Cajuns Baseball 2019 – The Pitching Staff – From the Bird’s Nest
In previous reports, we looked at trends for the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns from 2015-18, and also previewed the Cajuns' offense for 2019. Today: The pitching staff.
While the last three games of the season skewed the statistics, the reality is the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns finished the 2018 season with a team ERA of 4.49 was the highest in almost a decade (2009). And, the Cajuns lose their entire starting rotation and their top two relievers from this club.
A daunting task for 2019? Perhaps.
But there are reasons to believe the Cajuns will improve in 2019, provided two pitchers who have been through the wars, some returning youngsters and a group of talented newcomers can mesh to form a formidable pitching staff.
Gone is Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Colten Schmidt, draftees Hogan Harris and Nick Lee and seniors Logan Stoelke and Dylan Moore. The five combined for 23 of the Cajuns' 34 wins and 13 of their 16 saves.
But, as the Little River Band once said, "Hang on, Help it on the Way."
And, the Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year from two years ago will lead the parade.
After two surgical procedures scuttled his 2018 season, Gunner Leger is ready to return to lead the Cajuns' pitching staff. Leger carries a career record of 23-10 with a 2.46 ERA in his three year career and needs eight wins to tie Hunter Moody for the most wins in Cajuns' history. And, from reports, there's no reason to believe Leger can't continue with the kind of numbers that has made him one of the best to wear a Cajuns' uniform.
The other pitcher who has logged innings at a hlgh level is TCU transfer Dalton Horton. The lefty was a Freshman All-American his freshman year before his innings and his effectiveness were cut short because of injury as a sophomore. But he's fully healthy now and will be a formidable second starter if he has regained the form of his freshman season.
Junior to be Jack Burk was a weekend starter most of the season for the Cajuns with mixed results. He finished 3-6 with a 5.43 ERA and will have to put up better numbers to hold his spot in the rotation. Burk had his moments, however, including a win over Vanderbilt in the Houston College Classic in 2018. He also had quality starts against Georgia Southern, Arkansas State and Appalachian State. He had some health issues at the end of the season, but examinations showed surgery is not necessary and is hoping to regain full health by next season.
The Cajuns used four other pitchers who faced Division I hitters for the first time in 2018 and their continued development will have a lot to do with the quality of the Cajuns' bullpen next season. Grant Cox, the only junior college player of the bunch, struggled with his control a good part of the season but had a few go outings down the stretch. Lefties Austin Perrin and Brock Batty had great moments, but, like many freshmen, struggled with consistency, and another freshman Michael Leaumont, struggled when games weren't close, but excelled when they were, picking up a pair of saves during the season. Those four will be counted on to show improvement next season. If they do, the bullpen won't want for arms.
Four pitchers redshirted this past season and all will be given an opportunity to see if they can help the club. Alex Hannie, a two way player, was injured this past season. Another lefty, Logan Savoy was a teammate of Nick Lee's in high school. JUCO redshirt Jimmy Dobrash is pitching this season for the Acadiana Cane Cutters and the Cajuns will also take a look at Northwestern State transfer Emile Lege. All of the above players have at least a year in head coach Tony Robichaux's pitching system.
The Cajuns signed six pitchers and three other players who are potential two way players and Robichaux is high on this recruiting class.
Junior College transfer Brandon Young (Howard JC) could get a shot to be a starter for the Cajuns. Young has great size (6-6, 220) with power stuff with a solid change up. He turned down several offers from the SEC and Big 12. Austin Bradford comes to the Cajuns from NJCAA Division II National Champion LSU-Eunice, where he was used almost exclusively out of the bullpen. The other Junior College player is RHP Jacob Schultz, who averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in JC. His control has to improve, however.
Freshman Blake Schultz comes in from League City TX. He has command of three pitches and should be able to contribute. Chance Stone, a right hander from Sulphur who could figure in a late inning role with a good fastball/slider mix. And Caleb Black, from Spring, TX is another hard thrower with a good slider who will be counted on to log innings right away.
A lot of unknowns, to be sure. But there's some talent here, and, given Robichaux's reputation for pitcher development, there's plenty of hope.