UL shortstop Cantrelle tuning out hot MLB Draft talk

Tim Buckley
The Daily Advertiser

Back in December, he was listed No. 38 on D1Baseball.com’s list of the Top 150 prospects for the June Major League Baseball Draft.

Translation: A possible second-round pick, perhaps even a first-rounder.

It’s a big deal, and UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle knows it.

Yet as the Ragin’ Cajuns prepare to open their 2020 season Friday night against Southeastern Louisiana on M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park, it may be the last thing on Cantrelle’s mind.

“First of all, it’s a great honor,” he said. “It’s something to be proud of, that kind of reflects on everything you’ve done in the past.

“But that’s all it is. It’s just a preview. I’ve yet to go and earn those things throughout this year. Anything that is draft-related hasn’t even happened yet. So for me to be worried about that is just not a smart thing to do.”

More:UL shortstop Cantrelle assumes new second-year role

UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle is all smiles as the Ragin' Cajuns take on Georgia State last May.

The response comes as no shock to anyone who knows Cantrelle.

Just a junior, the kid from Teurlings Catholic High is mature far beyond his 20 years.

And that’s just one reason — beyond his glove, beyond his bat, beyond so much else — he’s pegged as a prospect to watch.

“Hayden’s got an ‘it’ factor,” UL assistant coach Jeremy Talbot said. “He’s very mature, and his baseball IQ is through the roof.

“Some guys just have that. He’s got ‘feel.’ And he understands that (in) this game, gosh, the highs are high and the lows are low, and you just keep working the process.”

Talbot, a hitting coach and recruiting coordinator at Texas A&M from 2005-09 who also has worked as an assistant at Jacksonville State and UL Monroe, has been at UL since the day Cantrelle arrived.

He’s also developed and coached 75 MLB Draft picks, including 12 who made it to the majors.

He’s seen Cantrelle toil every day, and he knows how someone who started last season in a hitting slump worked his way back without worrying about whether or not he would.

Related:Deggs reveals roles for Cajuns baseball coaching staff

More:Alcohol cost Ragin' Cajuns baseball coach Matt Deggs

“He’s a professional,” Talbot said. “He stays the same guy every day.

“He’s not gonna be an emotional roller coaster, and he’s not gonna get all hooked up on result. And that’s part of being a professional.

“He understands he’s a good player,” Talbot added, “and if good players consistently go attack their craft each day, eventually things are going to fall their way.”

A season ago, Cantrelle was hitting just .125 through UL’s first dozen games, .185 through 16.

A few games later, he was on a tear.

He went 4-for-5 with a double, three homers and five RBIs in a mid-March comeback win at Little Rock. Two games later in a win at home against Northwestern he hit for the cycle, becoming just the fourth Cajun to do so.

Before long he was riding a 12-game hitting streak, and reaching into the back left pocket of his uniform pants to show what he was carrying in it — a bubble game wrapper, an old ticket and an empty trail mix bag among the various items, all loose trash he had picked up off the ground at The Tigue and, with his bat now hot, he wasn’t about to throw away.

So he’s superstitious too, another mark of the makings of a pro perhaps headed to The Show.

Related:Key to streak for Cajun Cantrelle is in his back pocket

More:Cantrelle becomes fourth Ragin' Cajun to hit for the cycle

More:Cantrelle’s historic day powers UL in comeback at Little Rock

Cantrelle wound up getting his streak to 14 games before it ended in late March. By early April, his average was up to .336. And when UL’s season ended, Cantrelle was hitting a solid .309 with a team high-tying .426 on-base percentage with first team All-Sun Belt Conference honors.

How did he do it?

Cantrelle grew, and for that he credits late UL head coach Tony Robichaux, who passed last July, 10 days after suffering a heart attack.

“I really stumbled out the gate. I really stumbled bad,” Cantrelle said. “And everybody was wondering, and asking me, and I was just staying persistent.

“That’s one thing Coach and I always talked about, is, ‘Just keep going; it’s gonna blow up for you.’ And then over those next couple weeks, I ended up doing much better than I had at the beginning of the year.

“I think that was a testament to continuing to grind through it, and that taught what perseverance was about,” Cantrelle added. “If I was result-oriented that early, time would have ate me up. But I chose to not let that happen, and it’s definitely … one of the biggest takeaways of college so far.”

Related:UL's Robichaux says Cantrelle 'plays the game slow'

More:Deggs honored to carry Robichaux's torch as UL coach

For that, Cantrelle thanks former teammates too.

“I’ve played with some older guys who’ve weathered the storm, who have been fifth-years who’ve overcome adversity with knee injuries like (outfielder) Orynn Veillon and (catcher) Handsome Monica,” he said. “And they’ve taught me a lot about resiliency and consistency.

“The name of the game is consistency. We’re planning on playing 70 games this year, and it’s gonna be a grind. So taking things day-to-day, and not being result-oriented, is how you’re successful long-term.”


Besides what he’s learned from those who’ve moved on, Cantrelle has drawn on a couple other key figures for lessons on how to concentrate on the task at hand and block out the chatter.

One is his father Kevin, an outfielder who played for the Cajuns under Robichaux in the mid-to-late 1990s.

“He just wants me to focus on playing my game,” Cantrelle said. “I think the worst thing that can happen to me is me not being focused on my craft.

