Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Odds & Ends

After a disastrous home series against Tennessee a week ago, coach Paul Maineri decided to shake things up by changing LSU's lineup. Leon Landry went to the bench and freshman shortstop Austin Nola was inserted into the everyday lineup. The team responded by going 5-0 last week, and they recorded a much needed sweep at home against Auburn. The Saturday and Sunday games were both decided by 1 run which shows me that this team is beginning to show a bit of mettle in proving they can find different ways to win the close game. The team had to play against Auburn without first baseman Sean Ochinko, who was sidelined with a tweak to his hamstring. He should be ready to go against Tulane on Wednesday.

Jared Mitchell, who had been slumping badly, had a nice weekend by going 5 for 13 with a big HR on Saturday. Mitchell's great speed, high on-base percentage, and ability to draw walks makes him the ideal guy on LSUs' team to hit in the leadoff spot. However, he also has a tendency to strike out a lot. While slumping badly, Maineri moved Mitchell down in the order. It will be interesting to see who leads off tonight.

The big story coming out of the weekend was the emergence of Chad Jones as a pitcher. It's been no secret that with the exception of freshman closer Matty Ott, LSU hasn't been able to find any consistency from their bullpen, especially from left-handers. Jones, who pitched in high school but was recruited as an outfielder for college, was given an opportunity. After some strong bullpen outings, Maineri brought Jones into the ballgame on Sunday with two men on base and nobody out in the 8th inning. After giving up a single to load the bases, Jones struck out the next two batters which had Alex Box stadium buzzing. While it's easy to get excited about the possibility of Jones playing a major role on this team for the stretch run, I caution people to remember that he's only faced 3 batters all season. He'll certainly get more opportunities though.

LSU has just one mid-week game this week before traveling to Arkansas to face the Hogs in the biggest series of the season. Winning the series at Arkansas would be monumental in LSU's efforts to win the SEC regular season title and to secure a Top 8 national seed for the post season. The Tigers currently share the SEC lead with Georgia with a 14-7 league mark. Arkansas is one half game behind at 13-7. Ole Miss and Florida are just a game back at 13-8. LSU has 11 games remaining on the season: 9 SEC games and 2 mid-week games against Tulane and Centenary. My thinking is that if LSU can go 8-3 in those games, winning the mid-week games and going 6-3 in the SEC, that it should be enough to secure a Top 8 seed with at least a decent showing at the SEC Tournament. That would put LSU at 41-15 with a 20-10 SEC mark. I think that will get it done assuming a solid performance in Hoover. Rivals.com's projections this week put LSU as the #7 national seed. Though LSU is ranked in the Top 5 this week, their RPI ranking is at #17. That is due to some very poor losses to teams such as Tulane, USL, and Nicholls St.

We found out a few weeks ago that sophomore defensive back Phelon Jones decided to leave LSU's program. That wasn't a huge shock seeing as how Jones was running with the 3rd string and younger players passed him on the depth chart. He apparently didn't "mesh" well with new defensive backs coach Ron Cooper. LSU is still a bit over the 85 scholarship limit and Jones was a good candidate to be one of the guys who looked elsewhere. No real surprise. What IS a surprise to many is that Jones was granted a full release by LSU, and is now going to sign with Alabama and play for Nick Saban. He'll have to sit out the 2009 season, but then he'll have 2 years of eligibility remaining.

The book on these situations says that you never release a player who wants to transfer to a rival school. The thinking is that if a rival thinks the player can help their team, then you don't do anything to facilitate the improvement of that rival. Most coaches will grant a player a release to any school other than to one in the same conference. The rule is that when a player transfers, they must sit out a year before playing. If they transfer without the release from their current school, then they must sit out two years. So why did LSU let Jones transfer to Alabama? There's no telling, but here's what I think:

First, LSU's staff obviously doesn't think too highly of Jones as a player. That's evident by his placement at the bottom of LSU's depth chart. So Les Miles isn't too concerned with Phelon Jones hurting LSU in the future, and if Bama wants to use up a scholarship on him, then fine. Could Jones develop and flourish in a different system? Sure. It's possible. And that's the risk you take.

Second, I think Miles is a little bit above some of this stuff. It's very likely that Miles legitimately wishes the kid the best and wants him to be able to play wherever he wants. Jones's family got a bad deal after Phelon signed with LSU (and not Alabama) a couple of years ago. His Dad, a coach, was suddenly let go from his job and the family was basically blackballed by the pro-Bama community. It's understandable if Les Miles is sympathetic to that situation and doesn't want to give the family any more run-around than they've already dealt with.

When it's all said and done, this will probably amount to very little. Bama will have themselves a solid backup and special teams player and LSU frees up a scholarship.

On the recruiting front, LSU received a visit from Texas QB Zach Lee. Lee is one of very few QBs who holds an offer from LSU. He originally planned to visit LSU for the spring game but bad weather prevented him from doing that. Instead, he made the trip this week. After reading several stories on the visit, things look very positive for LSU right now. Lee is 6'4" 200 pounds and is pretty mobile. His skillset will remind a lot of people of Matt Mauck or Matt Flynn. He's not quite the runner of Jordan Jefferson, but he's able to move the chains with his feet and keep defenses honest on a zone-read running play. He also holds offers from Alabama, Ole Miss, Arizona, Texas Tech, Arizona State, and Nebraska.

Lee is also a big-time baseball prospect as a pitcher, and he was able to take in Saturday's baseball game and talk to head coach Paul Maineri. LSU takes some extra risk if Lee ends up being the QB for the Class of 2010 because of the Major League Baseball draft. It's quite possible that Lee could go play pro baseball and never go to college, leaving LSU high and dry. With two sophomores and two freshmen on the roster at the QB position, this would be the year to take any kind of a risk while recruiting the QB position. Early reports indicate that Lee is quite interested in attending college and playing both sports. Les Miles also has to ask himself if he wants his QB missing spring practice due to baseball.

LSU is also looking forward to evaluating in-state prospects Munchie Legaux and Terrance Broadway at camp this summer. Those guys may receive an offer with a good camp showing.

For now, I'd have to say it looks like Lee is the top candidate to be LSU's QB in this class, simply because he's the only one with an offer showing legitimate interest.


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