Bregman, Nola, LeMahieu among former LSU stars set to begin 2021 MLB season
Everyone give a hearty welcome to Gäbe, our newest contributor. You may already be familiar with her work, as she runs the excellent and very informative Tigers in the Minors twitter account. You can find her on Twitter @geauxMiLB if you’re not following her already.
Opening Day of Major League Baseball in 2021 is a day that many have looked forward to for over a year now. It’s a day that signals a new season, a new record, a new grind, and a new opportunity to be invested in a team (or teams) for 162 of the next 180 days, and most likely, ultimately, get your heart broken at the end. This Opening Day, however is a bit different. It’s the first “normal” Opening Day for the MLB since the Coronavirus Pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, just weeks prior to the season getting started. The entire season was ultimately halted for four months. July 23, 2020 was the first day of games in the 2020 season, and the season featured a 60-game slate with expanded playoffs that ultimately saw the Los Angeles Dodgers claim the World Series; no asterisks here, it just wasn’t your typical season of baseball, and 2021 looks to offer the closest thing to “normal” that we’ve seen in the sports world in over 13 months.
With ballparks across the country set to open for action this Thursday, April 1—the majority allowing limited capacity seating in accordance with their county coronavirus regulations as well as following mask protocols and social distancing—there will be several familiar faces, who used to don the Purple and Gold, taking the field to fans for the first time since 2019.
Right-handed pitcher, Aaron Nola, the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2014 first round pick out of LSU will get his fourth consecutive Opening Day start for the Phillies as they take on the Atlanta Braves. Nola enjoyed a shortened 2020 season last year where he was seventh in the voting for the NL Cy Young Award, given to the top National League pitcher, and finished the season with his highest strikeout/9IP of his career with 12.1 K/9IP. The word around camp this spring was that Nola has added some pitches to his repertoire, and those things look to be on display as the All-Star will be looking to get the Phillies off to a fast start in a very tough National League East. He will be on the bump at 2:05 P.M. CT, Thursday April 1.
Aaron Nola, Pure Filth (Knuckle Curve & Changeup) pic.twitter.com/K9AJsMfdHf
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 22, 2021
The shortened season in 2020 put a blockade on what had become an annual expectation of Astros third baseman, Alex Bregman, to be a regular in the top-five of MVP voting, a Silver Slugger, a Gold Glove finalist. The 2015 second overall pick out of LSU has become all of these things before the age of 25, also gathering two-time AL Player of the Month honors, All Star Game MVP, leading the MLB in doubles, and not to mention doing this all while continuing to perform incredible philanthropic work in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricanes and the pandemic. After dealing with an injury in the pandemic season and into early this spring, Bregman looks to cement himself back in the middle of the Astros order, and return to his rightful place atop the leaderboards, staring down dugout cameras, and making both mind and physics bending plays at the hot corner in Minute Maid Park. The Astros begin their season by taking on the Oakland Athletics in Oakland at 9:07PM CT.
The 2020 truncated season was bitter sweet for Yankees fans, as it was the final on LeMahieu’s contract in the Bronx and his pending free agency was sure to garner interest around the league. Much like when he was the slick fielding quiet guy who was always producing at LSU, and his stop prior to the Bronx, DJ LeMahieu became an instant fan favorite. It wasn’t just his Gold Glove caliber fielding, incredible bat skills, or his very chill demeanor, but because he just smiles and works hard, and he produces. In his entire career that’s what he’s done. So when the last year on his contract with New York was cut into a 60 game season there was fear that that would be the extent of his time in the Pinstripes. The 2020 season saw LeMahieu not only become the first batter to win the batting title in both leagues (2020 NYY .364 & 2016 COL .348), but he also won his second straight Silver Slugger Award at second base, and finished in the top-4 of the MVP race for the second consecutive season. All worries were cast aside when, in January, DJ LeMahieu inked a new six-year contract with the Yankees that figures to keep him there a top their order through his age 37 season. The Yankees begin their season Thursday April 1 at 12:05 PM CT.
