Coach Paul Mainieri has seen one of his players selected in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft each spring since 2009. Jared Mitchell, Anthony Ranaudo, Mikie Mahtook and Kevin Gausman all were drafted out of high school but spurned the Major Leagues for the chance to play at LSU.
"LSU has had a really outstanding program for about three decades now," Mainieri said. "I'm proud of our program. I'm not saying that players can develop better at LSU than they can in the Minor Leagues, but going to college and playing at a program like LSU prior to going into professional baseball is not going to hurt your development."
No other college has sent more first-rounders to the pros over the last four years. At the end of 2012, all four players were ranked among their respective team's Top 10 prospects and Gausman (63) and Mahtook (79) were among MLB.com's Top 100 overall. Gausman climbed to No. 37 on the 2013 list.
"The tradition is so rich because of the winning history," Mainieri said. "Most 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds want to know the answer to two questions: No. 1, will I get better while I'm at your school? And No. 2, can I play in Omaha and play for a national championship? I think when youngsters look at LSU, it's a resounding 'yes' to both of those questions.
"History tells you that you can have your cake and eat it, too. You can have a great college experience without sacrificing your personal development as a ballplayer."
As a senior at Westgate High School in New Iberia, La., Mitchell batted .506 with six homers, 31 RBIs and 29 stolen bases en route to being named Gatorade Louisiana High School Player of the Year.
"I had an opportunity to further my career as a person and as a player," said Mitchell, who was selected by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2006 Draft. "I was able to learn some things at LSU, not just baseball but life and how the world works. I would not have learned those life lessons without going to LSU."
The outfielder played 174 games over three seasons with the Tigers. He was selected to the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team as a sophomore and earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series as a junior.
The White Sox made Mitchell their top pick in 2009, selecting him 23rd overall.
"When you first get in there, Coach Mainieri and his staff really instill a winning mentality -- work hard, no nonsense," he said. "I think that resonates well with the players. He taught me how to work hard every day."
In 293 Minor League games, Mitchell has a .237 batting average, 20 homers, 135 RBIs and 40 stolen bases. He missed the entire 2010 season with an ankle injury but was named a Southern League midseason All-Star last year with Double-A Birmingham.
Mainieri on Mitchell: "Now he is fully healthy, the White Sox are going to see what kind of a special talent this kid is. People don't realize how strong Jared is. They know he is fast and left-handed and they think of him as a speedy center fielder leadoff type, but I don't know that's the kind of player Jared is. I think he's a slugger. As time goes on, people will realize Jared has power and extra-base power and world-class speed."
At St. Rose High School in Belmar, N.J., Ranaudo threw consecutive no-hitters as a sophomore and posted a .402 career batting average. And despite being chosen by the Rangers in the 11th round of the 2007 Draft, he opted to attend LSU.
"Looking back on it, I wouldn't change anything," said Ranaudo, who enjoyed the people and atmosphere of Baton Rouge so much that he recently bought property there.
"It would have taken a couple years to develop in professional ball, but playing [Southeastern Conference] ball week in and week out allowed me to compete at the higher level. I pitched in front of 35,000 people for the national championship, so there's not much I haven't done, competition-wise and crowd-wise and pressure-wise. That contributed to making me who I am as a professional pitcher."
Ranaudo pitched in relief almost exclusively as a freshman before blossoming as the Tigers' ace in 2009. He finished third in the nation with 159 strikeouts and fifth with 12 wins, leading LSU to a national championship.
The Red Sox used the 39th overall pick in the 2010 Draft to take Ranaudo, a supplemental pick for the loss of free agent Jason Bay.
"We've had guys make it to the Majors like [Louis] Coleman and [D.J.] LeMahieu and probably other guys that will make the Majors like Leon Landry and Sean Ochinko and [Ryan] Schimpf and hopefully myself and Mikie and Jared," Ranaudo said. "There's other guys, like [Ben] Alsup and Matty Ott, who are playing professional baseball, too.
"We could go to the big leagues and make the World Series or whatever it is, but that time at LSU will still be some of the most memorable times of our lives."
Ranaudo is 10-9 with a 4.73 ERA across three levels in two years in the Minors, striking out 144 over 164 2/3 innings. His 2012 season ended after nine starts due to shoulder fatigue.
