The TCU baseball team held its first practice of 2015 on Friday afternoon.
After last season’s trip to the College World Series in Omaha, the Horned Frogs are ranked in the Top 10 by several preseason college baseball polls. Baseball News ranks TCU as the No. 2 team in the country; only behind defending national champion Vanderbilt.
But both Schlossnagle and his players said they are not paying much attention to the rankings.
“In terms of ranking, it doesn’t get discussed, but at the same time we all know its there,” said Schlossnagle, who went on to say he agrees with TCU football head coach Gary Patterson’s view on the polls. “Our job is to justify that, if you’re ranked lower, it’s to show that you’re better, if you’re ranked high, it’s to show that it’s justified.”
Junior shortstop Keaton Jones agreed with his head coach.
“For us, it doesn’t really matter at all,” Jones said. “Whether we’re No. 2 or No. 125, it doesn’t really matter. We’re just going to prepare the same way and work as hard as we can. It doesn’t really matter to us.”
Junior relief pitcher Riley Ferrell, who is projected to be a first round pick in July’s MLB Entry Draft said his personal goals this season are to win the Big 12 regular season championship, the Big 12 Tournament and the national championship. But he said he doesn’t think his team’s confidence will cause them to lose focus.
“If you look back, we lost our last game” Ferrell said. “I think we’re confident in ourselves but we’re not going to act that way.”
The Horned Frogs will have to face some of the nation’s best clubs in the opening months of the upcoming season. The Frogs will travel to face No. 19 Arizona State in Tempe, Arizona as well as No. 10 UCLA and top-ranked defending national champion Vanderbilt in The Dodger Classic in Los Angeles.
Ferrell said he’s excited to travel to play a storied program like Arizona State on their home turf. He said he’s also looking forward to playing the defending National Champions because TCU never had a chance to play the Commodores in Omaha.
Returning to TCU’s deep pitching staff along with Ferrell are starting pitchers Preston Morrison and Tyler Alexander.
Morrison, who is the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, said he’s not going to change his approach on the mound even though he will now be the team’s Friday starter. Last year Kansas City Royals reliever Brandon Finnegan was the team’s ace.
“Every weekend I’m just going out there to battle,” Morrison said. “It’s all about giving the team the best start you can.”
Morrison said Finnegan’s absence from this year’s team doesn’t raise his expectations for the younger pitchers on the team.
“They don’t need to fill anyone’s shoes, they just need the best pitchers they can be,” Morrison said.
Last season, Alexander was TCU’s youngest pitcher to make a big impact on the team.
After struggling early in the season as a starter, he was assigned to the bullpen. Alexander said his experience as a relief pitcher made him approach the game differently.
“When I went to the bullpen, it helped me a lot. Just taking things, one out, one pitch at a time rather than seven innings, eight innings, nine innings.”
The sophomore lefty said he hopes his experience pitching in postseason play will help him teach this year’s newcomers to become better pitchers.
TCU has 16 new names on its roster this season. But one of the biggest changes for the team this year won’t be seeing new faces in the dugout.
This year, Division I baseball is switching to a new ball that is said to carry farther than the ones used in previous years after the offensive numbers plummeted all around college baseball due to new bat regulations. Schlossnagle said the change was much needed.
“The [ball] is definitely carrying more, that will probably lend itself to a few more homeruns but what it’s really done is that it’s pushed the outfielders back,” said Schlossnagle.
But perhaps the newest change to the baseball program is its new player development center.
Senior Cody Jones said the The G. Malcolm Louden Player Developement Center, which opened in October, has made a big difference in the way the team practices.
“That place is amazing,” said Jones. “I’m lucky to be here while we have it. It allows us to get so much more done. We can get all our drills done and weather isn’t an issue.”
Schlossnagle said the renovations to the baseball facilities aren’t over yet.
“If you come by here on any given day you’re going to see 10-12 professional players,” said Schlossnagle. “Our next project is to re-do our locker rooms and gut the stadium when the season is over. One thing I’m going to add is an alumni locker room because I want those guys around, I want them to feel like this is their place.”
The Horned Frogs begin their season on Feb. 13 at Lupton Stadium against Southern Illinois at 6:30 p.m.