The One the Cajuns Can’t Do Without – From the Bird’s Nest
If there's one thing we've learned about the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns baseball team, it's that they have options just about everywhere.
Interchangeable parts in the infield. Great depth in the outfield. The ability to play the hot hand just about everywhere.
Except behind the plate.
After spending two years playing behind Mike Strentz, Nick Thurman knew he was going to be the guy behind the plate in 2015. But little did he know he'd have to be the iron man. When departed senior Evan Powell missed several weeks with an injury, the Cajuns had no other options behind the plate. The wear and tear of catching every inning showed in Thurman's performance at the plate as his batting averaged plummeted down the stretch, finishing with a .257 average with a homer. His 37 RBI were second on the club. Thurman wound up playing in 63 of the Cajuns 65 games with 57 starts.
And, in 2016, as he was a year ago, Thurman is the most indispensable man on the Cajuns' roster....maybe even moreso this time around.
Not only has he proven to be a masterful handler of the Cajuns' pitching staff, he once again will have to carry the bulk of the burden. Backup Ryne Ray, a highly touted prospect out of Evangel Christian in Shreveport, would have a ways to go even if he were healthy. He's not. Ray had recent meniscus surgery and while he's expected to return this season, he'll miss at least the first month and may not be ready to carry much of the load, even when he returns.
Blake Talbot, a sophomore walk on from Copiah-Lincoln junior college via Vanderbilt Catholic in Houma, is the only other catcher on the roster. Talbot hit .283 in 2014 and redshirted last year. The multitalented Joe Robbins has worked out behind the plate with Ray on the shelf. But he's only going to be used back there in an emergency.
Thurman knew all along he'd be seeing much of the work and has tried to prepare accordingly. But regardless of what his batting average is, Thurman's value to the pitching staff is even more important. That staff needs his expertise more than Coach Tony Robichaux needs his bat.
His health during the season is the most crucial piece to the Cajuns' puzzle for 2016.