Cajuns’ Pitching Might be Key to Season – From the Bird’s Nest
Last year, Louisiana's Ragin' Cajuns' pitching staff was at the top of the league in ERA, but the Cajuns' still finished last in the Sun Belt Conference.
This year, the staff could be the biggest question mark.
Gone from last year are Friday starter Jordan Nicholson (3-7, 4.35), closer Caleb Kellogg (3-4, six saves, 2.52), and weekend starter/reliever Jordan Harrison (3-3, 3.42). Derek Howell (1-1, 5.00) and Joe Zimmerman (0-4, 6.69) who combined for 70 innings pitched, are also gone.
There are plenty of arms returning, but, because of injury, questions abound.
Chris Griffitt (6-3, 3.52) has been suffering from tendonitis. He will not be available opening weekend, although head coach Tony Robichaux says Griffitt is close to being ready. When he returns, don't be surprised if he's used out of the bullpen. Griffitt was especially tough against left handed hitting last year and could also be used as a starter when facing a team with a lot of left handed bats.
Matt Hicks (3-1. 4 saves, 2.92) should be available this weekend, but maybe only once. Hicks led the team with 26 appearances last year, but has back issues that will limit his availability. He won't be able to be the workhorse out of the pen he was a year ago.
It was hoped Ben Carter (6-2, 205, R-Jr) would have been in the weekend rotation a year ago, but he missed all of last season with an injury. He's throwing now but still isn't quite ready. When he is, look for him to take Kellogg's role from a year ago.
Because of the losses and the injuries, there are plenty of question marks on this staff, but Austin Robichaux shouldn't be one of them. The son of the Louisiana head coach, Robichaux was solid the second half of his freshman campaign. His 2-4 record belied his performance. His 2.91 ERA did not. Robichaux won't strike out many, but he'll get a ton of ground balls and should benefit from an improved Cajuns' defense. Another sophomore, Cord Cockrell (1-2, 1 save, 4.05) will start the season in late relief but could move into middle relief or even a starting role if everyone winds up healthy. Kendall Mayer (1-0, 3.10) has electric stuff and struck out 27 in 20 innings last year. But Robichaux still wants Mayer to be more consistent with his control. He'll get plenty of chances, especially early. Lefty Ben Frith didn't get many opportunities a year ago. Robichaux likes Frith's progress, however and he could get more chances.
The other contributors on the mound weren't in a Cajuns' uniform last year, but one of them has plenty of Division I experience. Chase Traffica (R-Jr. Birmingham, AL) was sidelined by Tommy John surgery a year ago, but was 1-0, 3.38 in 2011. He's been named the opening night starter.
Cody Boutte (6-0, 175, Jr) led LSU-Eunice to the NJCAA Division II title a year ago and will get one of the Saturday starts. He's not going to overpower a lot of people but he knows how to pitch and will give the Cajuns a left-handed starter.
Another left-hander, Ryan Wilson (6-0, 190, JR) will see plenty of action, perhaps even as a starter. But you'll see Wilson a lot as a center fielder, one of two Cajuns who will be a dual player. RHP Seth Harrison (6-0, 200 Jr.) is the other. Both will see plenty of action on the mound.
RHP Matt Plitt (6-4, 220, Jr) has a live fastball and should see lots of action out of the bullpen, perhaps in late inning situations. Nich Zaunbrecher (6-0, 190, Fr.) appears to be the most ready of the freshmen. The Barbe HS product impressed the coaches and his teammates in the fall. Kody Smith (6-0, 165 So) is another junior college lefty who will get some opportunities.
Preferred walk-on lefty Connor Toups (St. Thomas More) is a redshirt candidate. And, big lefthanded freshman Lance Quebedeaux (6-5, 205, Sam Houston HS) will definitely redshirt after missing all of his senior season because of injury.
The biggest issue affecting the pitching staff is a question about having a staff ace. The Cajuns have had a lot of very good Friday night pitchers in their history under Robichaux, but so far, no one has stepped up to that kind of level. That could put the Cajuns at a disadvantage going into weekend series, since the pitching matchup may not be in their favor more often than not.
But other than that, there are enough quality arms for the Cajuns to, once again, get some things done on the mound this year.
Provided they get healthy and stay healthy. And, right now, that's a question.