Cajuns Baseball Looks Ahead Pt. 1 – From the Bird’s Nest
After identifying all of the things that went wrong this past year, the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns coaching staff knew they had to do some things to get better. And, they didn't wait until the end of the season to start making moves.
In the fall signing period, the Cajuns signed five players (three high school, two JUCO) to national letters of intent. And, this spring, new Ragin' Cajuns assistant coach Matt Deggs hit the recruiting trail. Hard. Deggs missed several games down the stretch and hit the road to evaluate talent in both the high school and junior college ranks. But Deggs concentrated on JUCO's, knowing the Cajuns needed to get better right away.
The coaching staff of Deggs, Anthony Babineaux and Tony Robichaux is hoping they can use the old lyric from the Little River Band: "Hang on...help is on it's way."
Here's a breakdown of what next year's squad may look like:
CATCHER: With Chris Sinclair (.232-5-22) exhausting his eligibility, this is a position that was addressed in the fall. Nick Thurman out of Belle Chasse was named the 2012 4A player of the year. He will join Michael Strentz behind the plate. Strentz should be fully recovered from his Tommy John surgery from early March. It's possible one of them could be the DH, and Strentz has already shown he can play the outfield.
But the Cajuns found out the hard way it's not wise to carry just two catchers on the 35 man roster. St. Thomas More product Alex Stringer, who played with Jace Conrad on the Lafayette Little League team that went to Williamsport, will join the team as a preferred walk-on. Stringer was named honorable mention all-state in Class 4A
FIRST BASE: Chase Compton (.328-1-25) started strong, had a dip in mid-season and finished strong. He's locked in at first base. Down the stretch, Compton did a better job against left-handed pitching, but needs to get better in that regard. Tyler Frederick (.254-0-14) was the backup, but has decided to forego his senior season since he's already earned his undergraduate degree. Logan Preston will play some first base in summer ball and will get plenty of work at this position in the fall.
SECOND BASE: Jace Conrad (.286-1-17) had a solid freshman season, both with the bat and in the field. Conrad made only four errors all season at second base and showed he can turn the double play. Conrad hits both left handed and right handed pitching equally well and struck out just 21 times in over 200 plate appearances. The Cajuns have players who can play multiple infield positions, so a backup will be there should something happen to Conrad. One push he might get in the fall might be from his brother. Brenn Conrad will join the team as a preferred walk-on after spurning scholarship offers from other schools.
SHORTSTOP: Ryan Leonards (.327-0-22, 10 steals) manned this position for most of the season, but struggled defensively and Robichaux opted for departed senior Jordan Bourque (.329-1-12) down the stretch. Leonards will move somewhere, perhaps to the DH role or maybe to the outfield. He can also play second base and may see some action there this fall.
Two freshmen will come in and fight for the starting spot and the coaching staff is high on both of them. Blake Trahan committed to the Cajuns over a year ago out of Kinder High School. He hit .556 on his way to being named first team All-State in Class 2A. He was also the MVP of the high school all-star game. Trahan signed back in November.
Joe Robbins will join Trahan at the shortstop spot. A spring signee, Robbins was named honorable mention all-state in Class 4A out of Tioga high school. Both of these guys will bring some physicality to the ball club.
If neither freshman is able to come in and seize the job, Leonards, if he improves defensively, will be fine there.
THIRD BASE: Tyler Girouard (.298-1-20) had a solid redshirt freshman season, despite missing a couple of weeks with a pulled quad muscle. Girouard really struggled against left-handed pitching, however, which gave natural freshman Logan Preston (.149-0-4) some at-bats as well. Preston is a better hitter than what his average showed and he handled 40 chances without an error in 2012.
You could also see the Cajuns sign one more infielder if everything goes according to plan.
OUTFIELD--There's plenty of at-bats to be had out here.
Dylan Butler (.249-8-45) didn't hit for the average the coaching staff was hoping for, but there was no questioning his ability to get runners home. Butler's 45 RBI was eleventh in the Sun Belt and was the most by a freshman since Jonathan Lucroy in 2007. But, with the recruiting the Cajuns have done, don't be surprised if he spends a lot of time as the DH. With Daniel Nichols (.240-1-22) and Brian Bowman (.227-0-17, 21 steals) gone, competition should be good this fall for these spots.
A priority for the coaching staff was to get stronger and more athletic and the new recruits appear to fit the bill. Ryan Wilson signed in the fall out of Seminole JC and he can provide some pop. Wilson, who throws left and bats right, hit .298 with eight homers and 27 RBI this past season. He is one of two recruits who can play a position and pitch as well.
Caleb Adams (.275-2-24) is a recent signee who was a high school teammate of Logan Preston at Texas High School. He comes in from Texarkana JC, where he played his freshman season. Adams will have three years of eligibility after spending just one year in JUCO.
Seth Harrison (Hill JC), like Wilson, can pitch as well as play the outfield. Harrison had a great year offensively, hitting .383. Twenty-two of his 69 hits went for extra bases, including four home runs. He also stole thirteen bases without getting thrown out.
The Cajuns are especially happy about the signing of Dex Kjerstad out of Howard JC. Kjerstad was recruited heavily by Deggs out of high school when Deggs was at Texas A&M. Kjerstad, however, elected to sign with Texas before leaving for Howard. Kjerstad hit .329 with five homers and 25 RBI. He also stole ten bases and had a .426 on-base percentage.
The Cajuns have also added Robert Staton, out of Episcopal HS in Little Rock, AR.
We haven't forgotten about Almann Snowden (.147-0-2). Coaches believe with a summer full of at-bats, he might be ready when he comes back in the fall.
DESIGNATED HITTER--It would seem Butler may be the #1 option here. But if he's still needed to play the outfield, Leonards could get the call. And, if it turns out one of the newcomers isn't quite as good defensively as the others, that person could get at-bats here as well.
You don't know about recruits until you get them on campus. But if the players turn out to be what the coaching staff believes they can, not only will this team be better in the starting lineup, there will be quality depth as well.