LAFAYETTE — It was during the MLB draft last June that Kyle Clement first started to have an inkling that the Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team might have a chance to put something special together in 2016.
He called teammate Stefan Trosclair, who was coming off a phenomenal debut season with the Ragin’ Cajuns in which he mashed 16 home runs, and asked him for an update.
“During the draft last year, I’d call Stefan and say, ‘Hey man, you get called yet?’ ” Clement recalled. “He’d say, ‘Yeah, I got called, but I’m thinking I’m going to come back for my senior year.’ The more he started saying that, the more I was thinking that if we would both come back for our senior year, with our young talent that we have coming in, we could put together an amazing season. That’s the plan.”
A year after the Cajuns saw their 2014 roster gutted by the draft, they went through the same process in 2015 virtually unscathed.
Only one draft-eligible junior from last season’s team was drafted: All-America shortstop Blake Trahan, and it was a foregone conclusion that he would be gone.
What was unexpected: None of Trahan’s draft-eligible teammates joined him in the professional ranks.
What was even more unexpected: None of the Cajuns’ ballyhooed signing class jumped ship, either.
“We had a lot of things that could’ve happened,” coach Tony Robichaux said.
Prized pitching recruits Hogan Harris and Nick Lee could’ve told professional teams they were ready to go pro. The same thing applied to junior-college sluggers Steven Sensley and Ishmael Edwards. Senior catcher Nick Thurman joined Trosclair in generating some interest.
There was potential for this year’s roster to look a lot different than the one that will trot out Friday night in the season opener against Sam Houston State.
“We’d have a different set of questions today if that would’ve all occurred,” Robichaux said. “But we were fortunate enough that all those guys stayed put and didn’t get spooked too bad, wanted to stay here and try to get back to where we were and try to push through.”
All those pieces falling into place has created big expectations — shared by the Cajuns, those who follow them and those who rank teams before they play games.
The Cajuns were ranked in the top 20 of every major poll, landing at No. 6 in the Collegiate Baseball ranking. Those expectations are fueled by every member of what Baseball America tabbed as the No. 20 recruiting class in the nation making his way to campus and the return of the entire weekend rotation to go with Clement and Trosclair.
The rankings are an acknowledgement of the Cajuns’ capability of putting together a banner season.
It’s Robichaux’s job to make sure his team achieves what it’s capable of.
“Our biggest concern right now is to continue to take steps to reach our potential,” he said. “What our potential is? We don’t know. That’s why we’ve got to play the season.
“The one thing we do know is what the outside world thinks of our potential by ranking us as high as they have. What we’ve got to do is find out what our potential is.”