A Look at Cajuns Baseball Position by Position
With the temps in the thirties on this Tuesday, it’s a bit hard to believe the 2014 Cajuns baseball season begins this Friday. But here’s the good news: The weather forecast calls for sunshine and temps in the 60’s (at least right now, anyway) for the series opener against Eastern Illinois at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
There haven’t been too many seasons where anticipation has been as high as it is this year. After going 43-20 last season, the Cajuns are picked to win the Sun Belt Conference and there are some (and they aren’t all Cajun fans) that believe Louisiana has a legitimate chance to reach a Super-Regional.
The lineup will be dotted with familiar faces…but there will be a couple of newcomers who are expected to make solid contributions as well. Here’s a look at the probable opening day lineup.
FIRST BASE–CHASE COMPTON (6-2, 210, Sr., Slidell) 2013: .265-5-32–Compton had a rough two thirds of the season which saw his batting average hovering around the .225 mark. He struggled miserably against left handed pitching. But Compton worked through it and wound up with some respectable numbers, including a clutch grand slam home run to help the Cajuns come from behind to defeat ULM in the final series of the regular season. Compton had more walks (27) than strikeouts (26) last season. Solid defensively. His defense and leadership will keep him in the lineup if he starts slowly, but if he has issues with left handed pitching again, the Cajuns have some options.
SECOND BASE–JACE CONRAD (6-0, 195 Jr., Lafayette) 2013: .286-4-36–An outstanding defensive second baseman who has made just eight errors in his first two seasons. Took part in 47 double plays last year as the Cajuns turned 66 overall. Tough to strike out with only 16 whiffs in 248 place appearances last year. Can hold his own against lefties. Hard nosed player who hates to lose and competes on every pitch. Good gap hitter with occasional ability to hit it out of the park, as evidenced with his home run that beat FIU in the SBC tournament last year. Led team with 19 stolen bases in 22 attempts.
SHORTSTOP–BLAKE TRAHAN (5-9, 180, So., Kinder) 2013: .319-4-38)–Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American solidified the Cajuns defensively last year. Gets to balls defensively better than any Cajun shortstop since Chase Lambin (2002). Had more walks (30) than strikeouts (27). The grind of a 63 game season took a bit of a toll at the end of the year as his averaged dropped from the .330’s to .319. Was a perfect 13-13 in stolen bases. It isn’t very often Coach Tony Robichaux raves about a freshman before he plays his first game. But he praised Trahan. He was right. Pre-season all conference SS for 2014.
THIRD BASE–RYAN LEONARDS (6-0, 190, Sr., Crowley) 2013: (.328-1-30)–The Cajuns’ most versatile player will start his senior campaign as the Cajuns’ third baseman after playing shortstop and the outfield the last two seasons. Excellent bunter with great speed. Led the team in sacrifice bunts (12) and, with Seth Harrison, was part of a Cajuns offense that had 34 bunt singles last season. Can play all infield and outfield positions.
LEFT FIELD–CALEB ADAMS (6-0, 185, Jr., Texarkana, TX) 2013: .339-16-55–If there was a surprise on this team a year ago, it was Adams, who wasn’t in the lineup much early in the year, but solidified himself as one of the league’s most feared hitters as the season progressed. First team all conference DH after leading the Cajuns in HR. RBI and slugging percentage (.661). Has home run power to all fields. Preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year for 2014. Moves from DH to left field with the injury to Tyler Girouard, who takes over as DH.
CENTER FIELD–SETH HARRISON (6-0. 200 Sr., Cypress, TX) 2013: .338-9-45–Covers a lot of ground patrolling center field for the Cajuns. Hit cleanup a year ago, but will move to the leadoff spot in 2014 with the departure of Dex Kjerstad. Excellent speed and a great bunter who can lay one down or hit one out of the park. Fifth on the team in slugging percentage (.567) a year ago. One of four Cajuns to record double-digit steals last season. Pre-season all-conference outfielder.
RIGHT FIELD–DYLAN BUTLER (5-11, 200, Jr., Belle Chasse) 2013: ..295-8-42—Spot starter last year who saw action in LF, RF and DH. Takes over RF with the departure of Dex Kjerstad. Went into a terrible slump early last season and spent time on the bench, but broke out late in the year. Fifth on the team in RBI despite having only 156 at bats. His eight home runs ranked fourth on the club. Free swinger who struck out 45 times last year. Most of his power is to the pull side, but that power is scary.
CATCHER–MICHAEL STRENTZ (6-1. 210, Jr., Lafayette)–2013 .311-7-45–Cajuns every day catcher missed two weeks early in the season with a small fracture in the wrist, but came back to finish among the league leaders in doubles (23). Capable of hitting double digit home runs. Most of his home run power is to the pull side, but has excellent gap power to all fields. Led the league in HBP (21). Athletic player who stole five bases. Good enough athlete to play the outfield. Don’t be surprised if he gets the occasional start there to save wear and tear on his body. Pre-season All-Conference catcher.
DESIGNATED HITTER–TYLER GIROUARD (5-9, 180, Jr., Lafayette) 2013: .360-7-41–Leading returning hitter on the squad after a breakout season last year. Left handed bat who thrived in Matt Deggs’ hitting system and proved he could hit left handed pitching. Showed good power with seven homers and 14 doubles in 178 at bats. Third on the team in slugging percentage (.590). Moves to the DH spot after suffering a stress fracture to the tibia. Pre-season all conference at third base, but may not see any action there this season.
Those will be in the starting lineup on opening night, but you can look for a few more to see plenty of action:
EVAN POWELL – UTIL (5-10, 205, Jr. Lake Charles, LSU-E) –Tony Robichaux LOVES Powell, who comes from LSU-Eunice. Powell can play multiple positions, including catcher and will see plenty of action, including behind the plate. Can hit, hit with power and is solid defensively. His versatility will get him plenty of at-bats this year.
GREG DAVIS – 1B/3B (6-0, 225, Jr., Ovilla, TX)–Corner infielder with very good power. Very highly regarded junior college player. Hits from the right side and would be a candidate to fill in at first base if Chase Compton struggles against LHP. Can also play third, which makes the versatile Ryan Leonards that much more valuable. WIll see action this year and that action could increase as he becomes more comfortable with Deggs’ hitting system. MIddle of the lineup type of hitter.
RYAN WILSON–OF (6-0. 180, Sr., Owasso, OK) 2013: .286-0-3 Was the Cajuns’ opening day center fielder but was used primarily as a starter and relief pitcher. Good athlete who could be used off the bench as a PH or PR on days he’s not pitching. Has improved as a hitter from last season, according to the coaches, and would be a candidate to move into the starting lineup if one of the outfielders should falter.
NICK THURMAN–C (6-2, 210, So. Belle Chasse) 2013: .275-0-11–Primary backup catcher who gives the Cajuns a left handed bat off the bench. Solid catcher with a good arm. Can catch when Strentz needs a day off, or if Strentz plays in the OF or DH. Didn’t hit with power last year but impressed with his ability to hit the ball solidly.
KYLE CLEMENT-OF (5-10, 185, Jr., Jeanerette) Clement will give the Cajuns a left handed bat off the bench. He’s also solid defensively. His time at Mississippi Gulf Coast CC helped him to mature. Don’t be surprised if he starts some games in the OF. He certainly will be used when the Cajuns need to sub a lefty.
Of course, as the season progresses, others might emerge. But these are the fourteen players who, at least right now, are going to get the bulk of the playing time.
Tomorrow: The Pitching Staff
(all photos courtesy ragincajuns.com