With one of the strongest pitching programs in the nation, the Horned Frogs are poised to get back to Omaha, Neb., after their first College World Series berth last season.
TCU has five pitchers returning this year who made appearances in the CWS in June. Returning pitchers include seniors Trent Appleby and Steven Maxwell, junior Erik Miller, sophomore Matt Purke and junior Kyle Winkler.
Purke, the 2010 Consensus Freshman of the Year, will headline TCU’s starting rotation after he posted a 16-0 record in 2010 and won all his decisions in the 2010 postseason.
Purke said he didn’t feel the pressure to carry the Frogs on his back, however.
“We don’t really have [a leader],” Purke said. “It’s a group, between me, Wink and Maxwell. We handle all issues on the staff; it’s just a group effort. There’s always pressure; people are always looking for you to do well, but we take it as a group effort, and we put all our individual efforts into a team goal.”
Junior Kaleb Merck would have been the sixth returning pitcher, but he is out for the season to recover from Tommy John surgery. Merck made three appearances in the CWS and had an overall record of 17-5 in games he has pitched.
Head coach Jim Schlossnagle said Merck was expected to be the program’s closer this season, but Miller will most likely inherit the closing position.
“It certainly creates a question mark as to who [will be the closer] if we’re going to have a closer, which you don’t always have to,” Schlossnagle said. “But if we’re going to have one, it creates a question for an opening or an opportunity for somebody else to do that, so right now we’re planning on Erik Miller pitching in that role for us. We’ll get into the season and see how he does, but he’s pitching a lot of big games for us over his career and he’s very talented.
“We hate the loss of Kaleb, but we’re fired up about the opportunity for Erik.”
Although he graduated in December, Maxwell opted to return for his last year of eligibility. He was medically redshirted during the 2008 season after suffering a season-ending elbow injury and undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Maxwell said he expects a lot from himself as well as his teammates this year.
“I want to win it all,” Maxwell said. “I turned down different opportunities to come back for another shot with this group of guys that I’ve really grown close to.”
In the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, Maxwell was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 12th round. He turned down the offer to return to TCU.
“I want to go ahead and finish what we started,” Maxwell said.
As a senior, Maxwell has embraced his role as a leader on the team, and he said he felt he had been a leader for a long time.
“I’ll do whatever I can do, whatever these guys ask of me to get everybody ready for this season,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell said his biggest challenge for the season would be holding himself and his teammates accountable.
“We just need to take it day by day, and we’ll get to where we need to go,” Maxwell said.
With a strong group of veterans and a handful of new additions to the program, Winkler said he had no doubt the team would make another run in Omaha on the national stage.
“You can never teach experience, and that’s what all of us have,” Winkler said.
As a team, Winkler said he felt the Horned Frogs’ biggest challenge would be taking it day by day and game by game.
“We’re going to be a lot more talented than a lot of teams that we’re going to play, but we have to understand that you can’t just throw your glove out there or hat out there and win every day,” Winkler said. “You’ve gotta go out there and play the game.”
After some tough CWS appearances last year, Winkler said he had to learn to overcome failure. Winkler was charged with both of TCU’s losses in the CWS.
“I’ve really grown from that and learned how to fail, and what I have to do to come back from that,” Winkler said. “No game is bigger than any other game.”