D.J. LeMahieu (STAFF PHOTO)
BATON ROUGE, La. – The Chicago Cubs are no stranger to former LSU Tigers. At present, half of the team’s starting infield is made up of LSU alums Ryan Theriot (shortstop) and Mike Fontenot (currently at third base). On day one of the amateur player draft on Tuesday, Chicago selected another LSU product in shortstop/second baseman D.J. LeMahieu with their second-round selection.
“If this keeps up, we may have an all-Tiger infield in Chicago one of these days,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri joked Wednesday.
The 20-year-old LeMahieu has been the Tigers’ top hitter for average through 66 games this season. A sophomore-eligible right-handed hitter from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., LeMahieu has batted .340 with 12 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 39 RBI through 66 games. He has a .408 on-base percentage with 27 walks to 38 strikeouts, and has 10 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
Speaking to reporters before a team workout at LSU’s Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday, a day before his team was to fly to Omaha, Neb., where they’ll face Virginia in the College World Series Saturday, Mainieri talked about what kind of player the Cubs had selected in LeMahieu.
“I think what they’re getting is a very solid baseball player,” Mainieri said. “He’s not going to wow you with his tools. He’s not going to run like the wind. He’s not going to hit balls 400 feet regularly. He’s not going to throw the ball a hundred miles an hour across the diamond. But what you’re getting is a very good baseball player. I think he’s going to get better in pro ball, too.”
Mainieri is close friends with Jim Hendry and invited the Cubs general manager to Baton Rouge earlier this season for a team practice at the Tigers’ complex.
Mainieri said LeMahieu’s swing caught Hendry’s eye right away.
“When Jim was back here in February for our opening banquet and came out and watched us practice, he whispered to me, ‘This kid is really going to hit in pro ball,’” Mainieri recalled. “‘You get him with the right hitting coach, they’re going to teach him how to pull the ball and I think he’s going to have power.’”
Cubs Director of Amateur and Professional Scouting Tim Wilken agreed with Hendry’s assessment that LeMahieu will develop power -- eventually.
“He runs average, plays the game well and is going to have some power down the road,” Wilken said of LeMahieu. “But it’s going to be a few years. It’s going to be three to four years in my mind before you see that he has that kind of pop. You’ve got to remember he’s playing sophomore-eligible from Michigan, but he’s proven himself pretty well playing against his competition.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri and INF D.J. LeMathieu chat at Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, Wednesday, June 10. (STAFF PHOTO)
LeMahieu said that being drafted by the Cubs of all teams was exciting.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “You get drafted in the second round, especially by the Cubs. My whole family has been Cubs fans and we have such a history of LSU players going up and playing for the Cubs.”
Of all the phone calls LeMahieu received congratulating him on being drafted, none was as flattering as the one he received from the Cubs’ starting shortstop.
“Ryan Theriot actually called me (Wednesday) and congratulated me, so that was awesome,” LeMahieu said. “(Theriot and Fontenot) come out to the field in the fall and early spring. They’re great guys. They love LSU and they had a great experience here.”
But any comparisons between LeMahieu and Theriot or Fontenot as players should be put to rest, Wilken said.
“Physically, you’re talking about a different lad because he’s a slender, wiry guy,” Wilken said of LeMahieu, 6-foot-4, 193 pounds. “He’s got some decent physical projection left and is a good baseball player. He made the transfer from short to second this spring. We’re going to let him do both. We think he’s still a little gawky, just putting together his body control, so he could be both short and/or second.
“He handled the bat really good in the Cape Cod League (last) summer. He hits the ball really well to the other side of the field. When you know you’ve got a guy that can hit the ball the other way that well … the hitting instructors will tell you that nine times out of 10, this guy will have a chance to pull the ball with authority as he gets older and stronger.”
LeMahieu said that for now, he isn’t thinking about adding power to his bat.
“We haven’t even discussed exactly where I’m going to play yet and what kind of role I’m going to have,” he said.
LeMahieu added that he has no real preference between short and second base.
“Obviously I’ve had way more experience at shortstop so I feel comfortable there,” he said. “But I think I’ve adjusted well (at second), too. Either one doesn’t matter. I’m sure they’ll figure it out. At second base, it’s kind of tough at first. But the more I play there, the more comfortable I feel.”
LeMahieu said his season, and his college career, has met his expectations.
“It’s been such a fun year,” LeMahieu said. “We won the SEC, the SEC tournament, and we’re going to Omaha. Playing in front of 9,000 every night (at LSU), it couldn’t be a better year or a better career for me. A place like Baton Rouge and LSU, there’s nothing like it.”
Wilken added that he was pleased to get a player like LeMahieu high in the draft.
“I really have enjoyed watching him the past year,” Wilken said. “I’m pretty excited about it and I still think there’s some projection for added physical strength and possibly another given step in his speed, agility and bounce.”