Out of The Box: Zach Watson is playing up to his absurdly high potential

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LSU baseball season is here, so welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly column covering all things Tigers baseball. Check out SEC Country every Monday at 10:30 a.m. ET for your dose of news, notes, updates and analysis on Tigers baseball!

Calm down, Zach Watson

Because he’ll be 21 years old by the end of June, LSU centerfielder Zach Watson will be eligible for the MLB Draft at the end of this, his sophomore season. And if he keeps playing the way he has the past two weeks, he will have earned the right to be a two-and-done.

Watson was spectacular in LSU’s SEC series victory over Missouri this weekend, batting .571 with a home run, two doubles, 5 RBI and 4 runs scored. But that shouldn’t come as a shock. Watson has been phenomenal since returning from injury two weeks ago against Southern. In the nine games since his return, Watson is hitting .395 (17-for-43) with 10 runs and 8 RBI, and he’s hit safely in seven straight games and eight of his nine overall.

Throw in the fact that he’s 5-for-5 on stolen base attempts and ranks among the rangiest outfielders in the SEC and you have the closest thing LSU has had to a true five-tool outfielder in years. There’s a reason Watson entered the season as Baseball America’s No. 23-ranked MLB Draft prospect in college baseball. And why he was named to preseason All-America teams by D1 Baseball, Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

Watson hasn’t been quite as much of a power threat this season as he was last year. But he’s been a potent option for LSU from the leadoff spot. And he’s already within striking distance of the team lead in hits despite missing nine games. So yes. Zach Watson is starting to live up to his expectations, which is scary for SEC opponents.

Let’s talk about the freshmen

Freshmen pitchers Ma’Khail Hilliard and AJ Labas deserve a lot of credit. No one expected those two to start as well as they have, allowing a combined 2 earned runs in 35⅓ innings pitched. That’s an ERA of 0.51 in case you’re curious.

But it’s not just Hilliard and Labas. Fellow freshmen Devin Fontenot, Trent Vietmeier, John Kodros and Daniel Cabrera haven’t looked too bad either. In fact, here’s a closer look at how LSU’s six freshmen who have pitched have fared this season:

  • Innings pitched: 61⅓
  • ERA: 2.35
  • Strikeouts: 55
  • Walks: 20
  • Batting average against: .213

And this isn’t even including Nick Storz, LSU’s top-rated freshman pitcher for the Class of 2018. He hasn’t thrown yet because of an injury that’s been holding him back since the winter. And while it’s hard to imagine him being better than Hilliard or Labas, he’s a hoss of a man at 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds and he throws like it, too. LSU might have a special future if these seven arms grow together.

Zack Hess appreciation GIF of the week

Why bother trying to describe a Zack Hess breaking ball when you can watch one on loop instead?

Your weekly LSU baseball player power rankings

Here are Out of The Box’s official power rankings of the five best players on the LSU baseball team this season:

No. 5: 2B Brandt Broussard (Last week: N0. 4)

Brandt Broussard does two things and he does them well. He leads the Tigers in hits with 26, 22 of which singles, and he manages to move around the bases with 9 steals on 9 attempts.

No. 4: OF Beau Jordan (Last week: No. 3)

Beau Jordan’s hot streak has cooled a little, but he added another home run this weekend to extend his team lead with 5, and he also leads the Tigers with 20 runs scored, 42 total bases and a .618 slugging percentage.

No. 3: OF Zach Watson (Last week: NR)

How good has Watson been since his return? He’s had as many games with 3 hits as he has with none or 1 hit combined. The dude is in a groove right now. Or, as he puts it, he’s just trying to smack the crap out of the ball. It’s working.

No. 2: 1B/DH/RP Austin Bain (Last week: No. 1)

Were it not for a 3-run home run he allowed on Sunday, jack-of-all-trades Austin Bain would probably be No. 1 again this week. But as it stands he has 7 doubles, a .448 slugging percentage, 2 saves and a 2.79 ERA. That’s about as versatile of a skill set as you’ll find.

No. 1: RHP Ma’Khail Hilliard (Last week: N0. 2)

Hilliard lost his scoreless innings streak on Sunday, but he shut down a Missouri lineup that tagged LSU for 12 runs on Saturday. Opponents are batting .195 against him and .074 with runners in scoring position. He’s a wizard of an escape artist. And he’s leading LSU’s charge as a freshman. Who saw this coming?

What’s next for LSU baseball?

The Tigers return to action on Wednesday with a home matchup against in-state rival Tulane. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. CT and will be available to stream online through WatchESPN.

Miss our edition of Out of The Box from last week? Click here to find it!

The post Out of The Box: Zach Watson is playing up to his absurdly high potential appeared first on SEC Country.

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