Robichaux Outlines Plans For Ragin’ Cajuns Opening Weekend
Baseball is a game loaded with decisions. Who plays where? How do you put together the lineup? Who starts on the weeked and who comes out of the bullpen?
Thankfully for the Ragin' Cajuns, Head Coach Tony Robichaux knows more about the game of baseball than most people could ever comprehend. Robichaux and his staff worked the team all offseason to gauge where they are at heading into the 2017 season, and game week is finally here. It's time to make up their minds.
The season starts this weekend in Hammond against a talented Southeastern squad. Robichaux said Gunner Leger will start Friday, and Nick Lee will start Saturday, but after that there are still a lot of things up in the air.
Let's start with the defense. You can't start building a lineup until you decided who is playing where. Robichaux's first puzzle piece is Joe Robbins.
"It's going to kind of start with Joe, then we're going to kind of work around the horn," Robichaux laid out.
Robbins is a slick third baseman and a seasoned fifth-year senior, but the health of his knees might limit his ability to play in the outfield. Logically, that places him at third, where he can help the team the most. That means Alex Pinero slots in at first base.
The middle of the infield gets interesting. Brenn Conrad and Hunter Kasuls can both play second base, and Kasuls and Brad Antchak are equally capable at shortstop. Robichaux was adamant that he wants to find a way to have Steven Sensley, Todd Lott and Conrad all in the lineup at the same time. Using logic, that probably puts Conrad at second base.
Antchak swung a hot bat this offseason, but Kasuls is a lefty. The starting shortstop could very well depend on who the opponent has on the mound. It's a good problem for Robichaux to have, possessing so many capable players in the field and at the plate.
"It's good to know that we can bring some guys in defensively and not get just killed with the bat," Robichaux said.
That leads to the outfield. Izzy Edwards, Kennon Fontenot and Tyler Stover are all options in left field, and Steven Sensley will most likely get the start in right field. Sensley spent a lot of time at DH last season, but with incoming freshman Todd Lott recovering from a torn labrum, they don't feel comfortable throwing him in the outfield yet.
Coach Robe thinks whenever Lott gets cleared he will lend a skilled glove to the outfield, but it's not worth taking the risk of reinjury at this point.
"We think down the road he might be able to trot out to left field, but right now we think he's a DH," Robichaux explained.
That brings us to centerfield. If Robbins can't play due to his knees, that leaves Robichaux with Jam Williams, Zach LaFleur and Logan Stoelke. Since Williams is still working back from a slight injury, it looks like the converted pitcher, Stoelke, could get the start in center.
Robichaux and the rest of the team all agree that Stoelke's adjustment to the outfield has been impressive. He's an incredible athlete, who can track down balls in the gap easily, his arm is a cannon and he's getting up to speed at the plate surprisingly fast. As Tyler Girouard said, "Trust me, he can get it."
Stoelke's emergence in centerfield provides Robichaux yet another option in the outfield, and don't be surprised if Stoelke is the man in center on opening day.
"Right now, if you go poll everybody, I would probably believe that he would come out as our best centerfielder," Robichaux said frankly. When it comes to his hitting, Robe stated, "We feel like we could put him in the nine hole and let him work from there."
If you haven't noticed, I didn't mention the catcher position. That's because there's no debate. It's Handsome Monica's spot, and he's owning it.
Monica was a huge haul for Louisiana when he committed to play for the Cajuns. He swings a sweet bat, carries himself with tons of confidence and brings a lot of attitude to the team. He worked hard to learn Robichaux's pitching system, and he feels comfortable managing the staff.
Robichaux said Monica earned the right to start behind the plate on opening day, but he wants him to keep building his relationships with each individual pitcher.
"You have to be careful because how he handles Gunner is not how he should handle D-Mo," Robichaux said. He added, "He needs to continue to grow with each pitcher so he doesn't try to make each pitcher pitch the same way."
Now, we get to dive into the deep pool of pitchers. Gunner goes on Friday, Lee follows on Saturday, but how does the rest of the landscape shape out?
Colten Schmidt would probably be starting on Sunday, if it weren't for some soreness in his pectoral muscle and bicep. It's nothing serious, but Robichaux doesn't play with fire when it comes to early injuries for his pitchers. Coach Robe said it will probably either be Evan Guillory or Hogan Harris on Sunday, which leads to an entirely different conversation.
Robichaux loves Harris' versatility. He wants to develop him as a future starter, to help prepare for the possibility of losing a lot of arms to the MLB Draft after this season. At the same time, the temptation to use a power lefty out of the bullpen is almost too much to pass up.
Harris is prepared for anything. If Robichaux wants to throw him on a Friday night out of the bullpen to shut down the opponent's top left-handed batter, he can definitely do that. If Robe doesn't call his number on Friday or Saturday, he might start Sunday. He has some of the best stuff on the staff, and he's going to help the Cajuns in a lot of different ways as a sophomore.
If Guillory doesn't pitch on Sunday, expect him to go in the midweek. Who is the odd man out in this situation? Wyatt Marks, but don't worry. Robe has a plan for him too.
Marks is going to move into the bullpen to bolster an already nasty set of arms. Eric Carter went from being a starter to a reliever, and he was absolutely key in last year's success. Robichaux thinks Marks can make the same move and possibly become even more dangerous.
"Wyatt is more of a power guy. He can come in and strike batters out with that slider. His velocity should jump up out of pen," Robichaux explained.
With Marks, Harris, and Colton Lee as options to set up All-American closer Dylan Moore, opposing teams might see the door closing a lot earlier in the game than they're ready for.
Robichaux also wants to develop youngsters like Jacob Norman and Jack Burk too, who could fill the middle-relief role along with senior Chris Charpentier. The options are endless, and Robichaux will have plenty of chess pieces to use on the board in any situation.
Burk and Norman are redshirt freshmen, but Robichaux wants to develop them for the future. He made sure to explain though, development is easier said than done.
"When you go to the restaurant, you don't want to catch the waiter in training. But how does he get trained?" Robichaux asked. "This development stuff is not easy. You would like to develop and win, but sometimes it just doesn't happen like that."
No matter who throws or where players are in the field though, Robichaux won't accept any excuses.
With the construction process at Russo Park, starting the season off on the road, having to break in young arms like Norman and Burk, Robichaux wanted to be absolutely clear that his team wouldn't look for anything to blame if things go wrong.
"We have so many excuses, they're hanging like low fruit," Robichaux said. "We don't want to grab for nothing."
Robichaux said it tons of times already this offseason. The preseason rankings mean nothing to him. They're based off last season's success. In his eyes, this year's team earned nothing. It's time for them to earn their respect.
The curtain will rise this Friday, and the players will hit the stage. It's up to them to write this season's script. Will it end in tragedy or crescendo into something glorious? The path to prominence begins this week.