The future is now for the Southern University baseball team.
This is the mindset Southern coach Roger Cador has embraced at the conclusion of fall practice last Sunday as the Jaguars welcomed in a host of new talent to the program that included 17 freshmen.
Cador decided — despite the Jaguars making a Cinderella run at the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament finals last season — to hit the reset button on his program, prompting a dramatic overhaul of the roster that saw not only an influx of younger players but also the removal of several veterans who didn’t fit with the direction of the team.
And with only 30 days of offseason work, Cador assessed Southern will most likely be less talented and less experienced than last season, but the potential is there to achieve even more through an improved sense of team unity.
“What I like about this team is that they aren’t overly talented but they play together, they understand good team work, and if we’re going to be successful, that’s going to be our trump card,” Cador said. “I think we’ll play better defensively this year. We’ll pitch a little better. Probably won’t hit as much, but that’s OK.”
Cador is waiting until he sees the freshmen play in real games before making any individual assessments, but he is optimistic in regards to what they can immediately contribute. He said many of the freshmen will get a chance to play at some point in the season.
One of the Jaguars’ few veterans, junior second baseman Robinson Mateo echoed his coach, saying the new players have meshed well with the upperclassmen thus far.
Unlike his coach, Mateo was willing to note the play of freshmen outfielders Jayvean Williams and Anthony Valdez as players who could make an immediate impact, particularly on defense.
“The new guys that we have now can fill out the right spots and fill the spots that were missing,” Mateo said.
One new player that Cador did lump praise on was junior transfer out of Delgado, Troy Lewis, whom Cador plans to have split time between shortstop and closing pitcher.
The back end of the bullpen was a major issue for the Jaguars last season, lacking much depth beyond an often tumultuous starting rotation.
“That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life,” Lewis said. “Everybody has their own special talent, and that’s what mine is. I can come from shortstop and go close and help the team win from both sides.”
But while Cador said he’s expecting this new team to make significant strides, he views the 2016 season as only the first step in a two-year process.
By the time the new players are settled into their second season with the Jaguars, Cador is predicting the 2017 season to be even better.
“When (assistant coach) Dan Canevari and I met, I did make it clear that I thought 2017 would be a better chance for us,” Cador said. “Even last year, I kept saying, ‘Let’s look to 2017. Let’s not get too caught up in trying to do it in 2016. We can maybe do it, but let’s start young, let’s start new and build to 2017.’ He agreed with me that that was a good philosophy.”
‘Southern Style’ Gala set
The Southern baseball program, along with the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association, will host the Major League Baseball “Southern Style” Gala on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at the L’Auberge Hotel and Casino to support youth baseball programs around the Baton Rouge area.
Formerly the Bringing Back Baseball Gala, the event will feature a keynote address by Oakland Athletics third base coach and former Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington, a native of New Orleans.
Anywhere from 20 to 30 other current and former major league players will also be available for signings, including Ryan Theriot, Will Clark, Lee Smith, Joe Fontenot, Mikie Mahtook, Cody Hall, Frazier Hall and Trenidad Hubbard, with many more expected to attend.
Silent and live auctions will be held, with local broadcaster Lyn Rollins acting as master of ceremonies.
Those interested in purchasing tickets to the event can call Cador at (225) 771-2513 or Canevari at (225) 771-3882. Tickets are $100 for adults and $50 for children 13 and under.