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Baseball: Tatford highlights selections

Four Cajuns taken on draft’s second day

Four years of college baseball obviously helped Jefferies Tatford, but it was a contact he made in high school that probably helped his high selection Friday in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft.

Tatford, who wrapped up a stellar UL career by hitting .351 in his senior season, was picked in the 15th round of the pro draft Friday by the New York Mets as the 483rd player chosen. Tatford, who signed with the Cajuns out of St. Thomas More, was a 46th-round pick by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays out of high school.

"It’s safe to say that college was definitely the right avenue," Tatford said. "It definitely helped me out."

What also helped was that former Tampa Bay scout Benny Latino is now the area scout for the Mets.

"He was the guy that flew me down there to work out for them out of high school," Tatford said. "We knew each other pretty well through that. I had filled out a questionnaire for the Mets, but I didn’t have any real contact with them until about 10 minutes after they picked me. I’m sure it was because he (Latino) was already familiar with me."

Tatford’s draft boost from college was echoed in all of UL’s draft picks, with four Cajuns selected in Friday’s final 45 rounds after catcher Jonathan Lucroy’s third-round pick Thursday by the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitcher Andrew Laughter was a 10th-round selection by the Texas Rangers, pitcher Matt Pilgreen was tabbed in the 29th round by the New York Yankees, and infielder Devery Van De Keere was picked in the 48th round by the Kansas City Royals.

Tatford was the only one of the five to be drafted out of high school.

"The important thing is all of them helped themselves by going to college," said Cajun coach Tony Robichaux. "They were all able to better themselves."

Lucroy, a junior, will likely pass on his senior year after his third-round selection. The other four were seniors during UL’s 45-17 Sun Belt Conference championship season that ended last weekend when the Cajuns fell to host Texas A&M in the NCAA Regional finals.

Pilgreen, though, can apply for a sixth year due to injury hardship. The Shreveport product missed both the 2004 and 2005 seasons after arm surgeries.

"Coach Robe was one of the first to call and congratulate me," Pilgreen said. "I told him I’d been waiting for this day for a long time and I was excited, but now I’m confused as to what to do. The good thing is that I have a couple of options and neither one of them are bad."

Robichaux’s call wasn’t the first he got, though. A congratulatory call from Cajun second baseman Devon Bourque woke him up.

"He said congratulations and that I’d been picked by the Yankees," Pilgreen said. "I told him I wasn’t in the mood for him to mess with me."

Pilgreen finished 7-0 with three saves this season, all in relief, along with a 3.17 ERA. He earned all-tournament honors at the NCAA Regional after two stellar outings where he pitched 11 innings and gave up eight hits and only one run.

"I told him we’re treating him as if he’s going to return and start the paperwork for his sixth year," Robichaux said. "We’ll do that until he tells us he’s signing. He’s had the two surgeries and they are going to use his age against him, but on the other hand they’ve only seen him pitch one year and he can continue to get better."

Laughter finished 3-1 with three saves and a 2.80 ERA in 18 appearances, and he and Pilgreen were a potent combination out of the bullpen over the latter half of UL’s season. The Longwood, Fla., product had struggled one year earlier as a junior (11.25 ERA in eight games).

"He came back after his junior year a different player," Robichaux said. "He got more committed to his craft. He always had the size and ability, but last year he didn’t channel it in the manner he did this year."

Van De Keere led UL in hitting with a .368 mark as a junior in 2006 and was an All-Sun Belt Conference pick, but struggled as a senior and hit .254 with one homer and 22 RBI’s after a nine-homer, 41-RBI junior season.

Tatford, on the other hand, improved all of his offensive numbers as a senior, with 10 homers and 46 RBIs and an impressive .484 on-base percentage thanks to his knowledge of the strike zone. Tatford drew 42 walks and was hit 16 times by pitches.

The Lafayette native also showed his capability in the outfield in his first year in the position. His over-the-fence catch robbed the Aggies of a home run in last Saturday’s winners bracket final and preserved a 5-4 UL win.

"I don’t know what they have planned for me," Tatford said of the Mets’ plans for contracts and assignments, "but they said they’d call back in a couple of days."

Cajun draftees


Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee (3rd round)

Andrew Laughter, Texas (10th)

Jeffries Tatford, NY Mets (15th)

Matt Pilgreen, NY Yankees (29th)

Devery Van De Keere, Kansas City (48th)