While the team has changed, TCU baseball has released a new video showing how the heart of the team remains.
Most of the team that went to the College World Series two years in a row is gone, including almost the entire infield, three starting pitchers, a lockdown closer and two-thirds of the outfield.
However, the Frogs have plenty of talent vying for those spots.
Reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Connor Wanhanen said this season is much different than last year’s.
“Right now, we’re focused on gelling together and figuring out what we’re going to need to do to win baseball games,” Wanhanen said. “It’s going to be a different formula this year.”
Uncertainty is nothing new for head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who is entering his 13th season in the Horned Frog dugout.
“We asked the same questions after the 2011 season,” Schlossnagle said. “What we’ve tried to build here is a good program that lasts over time and has a positive culture.”
However, coach Schlossnagle said he is confident that each individual’s performance will be dependent on how the team plays, and how healthy they remain.
“This is an exciting team,” Schlossnagle said. “I’m ready to watch them play.”
For the outfield, Schlossnagle said he’ll have to rely on youth at the start of the season.
Freshman Josh Watson, a former high school linebacker, is the strongest player on the team and could be called upon to bring some power into the Frogs outfield, he said.
Schlossnagle said the Horned Frog lineup will look something like the following:
Wanhanen will man first base, while sophomore Evan Skoug will reprise his role as catcher. Senior Dane Steinhagen will shift from center field to right field.
Junior Elliot Barzilli, who hit the game-winning walk-off single to cap an eight-run comeback against NC State in the playoffs last year, will play third base. Junior Cam Warner will hold down second base after joining the Horned Frogs by way of Hill College. Senior Nolan Brown will play center field when he’s healthy.
The pitching staff is the position group that’s most set in stone. The staff’s ace, Mitchell Traver, is returning to lead the squad after a spectacular sophomore year in which he finished with a 9-2 record, 1.89 ERA, 77 strikeouts, and 26 walks in 76.1 innings pitched.
“I expect to win and to go out there and give my team a chance to win every time I go out there to pitch, whether that is on Fridays, Tuesdays, or somewhere in the bullpen,” Traver said. “I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.”
But Traver will miss the first month or more of the season after suffering a muscle strain last week in practice.
Filling out the number two spot in the rotation is junior Brian Howard. In 17 appearances last year, Howard made four starts, recording a perfect 4-0 record while striking out 46 batters and holding opponents to a .246 batting average. It will be intriguing to see how Howard deals with the much larger workload this season as he inherits a full-time spot in the rotation.
It will be intriguing to see how Howard deals with the much larger workload this season as he inherits a full-time spot in the rotation.
The third and final spot in the rotation will likely be occupied by the 2014-2015 Gatorade National Player of the Year: freshman Luken Baker. He’s 6-4 and weighs 265 pounds.
Baker has the numbers to back up his impressive physique — as a pitcher at Class 6-A Conroe Oak Ridge last year, he pitched to a perfect 12-0 record with a 1.02 ERA. He also hit .448 with eight home runs at the plate.
Schlossnagle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that Baker is “probably” going to be a starting pitcher. He will also hit every day as a designated hitter or first baseman.
Baker will be this season’s X-Factor for the Frogs. If he can rise to the occasion directly out of high school and provide quality innings in addition to adding some right-handed power to the lineup, TCU could make another return trip to the College World Series — despite the team’s overall lack of experience.
TCU opens the season against Loyola Marymount on Feb. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Lupton Stadium.