Mainieri on Ranaudo: "Anthony Ranaudo always had the physical tools: 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, a great arm. But when he came here, I do think he refined his skill. As a freshman, it took him a while to work through the development stage, but by his sophomore year he was pitching every Friday night in the Southeastern Conference against future Major League hitters on other teams. He had a tremendous experience and nobody will ever take away the fact that he was a national champion."
After hitting .450 with 13 homers as a senior at St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette, La., the two-sport standout was selected by the Marlins in the 39th round of the 2008 Draft.
It was going to take "something special" to lure Mahtook from his commitment to LSU and he said it wasn't too difficult to choose college over pro ball.
"I knew I wasn't ready, physically or mentally," he explained. "I had a lot to learn and a lot to get better at. My dream was always to play at LSU and then move on after that. I was very fortunate to be drafted straight out of high school, but I knew it was best to go to college."
Mahtook became a regular in the Tigers lineup for three seasons through 2011. A .344 lifetime hitter at LSU, he ranks second in school history with 12 triples and fifth with 60 steals.
"It was not just about playing for yourself or your team but for the guys who came before you and set the precedent for the program," said Mahtook, who works out in Baton Rouge every offseason.
"Coach Mainieri is the definition of a player's coach. He understands the college life, but at the same time he stresses the importance of professionalism to be successful in a program like this. Every honor and every award he gets he deserves because he puts everyone in a position to be successful."
In 2011, the Rays used the 31st overall pick on Mahtook.
"When I look back, I can say when I left LSU I was 100 times better than when I started," he said. "I wasn't just a player here, I was a student of the game. I'd put [this program] up against any program out there."
Mahtook batted .277 between Class A Advanced Charlotte and Double-A Montgomery last season, slugging nine homers among 42 extra-base hits in 131 games. He also drove in 62 runs and stole 23 bases.
Mainieri on Mahtook: "Mikie could have gone on to college and played quarterback, he's that kind of athlete. He was an outstanding hitter with power, he could steal bases, he was a tremendous center fielder and he played the game with a football player mentality. Remember Kirk Gibson? He used to play like his hair was on fire, going 100 mph. That's how Mikie played the game. He'd do anything he could to beat you, and he had the talent to back it up."
Gausman came to LSU from Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo., after turning down a chance to sign with the Dodgers, who selected him in the sixth round of the 2010 Draft.
"No regrets," Gausman said. "LSU was the best two years of my life, baseball-wise. It was a great time. I watched some great football, I was on campus and I'll never forget having that college experience."
Last season was a banner year for the right-hander, who led the SEC with 12 wins and ranked third in the nation with 135 strikeouts.
"When I got on campus, I really didn't have too much experience outside of Colorado," said Gausman, drafted fourth overall by the Orioles a year ago. "I had played in the Under Armour All-American Game and the Aflac All-American Game, but pretty much all of my other competition was close to where I grew up.
"Everyone did a great job with me, from our head coach, Paul Mainieri, to [pitching coach] Alan Dunn to my pitching coach my freshman year, David Grewe, and [assistant coach] [Javi] Sanchez. Everybody helped prepare me for the next step and for life in general."
Gausman put pen to paper minutes before last year's signing deadline and logged only 15 innings over five starts in the Minors. He was 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA, striking out 13 batters while walking one between short-season Aberdeen and Class A Frederick. He also made one playoff start for Double-A Bowie.
Mainieri on Gausman: "We were really fortunate that Kevin came to school because he was highly touted out of high school and we thought that the chances of landing him on campus were slim. To have the opportunity to make great friends in college, strive to win a championship, play in front of our fans and be under the microscope and develop the way he developed -- the whole experience for Kevin was a great one."
Looking ahead, a Tiger could go in the first round for the fifth year in a row. Jacoby Jones, selected by the Astros in the 19th round in 2010, is a target for teams looking for a speedy infield/outfield prospect. Junior right-hander Ryan Eades also may be a first-round talent, assuming he can convince scouts there are no lingering effects from the shoulder surgery he had as a high school senior. Eades spurned the Rockies after they drafted him in the 19th round in 2010 and a strong showing in his second straight season as a weekend starter in the SEC could move him up the Draft board.
And in 2014, right-hander Aaron Nola -- a 2011 22nd-round pick by the Blue Jays whose brother is in the Marlins system -- has the talent and makeup to go within the top 30 picks, Mainieri said. He would extend the LSU streak to six years.