Led by veteran pitcher Jared Janczak and outfielder Josh Watson, TCU Baseball will look to return to their winning ways after failing to reach the NCAA Tournament last season and ending their four-year streak of College World Series appearances.
Janczak and Watson returned to TCU for their senior seasons after being selected in last season’s MLB Draft.
Watson, a force at the plate, enters the 2019 season with a career hitting clip of .274 with 187 hits, 20 home runs and 114 runs batted in. Watson led the team last season with a .305 batting average and 64 hits.
Janczak has posted 17 career victories with a 2.56 ERA in his three seasons as a Horned Frog. In 218 innings pitched, he has allowed 173 hits and 62 earned runs while forcing an opponent’s batting average of .218.
“You can’t beat a place like TCU, especially for your bonus round,” said Janczak. “I’m excited.”
Janczak is returning to the diamond after having his junior season cut short due season-ending surgery to repair Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.
Janczak headlines an experienced pitching core ahead of the 2019 campaign. The Horned Frogs will return pitchers Charles King, Haylen Green, Jake Eissler, James Notary and Nick Lodolo, each with many games of experience under their belt. Lodolo was named a Collegiate Baseball preseason second-team All-American in December.
“It’s impressive,” said catcher Zach Humphreys. “I’ve been catching their bullpens recently and it is fun to catch. It’s an unbelievable staff, one we’re lucky to have. I don’t know how to put it into words, but they have the chance to be really good.”
The team’s bullpen did take a major hit this offseason with injuries to both Caleb Sloan and Russell Smith. Head coach Jim Schlossnagle said Smith underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall and Caleb Sloan suffered an elbow injury. Both players are expected to miss the entire season.
Despite the losses, TCU will welcome a junior college transfer in Brandon Williamson, who Schlossnagle said could factor into the rotation.
“We all have talent,” Janczak said. “Those guys last year that pitched a little bit, they all have experience now so they know what to expect and how our pitching staff operates. I think we’re going to do a lot better than last year, have a little more fun with it too. Win some more ball games.”
Five players from last season’s starting lineup will return to the diamond this season: Watson, catcher Zach Humphreys, third baseman Conner Shepherd, center fielder Johnny Rizer and shortstop Adam Oviedo.
Schlossnagle said Oviedo may make a switch to third base this season because it will better suit his long-term career.
Schlossnagle expects Hunter Wolfe, a junior college transfer from Walters State Community College to begin the season at shortstop because he is “a dynamic athlete, has some power and is really fun to watch.”
The Horned Frogs lost first baseman Luken Baker and pitchers Durbin Feltman and Sean Wymer to the MLB Draft. Designated hitter Michael Landestoy and right fielder A.J. Balta, whose batting power carried the Horned Frogs to last season’s Big 12 Tournament championship game, graduated from TCU.
Schlossnagle will welcome nine transfers to Fort Worth to replace last season’s lost talent.
Schlossnagle expects junior college transfer Andrew Keefer to join Watson and Rizer in the outfield, replacing Balta in right field. Keefer will be transitioning from the infield to right field, so his coach expects some learning pains to begin but expects him to thrive in his new role.
“He’s going to be a tough guy to pitch to,” Schlossnagle said. “He’s a good athlete and can really throw.
The team will also add two new catchers to the rotation to join Humphreys: junior college transfer Alex Isola and freshman Nick Juaire. He expects each to play a big role this season and said this group is the “best catching situation” he’s had in his 16 years at the helm.
A star-studded schedule stands between TCU Baseball and their hopeful return to the NCAA Tournament. Opening the season at No. 19 in the D1 Baseball Preseason rankings, the Horned Frogs will face six ranked opponents this season.
A total of five Big 12 teams are ranked in the preseason poll: No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 15 Baylor, No. 18 Oklahoma State and No. 23 Texas were ranked alongside the Horned Frogs.
TCU will play 21 games against 10 teams that played in last season’s postseason.
“We’re super excited about our 2019 schedule,” Schlossnagle said in a press release. “The awesome experiences our players, staff and fans will be a part of— playing in two major league ballparks and one of the best spring training facilities in all of professional baseball as well. Add those games to what will certainly be an incredible season of baseball in the Big 12 and our team will be challenged at the highest level.”
Schlossnagle’s squad will open their season in the MLB Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz. with games against No. 25 California State Fullerton, Virginia and No. 1 Vanderbilt, three of college baseball’s premier programs.
The tournament is the first of what is a road-heavy slate to start the season, with the team playing 11 of their first 16 ballgames away from home. The Frogs will also participate in the Shriners Hospital for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park against Houston, Texas A&M and Rice from March 1-3.
The Horned Frogs will open their home schedule Feb. 19 against Abilene Christian and will follow with a three-game series against Grand Canyon University.
“This is as excited I’ve been since I’ve been at TCU for a season,” Schlossnagle said. “That’s mainly because of the way things ended last year, and also the effort that this club to this point has put in. This group has really worked at a super high level of excellence since they’ve been here. Hopefully, that will show on the field.”