While all teams across the country are relishing in the additional depth granted by extra eligibility, expanded rosters, and the shortened 2020 MLB Draft, perhaps few teams will benefit more than the TCU Horned Frogs.
Head Coach Jim Schlossnagle was enthusiastic about his returning guys when he sat down with College Baseball Nation. “[Getting older players back is] only a good thing if the players are not just older but they’re talented. We feel very confident in the skill level of those players and their commitment to our program and the intangibles that they bring every single day.”
Schlossnagle recognizes that many of his returning players could have tested the waters of professional baseball. “There are several of those guys who could have signed professional contracts, whether it be in the draft or as a free agent last year, but they all felt like there’s unfinished business here.”
Scholssnagle knows that his Horned Frogs are not the only team to return great players and that roster changes will be felt across the country. “College baseball is going to be playing at an all-time high, this year and moving forward. This is going to have ripple effects for years.”
The Horned Frogs return all three members of last season’s weekend rotation in fourth-year sophomore right-hander Johnny Ray, fourth-year sophomore left-hander Russell Smith and fifth-year senior right-hander Charles King. In perhaps even better news for Horned Frog fans, the competition from younger players has been formidable in practices, and other guys will likely get a shot at starting on the weekend for TCU.
“The guy most likely to break in is Austin Krob. He pitched out of the bullpen last year but was really coming on as a talented left-handed pitcher with two to three above average pitches and good delivery.” Also said Schlossnagle, “Jacob Meador had a very strong fall for us, and he pitched well in the summer. Freshmen Cam Brown and a COVID freshman Riley Cornelio will all be a part of fighting to push those other players in the rotation.”
There will once again be plenty of arms in Fort Worth for the Horned Frogs, but TCU will need the offense to continue to develop. “Last year we were an evolving offense. Our team was built on pitching, and it was the best defensive club I’ve had at TCU. We were an opportunistic team-based offense.”
TCU will rely on a combination of returners and new faces to contribute on offense. “The most dynamic returning player on our team is a guy named Hunter Wolfe, who has been drafted twice, and who when healthy, he’s a player that’s capable of being Big 12 player of the year. He can hit for power, run, and he’s a good defender in center field.” Wolfe has struggled some with injury but has the potential to anchor the offense. He will be in the middle of the lineup with fellow redshirt senior, Gene Wood. “Gene Wood is the best pure hitter on our team,” said Schlossnagle of the veteran.
A third redshirt senior, Austin Henry, was an offensive highlight in the fall for the Horned Frogs. “The guy who’s made the biggest jump, who’s a talented hitter and led our team hitting in the fall, is Austin Henry.” Last season Henry batted just .133, and Schlossnagle admitted that he didn’t have a good 2020. However, Schlossnagle emphasized “he was the guy who made the biggest jump from 2020 to 2021.”
A testament to the talent of the incoming class, a handful of freshmen are in competition with veteran position players. “We have two freshmen, maybe three, that are really dynamic players that we feel really good about having an impact on this year’s team.” Elijah Nunez, Brayden Taylor, and Luke Boyers are among the fresh faces that have likely earned playing time in the spring. However, Boyers may be worked into the lineup more slowly as he been recovering from injury.
“Those three guys are all really dynamic players, they run, they have a good concept of the strike zone, they’re good defenders at whatever position they play, and they are very, very athletic. . . . We’re not just going to sit around and play the older guys all the time. Obviously, we’re going to play the guys who are playing the best. We’re going to defer to those young guys so we can continue to build the program around them.”
The talent, old and young, will be on display at Lupton Stadium to a few thousand fans. As of now, TCU is planning for 25% capacity or around 2,000 people for home games, but that could change as conditions related to COVID-19 change.
Building a winning culture at TCU has been a many year process for Schlossnagle. Prior to his takeover of the program 2003, TCU had only made two NCAA Tournaments. Since then, the Horned Frogs have made 14 Regional appearances and have made five trips to Omaha. “Everyone knows what the expectation here is and that’s to compete deep into a postseason and hopefully win a national title.
“We talk more about standard than we do about goals. Our standard is to become the very best team and the very best group of people we can be—to reach our potential. If this group can reach their potential, that will give us the best chance to play deep into the postseason.”
TCU is currently ranked ninth in College Baseball Nation’s Top 50.