Baseball: Deggs excited about chance to mold new Cajuns infield
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, June 18, 2020
Now that last week’s 2020 Major League Baseball Draft is in the books, UL coach Matt Deggs has a better handle on what his roster will look like in 2021.
Gone for sure are shortstop Hayden Cantrelle, was selected in the fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers, and ace Brandon Young, who agreed to sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles.
Young is the second Cajun who was a senior in 2020 – but who could have returned in 2021 with an extra season of eligibility because the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic cut this season short – that now is known to be done with his UL career.
Deggs confirmed outfielder Gavin Bourgeois, a Notre Dame High product who was UL’s No. 2 hitter in 2018 but who missed most of the 2019 season with an injury, has “retired,” as previously reported, after graduating this spring.
But Deggs also said UL’s three other 2020 seniors will be back for 2021: starting centerfielder Brennan Breaux and pitchers Austin Braford, who graduated in the spring, and Jack Burk.
Oxford (Mississippi) High's Sam Bianco, shown here in 2018, will compete to be a part of UL's new infield in 2018. (Photo: Bob Smith for The Clarion Ledger)
The Cajuns had not previously made the return status of Burk and Bradford known.
Meanwhile, relief pitcher Caleb Armstrong – a redshirt junior in 2020 – has said he is finished.
But starting starting catcher Sebastian Toro, a UL spokesman said this week, is expected to return for his senior season in 2021 despite graduating in the spring.
Toro’s status for next season also had been unclear since the 2020 season ended.
Two others who had been 2020 MLB Draft candidates – pitcher Conor Angel and incoming North Vermilion High pitcher Hayden Durke – did not get selected and now are expected to play for the Cajuns in 2021.
Keeping Burk, Bradford, Angel and Durke helps to ease to loss of Young, who was to have been UL’s Friday night starter for the beginning of Sun Belt Conference play before the coronavirus crisis halted the season in mid-March.
But with Cantrelle gone, Deggs said, the Cajuns will have an infield that is going to be “brand new.”
'A CHANGE OF SCENARY'
That’s also because, in part, starting third baseman Jonathan Windham is one of several Cajuns who have entered the NCAA transfer portal, as previously reported.
Deggs has identified juco transfers Bobby Lada, Sam Rialo and Anthony Catalano as candidates to succeed Cantrelle, with Lada being the early leader of the pack even before any of the three have arrived on campus.
Windham, known best for his flashy glove at third, was a regular starter at third in 2018, when he hit just .177.
He was limited by injury to 14 games, including 12 starts, while hitting .250 in 2019, then hit .220 while starting 12 of 17 games, including 10 third base and two at second, this year.
Deggs frequently moved Windham between third and second during games, depending on who was batting.
“Obviously he can really play. Had three years here. Granted, some of it was injury-filled. But I think we agreed a change of scenery can do you some good,” Deggs said of Windham’s exit.
Windham, a Texan from Klein Collins High in Spring, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He’s joined in the portal by Colton Frank, UL’s most frequent starter at first base in 2020; infielder/outfielder Tremaine Spears, a graduate transfer who started eight games this year including three at second base, three in right field and two at DH; pitcher Brock Batty, who already has committed to Houston; Justin Greene, a utilityman who appeared in eight games this year; and David Williams, a transfer pitcher who did not play at all in 2020.
“What I will say, and all I will say on this,” Deggs said of the many Cajuns in the portal, “is we made the moves that we made and thought they were best for the program.”
Several newcomers could help fill the hole left vacant by Windham at third and the up-for-grabs job at second base as well.
Kevin Fitzgerald – a transfer from San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, California – is, Deggs said, a third baseman added in the spring who “we’re really excited about.”
“(He’s a) JC kid that put up big numbers,” Deggs said of Fitzgerald, a product of Laguna Creek High in California who hit .367 with six homers over 21 games in the shortened 2020 juco season. “(He’s) a big, physical, left-handed hitter.”
UL still has not yet announced its full list of spring signees.
But last fall the Cajuns’ 11 signees included Oxford (Mississippi) High’s Sam Bianco, a son of Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco who finished his high school career playing at second base and in centerfield, and Clayton Dean, a shortstop from the Houston area who could possibly contend for the shortstop job but who also could play second or third in college.
Deggs said that at UL Bianco will be an infielder “probably more in the second or third base mold, but he can really hit.”
Making the most starts at second for UL with nine as a redshirt sophomore this year was Connor Dupoy, a product of North Vermilion High whose depth he provided on the infield was needed after would-be starter Jonathan Brandon broke his leg shortly before the start of the season.
Deggs said Brandon also will be back in 2021.
At first base, where Frank exits, the Cajuns do return standout freshman Julian Brock, a backup to Toro who also got five starts on the bag, and Brandon Talley, who also pitched last season.
“It’s exciting,” Deggs said of having so many options in the infield.
“You’ve got a chance,” he added, “to kind of mold it and shape it.”