2012 Baseball–The Position Players – From the Bird’s Nest
Just two more weeks.
If you're a Cajun baseball fan, it can't come soon enough.
But you know the old saying "You can't tell the players without a scorecard?"
That may really hold true this year, especially when you look at the nine guys in the lineup.
The Cajuns braintrust has recruited well the last two years and there are plenty of fresh faces on the 2012 roster. The second year players have had a chance to get adjusted to the BBCOR bats that were used for the first time in NCAA baseball a year ago. The batted ball has much less exit speed now and that means home runs just aren't as plentiful.
Throughout the NCAA, more teams are putting a premium on pitching and defense, and that's just fine with Tony Robichaux as he gets ready for his 18th season as the Cajuns' head coach.
Most of the starting lineup from a year ago is gone. That team finished 31-27 on the season, good for third place in the always competitive Sun Belt Conference. And, given the losses from that team, asking this bunch to contend for a league title might be asking a bit much.
But the future is bright for this Louisiana program. And, a look around the possible lineup will tell you why.
Chase Compton, just a sophomore, will be at first base. Compton only hit ,236 a year ago, but really started to figure it out toward the end of the season. Compton then had a great summer and is poised to have a breakout year. Compton has good gap power, although he won't be hitting a lot of home runs, he won't be striking out a lot, either.
Freshman Jace Conrad, who, as most of you know, played on the first Lafayette Little League team to play in Williamsport, will take over at second. Conrad was a power hitter in high school, but doesn't project as a home run hitter in college with the BBCOR bats. But Conrad swings with arrogance and will bring a "hate to lose" attitude with him to this team.
Ryan Leonards hit .292 in 72 at-bats last year. He'll probably hit in the leadoff spot. He's got good bat control and excellent speed. He'll be counted on to fill a defensive hole left by the departure of Greg Fontenot. Leonards has a little pop in his bat as well.
Third base was up in the air going into the fall and spring after Jordan Bourque had a disappointing year with the bat. Bourque hit just .227 and had only three extra base hits in 162 at bats, and his on-base percentage was under .300. But Bourque has come around. "He's hitting like the guy we recruited," assistant coach Mike Trahan told me recently. If he does hit, that'll be a good thing, because he's very good with the glove at third.
If any of these guys falter, or if there's an injury, junior Tyler Frederick, sophomore Matt Hicks, redshirt freshmen Tyler Girouard and Thomas Simoneaux and true freshmen Logan Preston and Cord Cockrell wait in reserve, although Cockrell and Hicks will be counted on to pitch. Frederick hit .241 in 112 at bats last year before being shelved with an injury. He had Tommy John surgery in the offseason and has been cleared to play. But he's the only reserve infielder that has had an at-bat in college. He'll get plenty of at-bats this season.
The outfield positions were wide open after the Cajuns lost two starters from last season. It appears Daniel Nichols has been able to hold onto his job in left. Nichols faltered down the stretch last year and finished at .213 in 92 at bats. But Nichols has swung the bat well this spring and should be primed for a better season. At the other corner, freshman Dylan Butler really impressed the coaches in the fall and has continued to do so in the spring. He'll be the right fielder. Butler, according to the coaches, has a bat that stays in the hitting zone a long time. That's a good thing. He'll be one of the legitimate power threats on this club. He'll be replacing Mike Petello, who was the Cajuns' best hitter a year ago and had a powerful throwing arm. Butler, however, wears a knee brace and may not be able to play the outfield every day. He'll be a DH candidate when that happens.
Center field is pretty close right now between senior Brian Bowman and sophomore Dominick Francia. Bowman has been given chances before, but has never hit right-handed pitching well enough to stay in the lineup. He didn't have his first hit of the season last year until the conference tournament. Francia was hitless in six at bats last year, but had a good summer in the tough Alaskan league. With Bowman having struggled with right-handed pitching in the past, and Francia being a left-handed hitter, a platoon is possible here. But, Bowman will probably get the first look.
Almann Snowden, another freshman, will start the season as the other outfielder. He's a corner guy who will probably get an opportunity to show what he can do early in the season.
Nick Jones, another outfielder with excellent power, will probably start the season as the DH.
Michael Strentz is back as the Cajuns' catcher and the coaching staff likes the improvement he's shown, both offensively and defensively. Strentz showed some power last year and his .216 batting average should improve significantly. Strentz, however, is one of the best athletes on the team, and has been working in the outfield. He could easily see time there on the days Butler can't play the outfield. Chris Sinclair hit a surprising .323 in 65 at bats. Sinclair will split the catching duties and could see some time as the DH as well. He's very good defensively and is a team leader, having been elected captain by his teammates.
The future is bright for this squad, which features plenty of talented young players. But if they're going to make noise this year, they'll have to grow up in a hurry.