The Southern baseball team doesn’t start practice until Friday, but already the Jaguars are ahead of where they were at this time last year.
Coach Roger Cador and his staff have a clearer idea of who will fill the most prominent roles. Most of the roles were determined during preseason last season.
Though positions can still be won and lost, Cador has a pretty good idea where things are headed. Most importantly, he hopes Southern is headed in the right direction after an uncharacteristic record of 10-26 last season, failing to qualify for the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament.
“I feel good about the group because the kids feel good about the group themselves,” Cador said Wednesday.
He said he got a good feeling when he informed 11 seniors that they had the opportunity to transfer to another school and become eligible immediately because of Southern’s ongoing ban from NCAA post-season play.
“We told the seniors that they could transfer and be eligible right away and none of them wanted to leave,” Cador said. “To me that says that they feel good about themselves here. That says a lot about Southern and a lot about the baseball program.”
The Jaguars were 6-16 in the SWAC, finishing last in the West and second-to-last in the conference. But Cador hopes the return of several key veterans and the infusion of a lot of newcomers will revive the team.
D.J. Wallace, the top run producer a year ago, returns in right field and will be joined by other veterans in center fielder Lance Jones and Tyler Kirksey and Gavin Webster, who will platoon in left.
Spillover from the outfield could impact the corners of the infield. The third-base position came open when Sergio Torres had to move from third to catcher to back up Jose De La Torre after De La Torre’s primary backup, Sam May, became academically ineligible.
Rivers Frederick came from Delgado Community College and LSU Eunice as an outfielder, but he caught Cador’s eye while snagging grounders at third during batting practice in the fall.
“I saw something I liked,” Cador said. “I told the coaches, “this kid’s nice” and he said, “I played infield before.”
Nkosi Djehuti-Mes, who played mostly outfield in high school in Oakland, Calif., is likely to play first base “so we can get his bat in the lineup,” Cador said. Tyler Lee, a walk-on whose father Harvey played for the Jaguars, will back up Djehuti-Mes.
Marcus Tomlin returns at second base and Bud Morton and Phillip Williams both return at shortstop.
Cador said the designated hitter will be determined during preseason practice.
Nearly all of the pitching roles were wide open at this time last year, but that’s not the case now with the weekend rotation and short-relief areas.
“We’re pretty clear about that,” Cador said.
Santos Saldivar likely will be the Friday-night starter again, followed by J’Markus George and Omar Ugarte.
Daniel Franklin will have a role out of the bullpen and James Fontenot likely will set up closer Rafeal Diaz.
Cador said first-year pitching coach Dan Canevari plans to chop mid-week games among four or five pitchers. Cador also mentioned Justin Freeman as “as a very cerebral kid who’s coming along pretty well.”
Southern plays an exhibition at home against Baton Rouge Community College on Feb. 13 before visiting Nicholls State in the season opener. Feb. 17.
The MLB Urban Invitational is being played a week later than last season to avoid a conflict with Mardi Gras. Southern, UNO, Grambling and Alcorn State will play a round-robin Feb. 20-22 at the Urban Youth Academy in New Orleans.
The Jaguars first regular-season game at home is against Nicholls State on Feb. 24 and four days later they host Prairie View in a double-header to start SWAC play.
Follow Les East on Twitter @EastAdvocate.