LAFAYETTE — The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team's lineup revolves around Joe Robbins, both figuratively and literally.
Sure, the senior from Tioga High and three-year letterman is the squad’s second-leading returning hitter (.286), and he led the Cajuns in home runs (10), stole a team-high 10 bases and had only seven errors in 60 starts last year. He’s also the only five-year member of the Ragin’ Cajuns program.
“Joe does so many different things for us,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “We always talk about everybody having to do their job, and Joe does a lot of different jobs.”
Robbins likely will start at third base Friday when UL-Lafayette opens its season at Southeastern Louisiana, but he could also play in center field over the weekend in Hammond.
If Robbins plays third base, fellow returning infield starter and senior Alex Pinero likely shifts to first base, and former pitcher Logan Stoelke or newcomer Zach LaFleur will be in center while returnee Jam Williams continues to recover from a minor knee injury. If Robbins goes to the outfield, Pinero likely plays third and senior Brenn Conrad slides from second to first.
That’s a lot of moving parts, especially with the opener only a few days away.
“What we’re trying to do is keep Joe healthy as possible for as long as we can,” Robichaux said. “The wear and tear on his knee is a lot more in the outfield than at third base. On the other hand, we want to make sure, when we send our outfield out there, we’re not vulnerable there. That all dictates where Joe goes. If we feel body-wise that he needs it, we’re prepared to play Joe at third base every day. We’ll see where he is Friday and work off that.”
Robbins’ 60 starts last year were second behind only the 63 by Conrad (.280), who played first base, second base and designated hitter. Pinero is the leading returning hitter for average (.312); he played first and third.
There may be different roles but no new faces in the infield. Senior Brad Antchak (.246) and Hunter Kasuls (.234) alternated at shortstop last year, with Kasuls having the ability to move to second base and seeing some outfield duty in spring intrasquad games.
The outfield won’t be as experienced, but the players are still familiar. Junior Steven Sensley (.252) had six homers last season while playing mostly right field, and Williams, Kennon Fontenot (.240) and senior Ishmael Edwards (.265) also saw action. Stoelke, signed as a pitcher/outfielder, saw only limited mound action in the past two years but has impressed Robichaux with his defense.
“(Stoelke) went to summer ball and played a position again,” Robichaux said. “If you poll everybody, he may be our best center fielder. He’s very athletic, one of the fastest guys on the team, he can throw people out at every base and he’s run some balls down in the gaps better than anybody.”
Freshman Todd Lott would also be in the mix in the outfield had it not been for a torn labrum that is still healing. Lott will likely begin the year in the DH role, which Sensley or Conrad could also fill.
“We feel we have 11 guys that can play every day,” Robichaux said, “so that gives us a chance in a lot of areas. The more they keep working at these positions, the better. We can bring guys defensively late and not just get killed with the bat.”
The one spot that won’t change day-to-day is catcher, where junior-college transfer Handsome Monica, a Mandeville native, is entrenched. Monica takes over for the graduated Nick Thurman, who caught every pitch in all 64 games last season and started 144 games over four seasons.
“What (Monica) has to do now is work with each pitcher because each of them’s different,” Robichaux said. “How he handles one is not how he should handle the others. But he’s got two years of junior college, so I think he’ll be fine.”