Austin Nola has had quite the path to the majors. After eight seasons in the minors, and a position change—an All-American shortstop to a major league starting catcher to be precise—Nola got his shot with the Mariners in 2019, and instantly became a cornerstone of a trade that sent him to San Diego. He has become a staple in the rotation that has caught the young and extraordinarily talented pitching staff that is coming out of the San Diego Padres organization right now. Unfortunately, after being slated as an Opening Day 26-man roster guy, Nola fractured his non-throwing middle finger on a foul-tip. According to the preseason injury report, he will open the season on the MLB IL, but has begun swinging a bat as of late. The Padres are first in action at 3:10 P.M. CT.
The 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals will have two former Tigers on their Major League roster to start this year. Former Tiger infielder, turned All-Star relief pitcher and World Champion, Will Harris, will start the season on the Injured List due to a blood-clot in his arm. The severity of the clot is still being evaluated, but he figures to set up for one of the most dominant pitching staffs in the entire National League with the likes of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jon Lester, and Pat Corbin. LSU All-American centerfielder and 2015 second round pick of the Nationals, Andrew Stevenson enjoyed a spring where he led the team in most offensive categories and has made the major league roster for Opening Day as their fourth outfielder and primary pinch runner. The Nationals begin their season Thursday at 6:09 P.M. CT against the New York Mets in Washington DC.
JaCoby Jones will start his season in the outfield for the Detroit Tigers. The former LSU hype-man and jack of all trades has found his home in centerfield in the Motor City, and has routinely made plays that wouldn’t make you think he was ever a second baseman for the Purple and Gold. Jones enjoyed a very good shortened 2020 where he saw the highest average, slugging, and OPS of his young career. He will look to keep that going as the Tigers open up against the Cleveland Indians at 12:10 P.M. CT.
Kevin Gausman the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, will be making the Opening Day start for the San Francisco Giants, who he signed a one-year extension with this off-season. Gausman had a bounceback year once finally settling with the Giants where he posted the lowest ERA (3.62) in five years and struck out 12 batters per 9 innings pitched, by far the highest of his career. The Giants rewarded Gausman with a contract, and after a solid spring showing, they will turn to the big righty Thursday at 9:10 P.M. CT as they take on the Seattle Mariners where he’ll likely run into another former Tiger great, Jake Fraley.
Excited to have connected with @KevinGausman to learn about how he approaches his game planning and how our intel can help!
— Codify, Inc. (@CodifyBaseball) January 13, 2021
Jake Fraley, a 2016 second round pick from the Tiger’s vaunted outfield, has made the Seattle Mariners 26-man roster out of camp. Fraley, although he debuted in 2019, still has his rookie status intact (has not had 131 at bats yet), and still has minor league options. He looks to begin the season on a roster with one of the entire MLB’s most talented young outfields. The Mariners will get going Thursday night against Kevin Gausman and the Giants at 9:10 PM CT. If Fraley is in the lineup, it’ll feature a 2012 LSU alum and a 2016 alum doing battle.
Arizona has finalized their 2021 bullpen and includes the rookie, RHP Riley Smith. Smith debuted for the DBacks in the shortened 2020 season, and had a fantastic campaign. He appeared in 6 games, racking up a 2-0 record, striking out 18 batters in 18 innings pitched to the tune of a 1.47 ERA. Smith, who came to LSU by way of San Jacinto College, was drafted in the 24th round in the 2016 draft and ascended very quickly through the minors and up to the DBacks thanks to his excellent fastball/off-speed combo.
Not much is known about what’s truly in store for 2021, but health and success are always at the top of the list. This list will be maintained throughout the year and will be edited to add any and all players called up to their organization’s 26-man rosters. As the Major League players have moved north to their home ballparks and their alternate sites, and their seasons are gearing up to go, the minor leaguers are moving across the country to their spring training camps to begin prepping for their season. Unlike most seasons in the past, the Minor League season will not lag the MLB season by just a week, this year it’s a month, with games starting the first week of May for most MiLB clubs. More updates will follow regarding the placements and assignments of the Tigers in the Minors!