Tough competition for starting nods at first base, catcher

They call themselves “The Unit.”

The players on the unit: Tyler Moore, Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque.

Their positions: catcher and first base.

Sure, this a brewing and competitive battle between three players for two starting jobs — the three are exclusively competing at each spot — but there’s another truth here: This trio is full of camaraderie.

The unit is a closely knit group of friends trading competitive blows while sharing off-the-field meals.

As their nickname suggests, the three don’t spend much time apart.

After all, they’re the unit.

“That’s us three,” said the group’s newest member, Scivicque, a junior college transfer. “We stay together. If we’re out there doing anything, we’re always together.”

As LSU readies for its fast-approaching season opener, the unit’s on-field performance has never been so close.

Friday’s season opener against UNO is just three days away, and coach Paul Mainieri isn’t completely sure who’ll start where and when.

Each member of the unit is expected to start at catcher for one of these three season-opening weekend games: Friday against UNO at Alex Box, Saturday against UNO at Zephyr Field, and Sunday at Alex Box against Grambling.

“They’re all even now,” Mainieri said Monday.

The coach plans to use them in a revolving fashion.

For instance, one day, Chinea will start at catcher and Moore at first. The next, Scivicque might be at catcher and Chinea at first.

Sometimes, all three players will find themselves in the lineup with the third guy filling the designated hitter role.

Expect that to happen as soon as this weekend.

Will a certain player lock down a spot by mid-March?

Maybe. Maybe not, Mainieri said.

Either way, LSU fans must prepare to see a new guy behind the plate each game. That’s a change from past procedures in Alex Box.

“For the last six years, we’ve used two catchers,” Mainieri said. “We used Micah Gibbs every day for three years. We used Ty Ross every day for three years.”

The unit will be replacing one of the best defensive catchers Mainieri has ever coached in Ross and a first baseman in All-American Mason Katz who batted .370 last season and had just seven errors.

It’s no easy job. But it’s nothing the unit can’t handle.

“We have a special bond, a special friendship,” Moore said. “It’s a competition, but we’re also brothers, and we’re ready to hold that position down.”

Each member has his own skills and personality.

Moore, a junior from Dunham High, is a left-handed hitter. Chinea, a sophomore from Miami, and Scivicque, of Maurepas, are righties.

Chinea’s the most vocal of the trio.

“I’m a little bit more loud,” a smiling Chinea said. “They’re more even-keeled.”

They all claim to have similar skill sets on the field, but there are differences.

Scivicque may be somewhat behind the others at first base. He never played much first before arriving at LSU this fall from Southwest Mississippi Community College.

Chinea is the only one of the group who played any full high school seasons at first base. All three have played multiple seasons at catcher.

Moore played three seasons at catcher and one at shortstop at Dunham. Scivicque played catcher his full high school and junior-college career, and Chinea’s been a catcher since age 12 before some first-base stints in high school.

Rotating between first and catcher isn’t a bother for the trio, they say. The two positions hold the same mindset, said Scivicque: block the ball.

“Behind the plate, you’ve got to keep the ball in front of you and have to have the pitcher trust you,” said Scivicque, who batted .321 in junior college last year with a .991 fielding percentage. “At first, you have to have your infielders trust you also.”

Here’s the nearly daily process for the trio: They begin practice at catcher, blocking balls. Moments later, they truck down the line to first, where a pitching machine sends grounders their way.

Through it all, they’re never apart — the unit.

“It’s not really about winning the spot,” Moore said. “It’s about winning games. Any way we can do that, that’s what we’re ready to do.”