Questions Abound For Cajuns Baseball – From the Bird’s Nest
(Second of Two Parts)
In an earlier story, I gave an overview of the 2019 Louisiana Baseball team. In this story, I address specific questions about the team. And, there are plenty of questions.
WILL GUNNER BE GUNNER?--It's probably the biggest question on the minds of Cajun fans. The ace left hander makes the start tomorrow and it will have been 630 days since he's thrown a competitive pitch. After rehabbing from both elbow and hip surgery, can he be the guy who has commanded opponent's attention since he arrived on campus for the 2015 season? His mechanics and velocity looked ok last week in an intersquad. His command was a little bit off, but the cold temps might have had a lot to do with that. For the Cajuns to contend in the Sun Belt, Gunner has to be Gunner.
WHO'S NUMBER 3?--Head coach Tony Robichaux has listed Sunday's starter as TBA. I expect sophomore lefty Austin Perrin to get the nod, but the coaches would eventually like to see lefty Dalton Horton take over that role. Horton missed all of last year with an injury, but his velocity is slowly returning and he knows how to pitch. If he takes over that role, it is a plus for the Cajuns.
THE HEALTH OF HANDSOME MONICA--It's been a year since the Cajuns' catcher caught his cleat in the carpet at UFCA Disch-Falk Field in Austin. If Monica can stay healthy, he's capable of doing damage in the middle of the order. Robichaux has already said Monica won't catch every day. Backups Sebastian Toro and Kole McKinnon will both see action. Monica's biggest issue right now is blocking pitches. When he isn't catching, Robichaux says he will probably play first base...which leads to the next question.
WHO'S ON FIRST?--Daniel Lahare has played first base before and he's the Cajuns' best defensive first baseman. Lahare also has a shoulder issue which prevents him from throwing from the outfield. Can he rehab quickly enough to move to the outfield on the days Monica can't catch? It goes without saying the Cajuns need Lahare's bat...and his leadership...in the lineup.
HOW MUCH HAS JONATHAN WINDHAM IMPROVED AS A HITTER? No one questions Windham's defensive ability. He's as good as there is in the league defensively. But he's got to hit better than .171. O'Neal Lockridge is pushing Windham at that position. Lockridge is more than capable defensively. Whoever hits best will be in the lineup.
THE OUTFIELD LOGJAM--Gavin Bourgeois and Brennan Breaux have a year in the system although Breaux did not play last year. Orynn Veillon, senior transfer from UNO has shown he can hit Division I pitching. If Lahare is healthy enough, he can be in center field when Monica is at first. But wait, there's more. JUCO outfielder Jordan Wiley has been impressive and he's probably going to play a lot. And, the coaches really like freshman Colton Frank out of LaGrange HS in Lake Charles who has had a great spring. He's got serious power potential. Defensively, this outfield can be as good as the Cajuns have had in a long time. Breaux is a plus-plus defender and Bourgeois and Veillon can go and get it. Add a (hopefully) healthy Lahare to the mix and you've got some serious speed out there. Breaux is a big key. He's great defensively. But he has to hit.
HOW DOES JACK BURK FIT IN?--Burk's stuff is good enough to start. But his durability has been a question mark. A move to the bullpen might be just what the doctor ordered. It gives the Cajuns a veteran arm late in the game and Burk can combine with newcomer Austin Bradford to give the Cajuns a couple of solid late inning options. It also could keep Burk healthy in the month of May.
WHO ELSE WILL STEP UP ON THE MOUND?--There are plenty of roles to be filled on the pitching staff. If Horton can eventually handle Sunday, that frees Perrin to start in the mid week. But there are only two other pitchers who threw more than 15 innings last season. Grant Cox has really good stuff but command was an issue for him last year. And, sophomore Brock Batty was used in several different roles a year ago. Robe thinks Caleb Armstrong has improved his delivery from down under and if he can throw strikes, he can get people out. Sophomore right hander Michael Leaumont had his moments last year, but he has to be a lot more consistent if Robe is going to count on him. The reality is, some newcomers are going to have to help out. Freshmen Connor Cooke, Blake Schultz and Chance Stone are all going to get a chance to show what they can do. Sophomores Jacob Schultz and lefty Logan Savoy are possibilities as well. Expect this to be a work in progress through the first half of the season...maybe longer.
IS TODD LOTT READY FOR PRIME TIME? The Cajuns DH showed great promise toward the end of the season last year. He had a great summer in the Cape Cod League and was having his best fall until a thumb injury sidelined him. Lott has great power and can be a double digit home run guy. And, the Cajuns really need that from him. If he's ready to be the 20th round draft pick that he was coming out of HS, he could have an eye-opening year
Oh...and the middle infield has GOT to stay healthy.
That's an awful lot of questions. How many answers the coaching staff can find will have everything to do with the fate of this ball club.