LAFAYETTE — Normally, Friday would be a stressful day for Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux.
Friday is the deadline for major league teams to sign their picks from June’s amateur draft. Under usual conditions, Robichaux would be sweating out some last-minute pitches from teams looking to one of his high school or junior college signees, or perhaps one of his rising seniors.
But Robichaux can breathe easy.
The Cajuns’ entire signing class is making its way to campus, including players like pitchers Nick Lee and Hogan Harris and sluggers Ryne Ray and Steven Sensley, all of whom were expected to be drafted. Only Sensley was picked in the draft, by the Rays in the 38th round, and he told Robichaux he would not be signing Friday.
It’s a far cry from last season, when the Cajuns had six juniors leave school early. As big as a loss as he is, Blake Trahan is the only player the Cajuns are losing who didn’t exhaust his eligibility.
The other players not being drafted is not a sign of their talent not being worthy, but is more a reflection of the scouts’ knowledge that they’d be difficult to lure away from college without a large sum of money.
“When guys set (minimum signing bonus) numbers and they want to go to college, the draft can be deceiving,” Robichaux said. “The greatest thing about this is that when you add everything up, this class might’ve turned down up to $2 million.
“Does that mean we’re guaranteed to win? No. But we think we’ve got some guys that really want a chance to get to Omaha.”
And Omaha, lately, has been so close the Cajuns could taste it. The team fell one win shy of college baseball’s ultimate stage in 2014, then two wins shy this season with a young team that returns most of its core in 2016.
But the Cajuns are replacing an All-American shortstop in Trahan, along with 25 of their 57 home runs from last year’s team. They know Omaha isn’t a possibility unless you replace talent with talent.
“Hopefully we’ll break through and get back to Omaha, that’s our No. 1 goal, and you can’t do that without good players,” Robichaux said. “It’s not an easy thing to do to be one of eight left standing. You’re not going to do it unless you have good talent, good players.”
Sensley could start immediately for the Cajuns, who entered the offseason without a first baseman on their roster. He hit .374 while clubbing 21 home runs for LSU-Eunice last season.
If Ray stays at catcher, where he starred for Evangel Christian, he will likely have to wait his turn for a full-time starting job behind rising senior Nick Thurman, another player Robichaux thought might be drafted.
Ray has a strong and quick delivery from behind the plate and, like Sensley, possesses surprising speed for his size (6-foot-2, 215 pounds).
Robichaux also likes the makeup of junior college transfer Ishmael Edwards, an athletic outfielder who hit .362 with 40 RBIs for Howard College last year.
The Cajuns added a handful of infielders they like in Dylan Poncho, Hunter Kasuls and junior college transfers Brad Antchak and Joel Pinero, one of whom could replace Trahan at shortstop.
But the pitching figures to again be the strength. All three members of the end-of-season weekend rotation and the closer are returning for their sophomore seasons, including Sun Belt Freshman of the Year Gunner Leger.
“We talked to these pitchers that are coming back; there’s going to be more charts out there on them, teams are going to be more familiar with them,” Robichaux said. “There’s going to be a lot of changes as compared to pitching as freshmen.”
Despite the logjam of young arms, Harris and Lee figure to make an immediate impact for the Cajuns this season. Both the left-handed Harris and right-handed Lee project as weekend rotation pitchers at some point.
“We’ve got some good young talent coming in that’ll push the other talent to get better,” Robichaux said. “Kind of like the year the Braves had a very good pitching staff, each pitcher pushed each pitcher to get better. That’s going to be a plus.”
The easy part is over for Robichaux, who now has to figure out how to make all the individual parts come together as a whole.
“We’re just really thankful that we were able to get through everything,” Robichaux said. “Now what we’ve got to do is get to the fall and put all the pieces of the puzzle together.”