Cajuns Baseball Looks Ahead–Part 2
At first glance, one might think Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns pitching was once again, superb in 2012. After all, they led the league in ERA, which they have done more often than not with Tony Robichaux as head coach. And, their 4.13 ERA, while not outstanding, was still good.
But upon further review, the Cajuns pitching staff was a lot like their offense: inconsistent.
While the Cajuns may have led the league in ERA, the staff allowed six runs or more 23 times during the season. When you don't have a great offensive team, 23 times isn't a good number.
The good news for the Cajuns is they will return their top seven in ERA next season. Add to the mix two players who are coming back from injury and seven new arms and Robichaux will have the nucleus of a staff that can do some damage next season.
Of course, that's counting LHP Jordan Harrison (3-3, 3.42) who was drafted in the 25th round by the Tampa Bay Rays. Fans shouldn't count on Harrison returning; in fact, it will be a big surprise if he does. But that still leaves one left-hander and five righties that combined for 245 out of the 466 innings pitched a year ago.
LHP Chris Griffitt (6-3, 3.52) was probably the Cajuns' most consistent pitcher in the last month of the season. Griffitt struggled earlier in the season getting out of the fifth inning, but he learned to manage the middle innings down the stretch. He's especially tough against left-handed hitters. RHP Austin Robichaux (2-4, 2.91) gave us a couple of glimpses of what to expect in the future, with sparkling performances against Southeastern Louisiana and Middle Tennessee. Robichaux will work on his changeup pitching in the Cape Cod league this summer and could be one of the league's best pitchers as a sophomore next season. With Harrison's expected departure, Griffitt and Robichaux will be the only pitchers returning who started a conference game in 2012.
The elder Robichaux will probably experiment this fall with Caleb Kellogg as a starter. Kellogg has been the late innings specialist the last two years and was 3-4 with six saves and a 2.52 ERA. Kellogg brings a 91-94 MPH fastball to the table and when his control is good, he can be overpowering. Whether or not Kellogg moves into the rotation will depend on the newcomers as much as his own performance.
Three other bullpen arms, Matt Hicks (3-1. 2.92, 4 saves), Cord Cockrell (1-2. 4.05) and Kendall Mayer (1-0, 3.10) will be back as well. Hicks led the team in appearances with 26 and Cockrell was second with 20. Mayer has great velocity and the coaching staff will be looking for improved command from Mayer next season. If they get it, he can be a serious weapon.
Had they been healthy, it's very possible juniors Chase Traffica and Ben Carter would have challenged for spots in the weekend rotation and their absence was felt. Traffica had Tommy John surgery in February and won't pitch in the fall. But if he can come back and perform at the level he did in the second half of 2011, Robichaux will be more than pleased. Traffica was 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in twelve appearances that season. Carter pitched for LSU-Eunice but pitched too many innings in the summer. He was redshirted but figures to be a part of the mix. Carter throws three pitches for strikes and that's the kind of guy Robichaux really likes. He'll get a long look this fall.
In our preview of the position players, we mentioned two outfielders who could also pitch. And, both were two way players for their respective junior college teams a year ago. Left-hander Ryan Wilson (Seminole JC) went 5-3 with one save this past season with a 2.67 ERA. Wilson has a live arm as evidenced by his 50 strikeouts in 41 innings. Wilson is a left-handed pitcher and a right-handed hitter. You don't see that a whole lot. And, spring signee Seth Harrison (Hill JC) is another two-way player who allowed just 45 hits in 55.1 innings. The right-hander was 5-1 with a 2.27 ERA. Two way players have had some success in the Sun Belt, both as starters and relievers and the Cajuns, of course, had a couple in Corey Coles and Micah Cockrell in the past. If you have a guy who can do both, it's like having an extra player on your roster. It appears the Cajuns will have two of them.
We'll be keeping a close eye on Ashton Goudeau out of Maplewoods CC in Missouri over the next couple of weeks. Goudeau was drafted in the 27th round by Kansas City this week. The scouts love his 6-6 frame. He was 5-5 with a 2.13 ERA this past season and averaged more than a strikeout per inning. There's no guarantee he'll sign, however and you could well see him in a Cajuns uniform.
Matt Plitt is another pitcher who averaged better than a strikeout per inning this past season. Plitt pitched for Galveston CC. He was 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA. He's got a power arm (90-92) and could wind up being a late innings guy for the Cajuns. If he's got the right stuff, that might give Kellogg a chance to move into the starting rotation.
The Cajuns also signed left hander Kody Smith out of Baton Rouge CC. Smith was used as a starter and reliever and notched a 4-4 record with four saves. And, the Cajuns signed a high school lefty early with Sam Houston's Lance Quebedeaux. Quebedeaux is long and lanky at 6'5. But he missed his entire senior season with a shoulder injury. He should be good to go in the fall, however.
Speaking of lefties, St. Thomas More's Connor Toups, who threw a no-hitter for the Cougars this past season, will join former Lafayette Little League World Series teammates Alex Stringer and Jace and Brenn Conrad with the Cajuns this fall. Toups could have gotten scholarship money from other schools, but chose to walk on with the Cajuns.
That's fifteen pitchers, ten of them righthanded. That's not counting Harrison, who we all expect to turn pro. If that happens, Robichaux will be in the market for another lefty.
It's not likely all fifteen or sixteen arms will pitch a bunch. But if Robe can find a dozen he can count on, the Cajuns pitching staff will be more consistent and should lower that team ERA next season. This has the potential to be the deepest staff Robichaux has had in a long time.