Q Will the pitching staff be better?
AMost definitely. Last year’s 4.40 ERA was very un-Tony Robichaux-like despite the 43 wins, and the Cajuns coach recruited two key junior-college arms in Carson Baranik and Greg Milhorn to join son and preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year Austin Robichaux in the rotation.
Q Will the pitching staff be deep enough?
AThe Cajuns ran short on consistent pitching depth last year, but this year’s additions will allow returning starters Ryan Wilson and Cody Boutte to spot-start and work midweek games. Robichaux also has seven other first-year pitchers and an experienced bullpen from both sides.
Q Who’s going to lead off in the batting order?
AThe only departure from the 2013 lineup was leadoff hitter Dex Kjerstad, who led the Sun Belt Conference at .388 and also hit 12 homers. Outfielder Seth Harrison hit 338 and is a candidate along with several attack-style hitters who could take that role.
Q Will the power stay on for the Ragin’ Cajuns?
AUL-Lafayette bucked the national trend toward “small ball,” leading the nation with 74 homers and ranking second in slugging and sixth in hitting (.317) and scoring (7.6 runs per game). In the third year in assistant Matt Deggs’ hitting system, those numbers should be big again.
Q Is this a team that can get to Omaha?
AThe Cajuns have full-time starters back in all but one position from a 43-win team that was among the nation’s best-hitting clubs. They’ve got two quality catchers and depth in the infield and outfield and should be hugely improved on the mound. They should be positioned for their deepest postseason run since winning twice in the 2000 CWS.
IN THE FIELD:
C Michael Strentz, 6-1, 210, Jr.
Returned to full-time catching duties last year after injury-plagued 2012, hit .311 with team-leading 23 doubles, seven homers and 45 RBIs, named preseason All-Sun Belt.
1B Chase Compton, 6-2, 210, Sr.
Struggled offensively last season (.265, lowest among starters) after leading team with .328 average as sophomore, former MVP of Alaska Summer Collegiate League, has started 100 career games at first base.
2B Jace Conrad 6-0, 195, Jr.
Returns to second base after finishing 2013 at first, hit .286 for second straight season and only struck out a team-low 16 times, had walk-off three-run HR in win over FIU to open Sun Belt Conference tournament.
SS Blake Trahan 5-9, 180, So.
Stepped into full-time role and started all 62 games, earned Freshman All-America honors, hit .319 with team-leading 30 walks and was 13-for-13 on stolen bases, Freshman of Year in Sun Belt and a preseason All-Sun Belt selection.
3B Ryan Leonards 6-0, 190, Sr.
Has started in six different positions in three years, but only three of 113 career starts have been at third, hit .328 last season, mostly out of No. 2 spot, and started at both second base and left field.
LF Caleb Adams 6-0, 185, Jr.
Preseason All-America third team by Collegiate Baseball, first-team All-Louisiana and All-South Central Region last year after hitting .339 and leading team and ranking ninth nationally with 16 homers, Sun Belt preseason Player of Year.
CF Seth Harrison 6-0, 200, Sr.
Started 52 games in outfield in first season, hit .338 with 17 doubles and nine homers while starting 44 of last 45 games in center field, made All-SBC first team, candidate to lead off.
RF Dylan Butler 5-11, 200, Jr.
Led team in homers as a freshman but hit only .249, improved to .295 last year along with eight HRs, 42 RBIs and 14 doubles, has started in both left and right field with 87 starts in two seasons.
IN THE ROTATION:
No. 1 Austin Robichaux 6-6, 170, Jr. Returning All-SBC pick and preseason league Pitcher of the Year, went 9-2 with a 3.05 ERA last year in 16 starts, had 2.91 ERA as freshman despite 2-4 record, fanned 88 and walked 22 last year.
No. 2 Carson Baranik 6-3, 215, Jr. Part of LSU squad for one year before going to Miami Dade, went 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA in 63 innings and led team in strikeouts with 59, played in three games at LSU as true freshman.
No. 3 Greg Milhorn 6-2, 180, Jr. Went 3-3 with 3.77 ERA while striking out 62 in 62 innings in only season at Northeast Texas, threw in three games with one start and a 3.38 ERA for Arkansas in 2012, former 30th-round draft pick by Detroit Tigers,=.
IN THE BULLPEN:
RP Cody Boutte, Matt Plitt, Ryan Wilson Boutte (8-4, 5.30 ERA), who won the national championship game for LSU-Eunice in 2012) will spot start. ... Plitt (4-1, 4.19 ERA) will start midweek games and work long relief. .... Wilson (6-4, 3.25 ERA, one save, in 22 appearances) split 24 starts between pitcher and outfield last year. He should provide left-handed short relief.
CLOSER Matt Hicks 5-8, 170, Sr. Went 3-2 with school-record 11 saves and 4.85 ERA in 30 appearances in 2013 after going 3-1 with four saves and 2.92 ERA as sophomore, was 3-1 with 3.80 ERA as setup man in 2011, has made 71 mound appearances in career.
OPPONENT: Eastern Illinois.
WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday.
WHERE: M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
RADIO: KPEL-FM, 96.5.