Super regional bound Cajuns may pay price of success on draft day

Super regional bound Cajuns have host of MLB draft prospects

LAFAYETTE — Louisiana-Lafayette’s baseball practice Wednesday was business as usual.

It should be the same with Thursday’s workout, and Friday’s official NCAA-scheduled practice. Ragin’ Cajuns coach Tony Robichaux has gone to great lengths to insure that his team sticks to a protocol that has worked throughout the season.

But this weekend isn’t like any other, and not only because the top-ranked Cajuns will be a first-time host for an NCAA super regional when Ole Miss visits with a trip to the College World Series on the line.

Major League Baseball holds its first-year player draft Thursday through Saturday. And by the time those 40 rounds are completed, the number of Cajuns players’ names that are called could reach double figures.

“For every baseball player, when you start when you’re 5 years old, that’s the big dream, to make it to MLB,” Cajuns junior catcher Michael Strentz said. “If we get drafted, it’s awesome and it’s great. But right now, our main focus is to get to Omaha.”

“Someone asked me if I was excited about (Thursday),” junior outfielder Caleb Adams said. “Me and Mike kind of looked at each other, like, what’s (Thursday)? And they reminded us that the draft starts (Thursday). That shows you where our focus is right now.”

Strentz and Adams join as many as six other Cajuns juniors who could be selected by a major league team in the draft, which has its first two rounds sandwiched around compensatory picks Thursday, Rounds 3-10 Friday, and Rounds 11-40 Saturday. UL-Lafayette also has several in its eight-senior graduating class who could get a chance to play professionally through the draft.

“We’re pulling for all of them,” Robichaux said. “We want them all to get drafted. I think it’s good for our program and for the recruits that are coming in, to see this development and that they can come in here and get better. I’m proud of all of them.”

Robichaux is not one of those college coaches who abhors the draft and its propensity to strip away his team’s most talented players, even though much of his current junior class will likely have that option available. In addition to Adams and Strentz, that group includes his own son, pitcher Austin Robichaux, and second baseman and Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year Jace Conrad, both of whom have been projected in the top six rounds by at least one baseball-insider listing. Pitcher Carson Baranik and outfielder-pitcher Seth Harrison are other likely junior selections.

“The draft is an inexact science,” Tony Robichaux said. “Some guys will be looking for senior drafts, and that’s where we’re hoping: The (Cody) Bouttes, the (Ryan) Wilsons, the (Matt) Plitts , the (Ryan) Leonards and all those guys get a chance. We’re pulling for them with all our might. I can tell you, from my sons, that’s their dream.

“But it’s according to what teams are looking for. Some teams may be looking for young high school pitchers, some teams don’t like pitchers that aren’t over 6 feet. When you start adding budgets in now and teams trying to bring bonuses down, you can get 25th or 30th-round guys picked in the third round to save money.”

The draft obviously falls at an inopportune time for the 16 teams still involved in the NCAA super regionals, but Austin Robichaux — already tabbed as the Cajuns’ opening-game starter for Saturday — said the distraction will be minimal.

“Getting drafted was a goal for all of us at one point,” he said. “But before that goal, we had set one to get to Omaha. The draft’s the draft, but our main goal is to get there. We just push that aside for now.”

Tony Robichaux said that he and his coaches will have one last meeting with the team Thursday to talk about the draft, among other topics.

“Just to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said. “Our guys have done a great job this year taking care of their business. The draft is going to be finished by the time we take the field (Saturday), which is good.”

Other teams in the super regional round aren’t as lucky, since play begins as early as 11 a.m. Friday in Nashville, and the draft will still be in the single-digit rounds. Robichaux anticipates that Saturday’s 30 rounds will be completed before the Cajuns and the Rebels have their first pitch at 7 p.m. at M. L. “Tigue” Moore Field.

“We’re glad this is happening, because that means we have a good baseball team,” Robichaux said. “We had seven guys drafted off the Omaha team (in 2000), and we have that chance again with this team. It’s a bittersweet thing. ... You take them and you groom them and you get them ready, and they get really good at what they do. And then somebody buys their services. You have to understand that and be willing to let them go and start the process all over again.

“But we want this trouble. These guys really want to get to Omaha, and the draft is a by-product of that. I don’t think you’re going to get to Omaha and not have to worry about the draft. When you’re one of eight teams left, you’re going to be full of draft choices.”

“It is a childhood dream,” Adams said. “I was in high school writing down what you want to be when you graduate college, and I put professional baseball player. But our dream as a team is to go to Omaha and make a run at the national championship. There’s plenty of time to play baseball beyond this, but we only have three weeks to win a national championship.”