“So just keeping that lens on things keeps you in the right direction.”

During last season’s slump, Cantrelle and his dad spoke little about what was happening at the plate.

More:Deggs' UL baseball teams feed off offensive Pack system

Ragin' Cajuns shortstop Hayden Cantrelle dives into third base during a doubleheader against Maryland last March.

It wasn’t really needed. The younger Cantrelle already gets it.

But the two talk all time, including how to tune out of the draft noise. And even a lot of that is understood already too.

“It’s his second time going around. You know, he’s done this before. He’s did this as a senior in high school,” Kevin Cantrelle said of his son, who became the first Teurlings Catholic player drafted out of high school when he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 40th round in the 2017.

“But this is probably a little bit more real than the last time,” Kevin Cantrelle added, “because, really … of what he did in the Cape.”

Hayden Cantrelle, who helped lead Teurlings Catholic to the 2015 Louisiana Class 4A state championship game and to state titles in 2016 and ’17, spent the past two seasons playing in the prestigious Cape Cod League.

He was an all-star last season, hitting .303 with three homers over 42 games for the Falmouth Commodores.

“There’s not a whole lot of question about whether or not he can succeed in pro ball,” Kevin Cantrelle said of his son. “He pretty much did in the Cape with a wooden bat, so I think a lot of these question marks have been answered. So there’s a lot more serious discussion he’s having with scouts.

“But he knows that none of that is even remotely realistic if he doesn’t go out and play his game and help his team be successful.

“What he also knows,” Kevin Cantrelle added, “is that the more successful the team is, the more attention he will receive, which will ultimately help him down that road, if that’s the right direction he wants to go.”

More:Divide closed, Deggs likes how UL compares to 2014 club

Hayden Cantrelle’s other confidante is former Cajun Blake Trahan, one of his UL predecessors at shortstop and someone who — after getting picked by Cincinnati in the third round, 84th overall, of the 2015 MLB Draft — played 11 games for the Reds in 2018.

Trahan spent most of last season at the AAA level with the Reds’ affiliate in Louisville, and he played this offseason in the Dominican Winter League.

“Blake Trahan is one of my good friends. We talk a lot on the phone, probably a few times a week,” Cantrelle said. “He’s a guy who’s got his head on right, obviously. … He’s a real talented individual.

“So, not to put myself in the same conversation as Blake, because he was a very good player, but he’s definitely told me how to go about things.”

More:Reds shortstop Trahan mourns Robichaux

Related:Angels catcher Lucroy buys ad to eulogize Robichaux


In addition to the draft, Cantrelle — like the rest of the Cajuns — has another matter hanging overhead going into 2020.

It’s dealing with the loss of Robichaux, UL’s coach the last 25 seasons.

Taking over is former Sam Houston State head coach Matt Deggs, a Robichaux assistant from 2012-14 who also has worked as an assistant at Arkansas and Texas A&M.

The tragedy-prompted change is a lot for anyone to handle.

But Cantrelle feels equipped, no matter what the circumstance.

“I like to think my entire life I’ve been in pressure situations,” he said.

“Yeah, there’s a different atmosphere — a different feel — with Coach Deggs now. But things aren’t that much different, to be honest with you. And all my personal goals are in line with everything I had been doing throughout my college career as well.

“So, just taking it day-by-day,” Cantrelle said. “That’s really cliché, but that’s how I’m really doing.”

More:Ragin' Cajuns fans applaud hiring of new baseball coach Matt Deggs

More:Contract terms between Deggs, Ragin' Cajuns revealed

UL shortstop Hayden Cantrelle makes a back-handed grab as the Ragin' Cajuns play McNeese last April.

Cantrelle’s day at the next level will come.

Current Cajun teammates are convinced of it, and so is his new head coach.

Deggs, who was at UL for Trahan’s freshman and sophomore seasons as the Cajuns’ shortstop, calls Cantrelle “probably the smartest kid I’ve ever coached.”

“And I don’t have a problem saying that,” he said, “His baseball IQ and acumen is through the roof.

“And he has a very unique skill-set where he’s an elite runner with bat-to-ball skills. He can field it, he can throw it, and just has incredible natural instinct. He’s a natural leader, and does things I haven’t seen since Baby Trahan.”

More:Deggs, Robichaux as similar as they are opposite

Related:He did it at STM; now UL's Brennan Breaux may pitch too

Where Cantrelle ultimately goes in the 2020 draft, and whether it’s higher than Trahan went, remains to be seen.

But he’s poised for a run, and that’s talk for others even if his own ears don’t hear it.

In addition to being D1Baseball’s No. 38, Cantrelle also is MLB Pipeline’s No. 55 draft prospect. He’s a third team Perfect Game preseason All-American. And he’ll get his shot, Cajuns senior centerfield Brennan Breaux firmly believes.

“He’s got a lot of talent,” Breaux said. “He’s a great player. And he’s gonna get a good chance.

“He’s got work to do, but he’s set good groundwork for himself. He works his butt off. I mean, you go out there every day and he’s always the one bringing the energy.

“He’s always the one right in the middle of everything,” Breaux added. “So I have no doubts that he’s going to have a great season and he’s going to a great opportunity to play at the next level and hopefully play this game for a really long time. I’m pulling for him.”