BATON ROUGE, La. -- LSU is ranked No. 1 in the 2019 Collegiate Baseball newspaper preseason poll released Tuesday, marking the eighth straight season the Tigers will begin the year among the Top 10 teams in the nation.
The top ranking represents LSU’s first appearance at No. 1 in a preseason poll since 2009, when the Tigers claimed their sixth national championship. LSU has now earned a No. 1 ranking at some point during the season on seven different occasions in an 11-season span (2009-19).
“You know baseball season is getting close when Collegiate Baseball Newspaper comes out with their first poll. I believe we’re 58 days away from Opening Day,” said coach Paul Mainieri, entering his 13th season at LSU. “Just the thought of it being so close gets my blood pumping. I know our wonderful fans are as excited as I am about a new season and the possibilities of what it might bring.
“Being ranked No. 1 is always something in which I take a great deal of pride. There are 300 Division I baseball playing schools across the country and to think someone believes you are the best team in the land is inspiring.”
The 2019 Tigers return six position players who have filled everyday starting roles, including outfielders Antoine Duplantis, Zach Watson and Daniel Cabrera, and infielders Josh Smith, Brandt Broussard and Hal Hughes.
The pitching staff features junior right-hander Zack Hess, the Tigers’ No. 1 weekend starter in 2018, and sophomore right-hander Eric Walker, a 2017 Freshman All-American who was sidelined last season due to Tommy John surgery.
The staff is bolstered by the return of sophomore 2018 Freshman All-American right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard, and the bullpen features a corps of outstanding right-handed relievers, including senior Caleb Gilbert, juniors Todd Peterson and Matthew Beck, and sophomore Devin Fontenot.
“I have a sense that we have something special brewing with this team,” Mainieri said. “Of course, having Hess, Watson, and Duplantis delay their pro careers for one more run at Omaha is very important. Getting Smith and Walker back this year after virtually missing all of last season due to injuries is vital to us, plus having other veterans like Cabrera, Peterson, Beck, Hilliard, Gilbert, Hughes, Broussard, and Fontenot providing the leadership that is so desperately needed.”
The Tigers’ talented 16-man recruiting class – rated No. 1 in the nation in September – is composed of nine pitchers and seven position players, and it contains seven players that have been chosen in an MLB Draft – outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo, catcher Saul Garza, left-handed pitcher Easton McMurray, right-handed pitcher Landon Marceaux, right-handed pitcher Cole Henry, right-handed pitcher Jaden Hill and first baseman/outfielder CJ Willis.
Other new players to watch include infielders Drew Bianco, Gavin Dugas and Cade Beloso, catcher Brock Mathis and right-handed pitchers Riggs Threadgill and Chase Costello.
“To have such a tremendously talented new class of guys gives me a lot of confidence in this group,” Mainieri said. “Being around them also makes you aware that they carry themselves with a significant level of maturity and belief in themselves.”
LSU completed its fall practice session in November, and the team will begin preseason workouts on January 25. The Tigers open the 2019 season at 7 p.m. on Friday, February 15, versus Louisiana-Monroe in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
LSU is one of three Southeastern Conference teams appearing in the Collegiate Baseball 2019 preseason Top 10, along with No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 6 Florida.
Other SEC squads appearing in the Top 40 are No. 11 Ole Miss, No. 13 Georgia, No. 23 Auburn, No. 25 Arkansas, No. 27 Mississippi State and No. 29 Texas A&M.
LSU’s non-conference opponents appearing in the poll are No. 14 Texas and No. 38 Louisiana-Lafayette. The Tigers will play a total of 25 regular-season games against teams appearing in the Collegiate Baseball Top 40.
“I know that it’s simply subjective at this point, and we’d certainly rather be No. 1 at the end of the season,” Mainieri explained. “However, this honor does create a huge amount of motivation for our players and staff as we prepare for the season. And I hope it gets our fans fired up, too. The way I look at it is that being ranked No. 1 at any point of the season is better than not being ranked No. 1.”