ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After a spectacular collegiate debut in 2013, heaps of praise and accolades were thrown upon Alex Bregman.
In fact, one Division I coach even compared Bregman, a sophomore at LSU and former Albuquerque Academy star, to Major League Baseball’s career hits leader Pete Rose. And while Bregman may indeed be Charlie Hustle 2.0, you can bet that he has unfinished business at LSU this season.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Bregman said. “It’s going to be a blast this year. Hopefully we can win a national championship. That’s the only goal.”
The Tigers, ranked No. 2 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, opened their season Friday night with a 2-0 win over New Orleans, with Bregman going 2-for-3 with an RBI single. On Saturday, he went 3-for-5 and scored in a 7-4 victory.
But Bregman didn’t exactly pick up right where he left off.
To end 2013, Bregman went 0-for-8 and LSU lost both of its games at the College World Series in Omaha.
In the Tigers’ CWS opener, Bregman committed a costly error in the eighth inning that allowed eventual national champ UCLA to score the go-ahead run.
“It sucked that we didn’t win a national championship so I wasn’t very pleased,” Bregman said. “We had a good opportunity to do it but we just couldn’t come away with it.”
That error, however, has provided Bregman with some extra motivation. He has a newspaper photo clipping of his miscue hanging in his locker.
“It just reminds me to take every ground ball with purpose and not to take a pitch off,” Bregman said. “It drives me to get better, and I think I’ve gotten a lot better since then.”
Although his freshman year ended with a dud, the fact that Bregman says he’s improved should make the rest of college baseball quake in its cleats.
He was second in the country with 104 hits and second on LSU in batting average (.369) and RBIs (52) in 2013. The 6-foot shortstop led the team with 59 runs scored, 18 doubles, seven triples and 16 stolen bases. He also hit six home runs.
After the season Bregman won a slew of awards, including national freshman of the year, national shortstop of the year and was named first-team All-American.
But even that wasn’t up to the lofty standards Bregman has set for himself.
“I was surprised I didn’t do better,” Bregman said. “I thought I should have had a better year. I have a lot to improve on and I’m going to continue to try and get better and figure out ways to help my teammates. We want to win games and to be the best.”
LSU head coach Paul Mainieri was obviously pleased with the ascension of his freshman and believes that Bregman’s outstanding 2013 was just the beginning of a long, fruitful career.
“I think he’s going to be the very best college baseball player in the country during his tenure here,” Mainieri said. “I think he’s going to be a first-round draft choice after his junior year and I think he’s going to go play in the major leagues for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a few All-Star teams either. That’s really what I believe he’s capable of and what I believe he will achieve.”
After his 2013 season ended in Omaha on June 18, Bregman joined the U.S. collegiate national team on its summer tour a week later and achieved even more.
Bregman missed the first five games after joining the team late following the College World Series but still led Team USA with 26 hits and 35 total bases, tied for the lead with seven doubles, was third with 12 RBIs and fourth with 16 runs scored.
“It was a blast. I played with the best college players in America,” Bregman said. “We got to play against Japan and Cuba, and it’s always a cool experience to play against international teams. We had some success against Cuba. We swept their World Baseball Classic team, which was the highlight of the summer.”
Bregman also managed to make quite an impression of Team USA head coach Jim Schlossnagle.
“He’s the Pete Rose of college baseball,” said Schlossnagle, the head coach at TCU. “He’s certainly very talented but his mentality and his confidence are what separates him. He’s the kind of guy you want to build your team around.”
Which is exactly what Mainieri is doing.
“I’ve coached for 32 years and you don’t run into Alex Bregmans very often,” Mainieri said. “This kid has all the talent but he has so much more than that. He’s mentally tough, he’s a hard worker. He has every reason to be a prima donna and he’s the furthest thing there is from a prima donna.
“He cares deeply about his team, he wants to win, he doesn’t rest on his past laurels, he’s coachable. He has every quality you look for in a young man. It’s really been an absolute gift for me to have the opportunity to coach this kid.”
Mainieri will have that chance for at least two more seasons until Bregman is eligible for the MLB draft.
And while Bregman said he isn’t thinking about his professional future at the moment, Mainieri is already pondering the idea of not having him around Baton Rouge.
“I very much expect that he’s going to sign professionally after his junior year,” Mainieri said. “When he goes into professional baseball I’m going to be very proud of him but I’m also going to cry like a baby because I won’t get the opportunity to coach him anymore. He’s just been a total joy.”