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Wednesday, July 30, 2014
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Local players headed to training camps

Last Modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 2:26 PM

By Troy LaFleur / American Press

It’s that time of year again.

Major League Baseball field players and designated hitters have begun making their way to Arizona and Florida to begin preparations for another season, joining the pitchers and catchers who almost all arrived last week. Training with the teams is their 40-man roster as well as approximately 10 to 12 non-roster invitees.

Spring training is a two-month span where fringe players make a case for themselves to be included on the active roster and the non-roster invitees to make a name for themselves and hopefully earn a spot on the manager’s radar for the future.

For a trio of Southwest Louisiana natives, the 2014 spring training is their stage with three different MLB teams the audience.

Considered by many the most likely to break into a major league lineup this season is Boston Red Sox third baseman Garin Cecchini.

Already a member of the defending World Series champions 40-man roster, Cecchini brings a highly consistent bat and top-notch fielding percentage into the mix.

It will be no easy task for him to unseat any of Boston’s regulars in the infield, but not impossible. Will Middlebrooks is the incumbent on the corner, but saw his production decline in his sophomore season after a good rookie outing. Some of that may have to do with a wrist injury that plagued him last summer, but if he can’t regain his rookie form the Red Sox may have to explore other options. Second-year shortstop Xander Boagerts is an option to back Middlebrooks up at third base, but if Stephen Drew isn’t re-signed he will have likely have to step into the starting role making way for Cecchini to slide into a backup role.

Spending time with two separate minor league teams in 2013, the former Barbe standout finished the year with a combined batting average of .322 while hitting seven home runs and driving in 61 runs. He also stole 23 bases and collected a .930 fielding percentage.

Looking to fight his way onto the 40-man roster after earning a non-roster invite for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be former Barbe and University of Alabama pitcher Wade LeBlanc.

LeBlanc has seen far and away more professional action than any other local prospect after spending four seasons with the San Diego Padres, one and half with the Miami Marlins and the latter part of 2014 with the Houston Astros. LeBlanc has struggled to fit into a starting rotation since leaving San Diego, but could prove to be a viable option coming out of the bullpen for the Angels with a good spring.

Last season, LeBlanc started seven games for the Marlins and came out of the bullpen on six other occasions. He finished his season in Miami with a 1-5 record, only surrendering five home runs before being waived. He was claimed off of waivers by the Astros, but was used sparringly in Houston, pitching 6 1/3 innings in four outings out of the bullpen.

Also earning a non-roster invite to spring training is Padres shortstop Jace Peterson.

A native of Moss Bluff and a Hamilton Christian graduate, Peterson was a first-round draft selection out of McNeese St. in 2011 and has slowly risen in the minor league ranks ever since. He will sit fourth on the depth chart for San Diego at both shortstop and second base.

Peterson brings a steady bat with top-notch lead-off ability to the table. He has proven to be a terror on the base paths amassing 142 stolen bases over his two-and-a-half seasons in the minors. Last season with the Lake Elsinore Storm of the California League he finished with a batting average of .303 with 13 triples, seven home runs and 66 runs batted in. In the field he picked up a percentage of .956.

Peterson looks to be a longshot to compete for an active roster spot early in the year, but with two shortstops who have struggled to stay at the top level and a journeyman utility player in front of him, his chances could improve with a strong showing this spring.

Cecchini, LeBlanc and Peterson may be the only SW La. products going to spring training, but they aren’t the only ones curently serving with MLB teams.

Former Barbe outfielder Josh Prince is currently with the Triple-A Nashville Sounds of the Pacific Coast League, in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He was called up to the top level for the Brewers for a brief stint last season, only appearing in nine game at a variety of positions. A strong start to the year in Nashville could propel him to be an injury replacement option once more this season.

Last season with the Sounds, Prince hit 11 home runs and batted in 53 runs.

Continuing to fight through injuries and move his way up in the New York Yankees’ system is former Barbe shortstop Carmen Angelini who resides with the AA Trenton Thunder of the Eastern League.

A hip injury has forced Angelini to miss two of his six minor league seasons, but he seems to be on the right track after hitting nine home runs and driving in 50 runs in less than 100 games between two different teams in 2013.

Rounding out the list of SW La. players in the minor leagues is Gavin Cecchini, younger brother of the Red Sox third baseman.

The twelfth overall selection in the 2012 MLB Draft is still very young — he just turned 20-years-old — and currently plays for the single-A Brooklyn Cyclones of the New York-Penn League. The shortstop won’t be getting called up the majors anytime soon, but is definitely one to keep an eye on in coming years.

In 2013 with the Cyclones Cecchini hit .273 in just 51 appearances, collecting a .964 fielding percentage along the way.

Posted By: Martha Thomas On: 2/19/2014

Title: What about Tanner Mathis

You guys must not know your local sports very well. Even I, a Mississippi resident know that Tanner Mathis, an outstanding Barbe and Ole Miss grad will be heading to Florida for spring practice with the Houston Astros. Oh, I believe he was MVP last year of his rookie league too. Wow, you need better fact checking!

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