In the preseason Sun Belt baseball poll, the UL Ragin’ Cajuns were picked to finish third in the West division with two first-place votes and enough overall votes to be second in the East race.
At times during their first 21 games, the Cajuns have played like a team equally or even surpassing that expectation.
And at times, UL hasn’t looked the part of a team that’ll finish among the top three or four teams in the league.
The hope was to have most of the questions answered by now, but that hasn’t been the case through UL’s 11-10 start to the season.
“We’ve definitely been tested that’s for sure – the road and at home – it’s been a tremendous schedule,” UL coach Matt Deggs said. “To be where we’re at right now, part of you thinks we should be a lot better and then part of you thinks it could maybe not even be this good.
“I’ve said it all along that we’re in a work in progress. I truly believe our best baseball is front of us.”
To make Deggs a prophet, the Cajuns are going to need to improve in several areas.
In early February, the biggest question mark for most was deciding the shortstop. There were multiple candidates, but it appears Bobby Lada (.298, 7 RBIs) has won that job for now.
“I think Bobby has played pretty consistently,” Deggs said. “He’s made some great plays. We obviously have to continue to get better at dominating the routine play. His at-bats against really good pitching has been some of the best. He’s aggressive, he’s got a short memory – not a whole lot gets to him – I like the way Bobby’s played.”
The spillover from that battle should have solved any voids at second and third base, but that hasn’t been the case. Sam Riola (.147, 3 RBIs), Jonathan Brandon (.176, 3 RBIs) and Kevin Fitzgerald (.074, 1 RBI) haven’t hit, and Brett Borgogno (.318, 2 RBIs) has hit better than expected, but hasn’t been as consistent the glove. He also tweaked his hamstring last weekend.
Deggs is waiting for someone to take charge.
“All of them have filled in and done a nice job at times, but none of them have said, ‘Hey look, this spot is mine,’” Deggs said.
The wild card in the picture is CJ Willis (.250, 3 RBIs), who technically has the ability to play any of those spots but has only flashed with the bat.
Ben Fitzgerald (.343, 5 HRs, 11 RBIs) is the only hitter having a good season so far. He began the season without a position, but has settled in at first base.
The other locks appear to be Tyler Robertson (.256, 3 HRs, 10 RBIs) in center, freshman Carson Roccaforte (.278, 1 HR, 9 RBIs) in right and Drake Osborn (.240, 2 HRs, 9 RBIs) at catcher.
As a team, UL is batting .241 with a .328 on-base and a .384 slugging percentage.
If not much more efficient or powerful, the Cajuns must get much better at timely hitting in the second half to make a run.
The pitching was supposed to the team’s strength and it has been, but sloppy defense has produced 20 unearned runs in 21 games.
The only certain thing in the weekend rotation at this point is Spencer Arrighetti (3-1, 1.10 ERA, 1 save). Hayden Durke (2-2, 6.20 ERA) and Carter Robinson (1-1, 3.20) have had their moments, but aren’t locks.
Other potential options include Connor Cooke (2-2, 3.18), Chipper Menard (0-0, 1.42) and Austin Perrin (0-1, 1.80).
“I think that’s always going to be influx from an injury standpoint to a consistency standpoint to a possible matchup,” Deggs said. “We’ve got a lot of options.”
The staff is still waiting for Sun Belt Preseason Pitcher of the Year Conor Angel (0-1, 6.48) to emerge.
The bullpen should be good enough for a top three finish if the rest of the holes are filled with Jason Nelson (1-0, 1.38), Brandon Talley (0-0, 2.57), Jeff Wilson (0-0, 3.00) and Jacob Schultz (0-1, 5.19) as options.
No, there weren’t any weak opponents over the first 21 games to pad any statistics. But there won’t be many, if any, in the second half either.
There have been flashes. The potential is definitely there.
The waiting is over, though. The Cajuns have to play better in a hurry.