With less than a month until the opening day, TCU baseball looks toward starting strong amid a tough schedule.
“This is my 17th year and this is the toughest schedule we have ever played,” head coach Jim Schlossnagle said Friday.
Schlossnagle talked about the importance of having a tough schedule to learn more about his team early on and to look favorable to the NCAA selection committee if they’re on the bubble at the end of the season.
“When you play poor teams who aren’t of the same ability level, you really don’t learn anything about your team,” Schlossnagle said. “And at the end of the year when you are sitting on the bubble, as we were last year to make the NCAA tournament, if you haven’t made an attempt to play a great schedule you are going to get penalized for that.”
Charles King, a senior right-handed pitcher, said the team doesn’t “have any easy games” in their non-conference schedule.
“Our non-conference games are not going to be pushovers,” he said. “That is going to help no matter what. Even if we drop a few games [it’s] not a big deal because we are playing against the highest level of teams out there and that only helps us in the long run.”
With their season ending in the regionals last year, the Frogs are looking to reset and play what their head coach calls “sound, fundamental baseball.”
“We had really good offensive numbers last year but we did not play good baseball,” Schlossnagle said. “[We gave up] a lot of free bases, didn’t play sound defense and…this team is already better from a defensive standpoint. I believe talent-wise they are better.”
Senior catcher Zach Humphreys said he wants to end his last season strong — and nothing would be better for him than a trip to Omaha.
“This is my last ride; it’s the one thing I want,” Humphreys said. “I don’t just want to get to Omaha I want to win it, do something we have never done around here.”
While TCU has 11 pitchers returning to their staff, many key pieces were drafted last season: Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, Jared Janczak, and Jake Eissler.
Charles King, a senior right-handed pitcher, said the team brought in a lot of junior college players to raise the competition level for all players.
“That really helps put a fire under peoples’ seats…and has these guys competing for spots, which is good for everybody,” King said.
The key returners to the pitching staff include King, Cal Coughlin, Haylen Green and Augie Mihlbauer.
The Frogs also have a group of pitchers coming back from the IR list, including Caleb Sloan and Russell Smith.
Smith underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall and Sloan suffered an elbow injury.
“Russell [Smith], knock on wood, is in a really good spot to earn a job on our rotation at some point or some level,” Schlossnagle said. “Sloan will ease back into it slower but there is no question he is going to pitch a lot.”
Key infield players from last year who are returning to the roster this year include Humphreys, Austin Henry, Connor Shepherd and Bobby Goodloe.
“Austin is a big part of our offense for sure, so he will be in the lineup,” Schlossnagle said. “There will be days when he is playing first and days he is DH-ing.”
Henry led the team last season with 42 RBIs and earned 2019 Honorable Mention All-Big 12 as well as Big 12 Newcomer of the Week on March 18. Henry also started in all 62 games, all at second base.
With Johnny Rizer and Josh Watson leaving, the outfield is missing most of their starters from last year. Hunter Wolfe, who started in right field 19 times, is returning.
“It is unfortunate he [Wolfe] had so many injuries last year,” Schlossnagle said. “He is one of the more dynamic offensive players we had here in terms of his speed and power combination.”
Wolfe hit .301 last season and had an on-base percentage of .417. Wolfe was also 12-for-14 on stolen bases and had 13 games with more than one hit. He earned a spot on the 2019 NCAA All-Regional Team in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
“This has become a program where the expectations are super high, and that’s ok, because the support is really high,” Schlossnagle said. “This team just needs to become the best version of itself.”
The Horned Frogs are set to kick off their season at home against Kentucky. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14 at Lupton Stadium.