Paul Mainieri lost one of the most talented players he’s ever coached Friday when Kevin Gausman agreed to terms with the Baltimore Orioles.
He hopes to have more like him.
As he bid farewell to the ace pitcher Baltimore selected with the fourth pick in the Major League Baseball draft, Mainieri introduced members of the media to the collection of 15 signees set to enter the LSU baseball program as newcomers this fall.
“This is the way it’s supposed to work,” Mainieri said, recalling how Gausman helped himself during two seasons at LSU. “They’re supposed to come here, have a great career and then go on to pursue their dream of professional baseball as a better player when they leave.”
Mainieri said only one thing would have bettered Gausman’s experience — a trip to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
The Tigers fell one win shy of meeting that goal last season, losing to Stony Brook in Game 3 of a best-of-three super regional.
They bring back a veteran team led by Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes that may have enough pitching depth to offset the loss of Gausman.
But Mainieri expects some of the new faces to make a splash as well.
Alex Bregman could be the team’s everyday shortstop in place of four-year starter Austin Nola if he can hold off fellow newcomer Christian Ibarra. Chris Chinea is listed as a catcher, but could play first base or fill the designated hitter role and should help the Tigers with his bat.
Outfielders Mark Laird, Andrew Stevenson and Sean McMullen address a need for speed in the outfield.
On the mound, Will LaMarche arrives as a hard-throwing right-hander who appears to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery two years ago.
“We are very excited to see what kind of impact this class will make upon our program,” Mainieri said.
“I truly believe we’ve addressed our needs in all phases of the game.”
LSU lost signees Joey Gallo, Jesmuel Valentin and Hayden Jennings to the draft, with Gallo and Valentin going in the compensatory first round and Jennings signing as a sixth-round pick.
LaMarche (18th round) and Bregman (29th round) were the only members of the class that put off pro ball after being drafted. But Mainieri said Chinea and former Rummel standout Mitchell Sewald would have been taken if their asking price had not been so high.
What’s more, Mainieri said Bregman had a chance to go in the early rounds on the draft’s second day.
“Don’t bother,” Mainieri said Bregman told the organization that wanted to pick him. “If I don’t go in the first round, I’m going to LSU.”
Bregman, 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, set New Mexico’s home-run record as a junior at Albuquerque Academy. He led the USA Baseball 18U National team to a gold medal in the fall, but suffered a broken middle finger on his right hand while fielding grounders before the fifth game of his high school season.
According to Baseball America, he was the No. 122 prospect in the draft.
Mainieri said he and his staff sweated out LaMarche’s future all the way until the 4 p.m. signing deadline Friday. They worried the Twins might throw the right offer at the 6-3, 220-pounder even though they waited until the middle rounds to draft him.
After suffering an arm injury as a Long Beach State freshman, LaMarche transferred to Chabot College in California and was used only sparingly last season as he returned from surgery.
“I don’t know if he’s as far along as Kevin Gausman when Gausman arrived here, but he certainly has the same tools,” Mainieri said.
Laird and Stevenson are both speedy, in-state recruits who hit from the left side and starred on the gridiron in high school.
Laird was the MVP of the Class 1A championship game his junior year at Ouachita Christian and considered joining LSU’s football program as a walk-on. Stevenson was a two-sport standout at St. Thomas More who earned third-team All-America recognition as a baseball player.
Mainieri said McMullen, who hit .452 at Delgado Community College last season, brings similar speed.
“I thought that was a weakness of our team,” Mainieri said. “We just didn’t have enough speed in the outfield.”