Cajuns' Leonards set to ink deal with White Sox

Former Notre Dame standout Ryan Leonards will sign a Major League contract with the Chicago White Sox Friday at their spring training facility in Arizona. (Photo courtesy of Brad Kemp with Ragin Cajun Athletics)

CROWLEY –  Dreams do come true. Just ask Ryan Leonards.
“Ever since I started playing baseball, this has always been a dream of mine (to get drafted),” Leonards said Thursday just before flying off to Arizona where he will sign a Major League contract on Friday at the Chicago White Sox’s spring training facility.
“But you have to factor in a lot of things: You have to factor in money, where you are going to be staying and if you can afford it. At the end of the day, it’s got to be whether you want to do it or not and I just didn’t want to say no and look back 10 years from now and regret it.”
The former Notre Dame of Acadia Parish standout, drafted in the 21st round of the recent Major League Draft, is less than a week removed from playing for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, who finished the 2014 regular season as the country’s consensus No. 1 collegiate team and advanced all the way to one of eight Super Regionals, where they lost to Ole Miss in three games.
The loss left him and his teammates one win short of advancing to the College World Series for the first time since 2000.
A 6-foot, 190-pound utility player for the Cajuns over the years, Leonards was a mainstay at third base during his senior year. Through the years, however, he has played multiple positions in becoming a four-year starter.
As a freshman, he started a game at shortstop, but he received most of his playing time as the designated hitter. He then played shortstop, second base and the outfield over the next two years heading into the 2014 season.
“I was a shortstop in high school and when coach (Tony) Robichaux signed me, he sat me down in the locker room and asked me if I had to play shortstop. I told him I would play anywhere because I just want to play,” said Leonards.
That versatility was also something that caught the eye of Major League scouts.
“They scouted me this year at third base and they (scouts) asked me if I had to play third base; and I said I can play anywhere you want me to,” said Leonards. “At our level (college), they needed me to play third base on our team, but realistically, when you go to the next level, your third basemen are people like Miguel Cabrera, home run guys.
“I don’t fit that profile, so I’ll probably move somewhere else. But I’m fine with that.”
Leonards may not be a big power hitter, but one thing he has been is consistent.
As a freshman he hit .292 with three doubles and nine RBI. But his offensive numbers climbed from there. As a full time player in 2012, he hit .327 with nine doubles, three triples and 22 RBI. The following season, he hit .328 with 13 doubles, one home run and 30 RBI.
This year, Leonards matched his junior season average by hitting .328 again. He also had a jump in power, logging 16 doubles, four triples and four home runs to go along with a career high 35 RBI.
He also had 24 multiple hit games and 18 stolen bases in 2014.
“Production wise, I think this was my best season,” said Leonards. “I don’t know what my average has been the last couple years, but I think it has been about the same. I hit more home runs this year than in years past and I think our team as a whole had more production so I think it was one of my best years, that’s for sure.”
Leonards’ ability to handle the bat well was also a plus. He led the team in sacrifice bunts the last two years with 12 each season and had a number of push bunts that went for hits.
“I knew I wasn’t going to go out there and hit 10 or 12 home runs like some of the guys on our team,” said Leonards. “My job was to get on base for them or move runners into scoring position so they could get the big lick and knock them in.
“I knew my role was more of a speed guy, kind of hit and run, move runners over, steal a couple bases and then every once in a while put one in the gap.”
Leonards played his role as well as anyone and helped lead the Cajuns to one of their best seasons in history.
But for Leonards, it wasn’t about personal accolades - it was about the team.
“It was always our goal to win,” said Leonards. “It was never about me or about anybody else on the team. We didn’t worry about our stats or let me go out and hit 12 home runs and hit .340 so I can get drafted.
“It was about the team winning and, at the end of the day, that’s all that matters. That’s what I’m going to remember: I’m not going to remember what my average was 20 years from now, but I am going to remember every single guy in that locker room and I’m going to know what they did and what they gave up to be on this team and make us successful.”
Another thing Leonards will remember for a lifetime is getting that chance to play college ball at a program that he grew up following.
“I have nothing but good things to say about my four years here,” said Leonards. “I enjoyed every one of them and I would do anything to go back and play another year, honestly. We have some of the greatest fans in the country; the coaching staff was just amazing from top to bottom and it was just a great place to play.”
As Leonards moves on to the next step in his career, he is unsure where he would be assigned to for his first Minor League stint. The White Sox have a league in Arizona, which is a possibility. They also have a team in Montana that plays in the Patriot League.
Should Leonards be sent to Montana, he would be in the same league with his good friend and former teammate Austin Robichaux, who will be pitching for the Angels’ affiliate there, the Orem Owlz.
That could pit the two former Notre Dame of Acadia Parish standouts against each other, something that hasn’t happened other than in an intra-squad game back in high school.
“If I end up in Montana and we play them and he’s pitching, I’m definitely looking forward to that,” said Leonards of the possibility of facing Robichaux. “I’ve been playing ball with him for the last seven years, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. I’m sure there will be a little trash talking leading up to that.
“I just told him if that happens, he had better not hit me because he doesn’t want to get in a fight with me because I’ll beat him up,” said Leonards with a chuckle.”

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