Dugas to play one outfield spot give a little more familiarity to those spots – although incomers Wes Toups, Mitchell Sanford, and Tom Biggs all could earn time in the grass.
But the infield positions are all up for grabs, and Mainieri’s plan is to keep it that way, for as long as possible. He said he felt he identified starters too early in the fall last season, and the comfort level may have slowed down the development of his team.
This fall, the battles will wage on far longer.
“I want to create an environment this fall where it’s really competitive,” Mainieri said. “I think that makes you a tougher team, a more competitive team in the spring, and a more confident team.
“I’m just really excited about this crop of position players we brought in this year. I think there’s some extremely talented players there, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to work with some talented players and let the competition play out in the fall.”