Interchangeable Parts: The Cajuns’ Infield – From the Bird’s Nest
At first glance with three starters returning defensively, one might think the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns infield would be mostly set.
That would not be the case.
The Cajuns will have many options and many combinations they can use during the 2017 season and, at least early, will probably use all of them at some time or other.
FIRST BASE--Alex Pinero was recruited as a third baseman but played most of the season at first base after he entered the starting lineup. He was second on the club with a .312 average with two homers and 24 RBI. He hit .369 in Sun Belt Conference play. He'll play both this season. Junior College transfer Tyler Stover will play some at first as well. He hit .344 last season after transferring from Kansas State, where he hit .291 in 33 games his freshman season.
Then there's Brenn Conrad.
Used mostly as a DH a year ago, don't be surprised if Conrad gets at least a part time nod at first. He led the club in RBI a year ago with 43, hitting .280 and had more walks than strikeouts. Conrad has worked extensively at first base this spring and has shown he can handle the position defensively.
SECOND BASE--Stefan Trosclair is gone after a senior season when he hit .277 with seven homers and 39 RBI. Not bad for a guy who was under .200 as April began. Conrad saw action there last year and you'll see him there this season as well. And, sophomore Hunter Kasuls (.234-1-11) was the starting shortstop until breaking his hand. He played some second base upon returning and will see action there as well this season. There's a good chance you'll see him at second more often than not.
SHORTSTOP--Brad Antchak doesn't have the range of Blake Trahan, but was solid at shortstop a year ago with a .956 fielding percentage. The senior from British Columbia hit just .245 with a homer and 12 RBI, but had a solid summer and blossomed this past fall. Kasuls can play there if the Canadian should falter, but right now, Antchak at short is the surest thing the Cajuns have in the infield.
THIRD BASE--Joe Robbins proved to be the best defensive third baseman in the Sun Belt last season and is a first-team preseason all-Sun Belt pick as a utility player. The senior got starts in the outfield and at shortstop in addition to third base and although he tailed off some toward the end of the season, still hit .286 and led the club in homers with ten. But Robbins has great value (and necessity) in the outfield as well and will probably split some time there. When he plays third, Pinero will be at first, but you'll see the fifth year senior in center field as well. Dylon Poncho, who hit .255 in 44 at bats as a DH, can play there as well.
So, on any given night you could see last year's defensive set of Pinero, Conrad or Kasuls, Antchak and Robbins. But you might see Conrad, Kasuls, Antchak and Pinero. Or you could see Pinero, Conrad, Antchak and Robbins. Or maybe Stover, Conrad, Kasuls and Pinero.
Starting to get the message?
At some point in time, the infield alignment will probably work itself out. But look for plenty of different combinations, especially early in the season. Where Robbins plays will determine a lot of what happens.
Oh, and here's something we know: Handsome Monica will be the catcher. The 33rd round pick of the Atlanta Braves hit .348 with 13 homers and 48 RBI in junior college last season after seeing limited playing time at Arizona his freshman season. He'll catch most of the time, but certainly won't be asked to catch every inning of every game as Nick Thurman did a season ago. Redshirt freshman Ryne Ray will be the backup.