LSU’s baseball program has been a significant spawning ground for Major League Baseball talent since the mid-1980s. Of course, there were a number of former Major Leaguers who played at LSU in earlier years, but the frequency seemed to really take off in the 1980s, coincident with the arrival of Tiger head coach Skip Bertman in 1984. He propelled the LSU program into the big-time college arena. Furthermore, the tradition has continued up to the present day, since for the past four years, LSU has had a first-round draft pick in the Major League Baseball Draft.
We’ll take a further look at these new prospects later, but first I would like to recollect some of the other noteworthy LSU players of the past who later joined the ranks of Major League Baseball and represent the legacy these young newcomers are hoping to follow. There have been a total of 64 Tigers players who have appeared in the Major Leagues.
Former LSU players Connie Ryan, Alvin Dark, and Joe Adcock are certainly recognizable names by fans with an awareness of baseball history. With their college days occurring in the 1940s, these players are among some of the first LSU products to reach the Major Leagues. Each of them was selected to Major League All-Star teams, as well as having managed teams in the majors. Dark had a 13-year managerial career in the big leagues, including one World Series championship with the Oakland A’s.
Some of Skip Bertman’s first LSU prodigies with substantial careers in the big leagues included Jeff Reboulet, Mark Guthrie, Albert (Joey) Belle, Ben McDonald, Russ Springer, and Curt Leskanic. They contributed to three College World Series appearances by LSU in the 1980s. Belle (whom ESPN’s Chris Behrman nicknamed “Don’t Call Me Joey”) was one of the most feared sluggers in the majors during the 1990s, hammering 351 home runs in that decade. Springer pitched for ten different Major League teams over eighteen seasons and appeared in two World Series. Guthrie was primarily a relief pitcher for fifteen seasons, including one World Series championship.
Moreover, under Bertman’s lead, LSU made seven College World Series appearances in the 1990s, capturing the NCAA championships in 1991, 1993, 1996, and 1997. After Southern Cal’s college baseball dynasty in the 1970s under legendary head coach Rod Dedeaux, LSU’s performance in the 1990s decade represents the next most dominant period by a team in the history of college baseball. Some of the stars from those teams, who progressed to successful professional careers, included Chad Ogea, Paul Byrd, Andy Sheets, Mike Sirotka, Todd Walker, Russ Johnson, Warren Morris, Kurt Ainsworth, and Brian Tallet. Byrd was an All-Star pitcher one year and finished with 109 career victories in fourteen big league seasons. Walker was a 12-year veteran with a very respectable .289 career batting average.
More recent Tiger alums that are still active in the majors include Louis Coleman, Mike Fontenot, Charlie Furbursh, Will Harris, Aaron Hill, DJ LeMahieu, Ryan Verdugo, and Brian Wilson. Yes, that’s the same Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants, who emerged as one of the all-time “characters” of professional baseball, with his popular beard and other whacky antics on and off the field. Hill has been selected to a Major League All-Star team. Following the 2012 season, Ryan Theriot did not accept free-agent offers as a utility player, and thus he concluded his eight-year Major League career which included two World Series rings.
The four 1st-round picks mentioned above include Jared Mitchell, Anthony Ranaudo, Mikie Mahtook, and Kevin Gausman. They are among 13 first-round picks from LSU in the past 24 seasons. Below is a detailed look at what’s currently happening with these prospects.
Jared Mitchell had just finished helping LSU capture its sixth College World Series title when he selected as the first-round pick (23rd overall) of the Chicago White Sox in 2009. The junior outfielder was named the Most Outstanding Player of the World Series. The White Sox immediately considered him one of their top prospects, because they liked him for his speed and quick bat. However, Jared’s career was slowed when he suffered a severe ankle tendon injury in spring training in 2010 and consequently missed the entire season. His rebound in 2011 and 2012 produced average seasons, but the White Sox still consider him among the next wave of minor league outfielders who should get a shot at the big leagues. However, at this point, Jared projects to be a platoon player in the majors. He started the 2013 season with Charlotte at the Triple-A level.
Anthony Ranaudo was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the first round, as the 39th overall pick in 2010, despite having a questionable year as a junior at LSU. In 2009, he had pitched the clincher of the College World Series championship for LSU and set expectations for a standout year with the Tigers in the next season. However, that didn’t occur, as Anthony dealt with a stress fracture in his elbow. The right-hander signed with the Red Sox in 2010 right before the college commitment deadline, based on posting a solid performance in the Cape Cod League that summer and proving that he was past the injury. After a 9-6 won-loss record in A-ball in 2011, he seemed poised to have a decent season in 2012, but he fell victim to injury again and pitched in only nine games. Still rated the 14th best prospect in the organization, Anthony started the 2013 season at Double-A Portland. He has won his first four decisions there, which included one outing of five no-hit innings. He’s on the radar of the Red Sox front office, who projects him as an eventual No. 2 or 3 starter.
Mikie Mahtook was the first-round selection (31st overall) of the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 Major League Draft. He had just completed an All-American season with LSU, when he led the SEC in batting (.383) and steals (29). He was a teammate of Mitchell and Ranaudo as a freshman starter on the 2009 College World Series title team. Mikie’s first taste of pro ball was in the Arizona Fall League in 2011. He split the 2012 season between A and AA levels, fashioning a decent .277 average, nine home runs, and 62 RBI. The Rays organization is impressed with his speed in the outfield, as well as on the bases. In 2013, he started the season with Double-A Montgomery, where he has already hit for the cycle this season. If he continues on his current path, he could find himself on the major league roster during 2014. He is ranked as the Rays 12th best prospect in their organization.
Kevin Gausman is the most recent installment of first-round draft picks from LSU. Following his sensational season (12 wins, 135 strikeouts) with the Tigers in 2012, he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles as the fourth overall pick of the Major League Draft. He signed for $4.32M. The Orioles like his fastball (94-96 mph range), but he has also a good mixture of secondary pitches, including a fine changeup and slider. Along with Dylan Bundy, another highly rated Orioles pitching prospect, they figure to fill the No. 1 and 2 slots in the Orioles pitching rotation of the future. Some are predicting that could possibly happen as early as 2014, if they both stay healthy. Kevin started the 2013 season with Double-A Bowie and is expected to make his Major League debut sometime later this season.
Additional former LSU players currently in the minor leagues, still hopeful of getting to the “Big Show,” include Austin Nola, Leon Landry, Sean Ochinko, Ryan Schimpf, Matt Clark, Micah Gibbs, and Nick Goody.
I don’t expect LSU to maintain its streak of first-round draft selections in 2013. Even though there are some very good players on this year’s roster, those eligible for the draft are not likely to be first-round contenders.
Who gets your vote as the all-time best Major Leaguer from LSU?