2014 Fort Worth Regional Preview


Lupton Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas (Host: Texas Christian)

Brandon Finnegan

Brandon Finnegan (Photo by John Williamson)

No. 1 Texas Christian (42-15, 17-7 in Big 12) Roster | Statistics
12th appearance (last in 2012), automatic, second place in Big 12 regular season and Big 12 tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: LHP Brandon Finnegan (9)

No. 2 Dallas Baptist (40-19, 14-7 in MVC) Roster | Statistics
Fourth appearance (last in 2012), automatic, tied for second in the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and MVC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: RHP Cy Sneed (164)

No. 3 Sam Houston State (41-17, 22-8 in Southland) Roster | Statistics
Ninth appearance (third straight), at-large, first place in Southland Conference regular season
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 4 Siena (26-31, 17-7 in MAAC) Roster | Statistics
Second appearance (last in 1999), automatic, second place in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, MAAC tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

texaschristianBouncing back from an underachieving 2013 season, Texas Christian enters regionals as hot as any team in the country, winner of 27 of its last 30 games after a 15-12 start. The Horned Frogs finished second to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 regular-season race but topped the Cowboys 7-1 in the conference tournament championship game, propelling them to a national seed for the first time in program history. Although TCU's offense has picked up steam during the hot streak, pitching and defense are what the Frogs are about. TCU boasts one of the country's premier weekend rotations, led by future first-round pick Brandon Finnegan (8-3, 2.14). Moving up to the Friday role as a junior, the lefthander has become a more complete pitcher, harnessing a three-pitch mix keyed by a low to mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider, though a bout of shoulder soreness slowed him in the second half. Yet as good as Finnegan has been, Saturday starter Preston Morrison (9-3, 1.25), has been even better. The Big 12's pitcher of the year, Morrison is not the pro prospect Finnegan is but dominates just the same, throwing three pitches all with movement and command from a submarine slot. TCU's four main starters have a cumulative 1.97 ERA—talented freshman lefty Tyler Alexander has come on very strong in the second half and threw a complete game against OSU in the Big 12 title game—while the bullpen is home to one of the country's most electric closers in sophomore Riley Ferrell (1-1, 0.84, 13 SV). The staff as a whole has an incredibly stingy 2.26 ERA (fifth best in the country) and has pitched 14 shutouts—only Louisiana State has more. The Frogs also play reliable if unflashy defense, fielding at a .977 clip that ranks 17th nationally. The lineup's overall numbers look fairly unassuming—115th in the country at 5.3 runs per game and just 12 homers, total—but the Frogs have hit a collective .306 during their 30-game stampede to regionals. Hulking junior first baseman Kevin Cron (.277/.388/.432, 4 HR) hasn't fully tapped into his raw power but there's little question it's in there. Junior college transfer Garrett Crain (.340/.428/.447) has emerged as the Frogs' top hitter, while toolsy junior Jerrick Suiter, after nearly two full years fighting poor performance (2013) and injuries (2014), came to life late in the season, hitting .352 in the last 16 games and .455 in the Big 12 tournament, earning most outstanding player honors.

dallasbaptistDallas Baptist makes the trip across the Metroplex to return to the site of its greatest triumph, where it won the 2011 Fort Worth Regional as a 3-seed. The DBU program has kept building momentum under coach Dan Heefner, buoyed by a sparkling new stadium, Horner Ballpark, and its new membership in the Missouri Valley Conference. The Patriots finished their MVC debut season tied for second place with Indiana State, then went 4-1 to win the MVC tournament, defeating Illinois State in the final. DBU has a reputation for heavy-hitting teams, and while this year's Patriots can certainly do some mashing, they're a balanced team as well. DBU's 3.70 team ERA is more than a full run better than last year's 4.93, thanks largely to a stout weekend rotation of righthanders Cy Sneed (8-3, 3.67), Paul Voelker (9-4, 3.16) and Cory Taylor (4-4, 3.50). Scouts have been in on both Sneed and Voelker. Sneed works off a 90-93 mph fastball with a four-pitch mix, while Voelker can touch 96, though he's undersized at 5-foot-10. The Patriots also have a lockdown closer with more power stuff in sophomore righty Brandon Koch (8-0, 0.48, 9 SV, 64 strikeouts in 38 innings). Of course, DBU can still outslug teams if it has to. The Patriots have five hitters with five or more homers, topped by sophomore outfielder Austin Listi (.282/.380/.480, 10 HR), who built on a 2013 Freshman All-America season. Physical catcher Daniel Salters (.245/.393/.455, 6 HR) looks like the club's best offensive prospect for this year's draft, while fellow junior college transfer Drew Turbin (.261, 5 HR) has drawn interest as well. DBU certainly goes against the grain of small-ball focused offenses in the BBCOR era—the Patriots rank 14th in the country in homers (43) and 209th in sac bunts (31). It's a style that might seem a poor match for TCU's Lupton Stadium, which generally favors pitching, but DBU's own staff is talented enough to still make it dangerous.

samhoustonstateSam Houston State achieved the highest Top 25 ranking in program history when it reached No. 16 on March 17. The Bearkats swept four straight series to finish the season, edging Nicholls State by one game for the Southland Conference regular-season title, before falling flat in the conference tournament. Still, with a 14-9 record against the top 100 and No. 37 RPI, SHSU comfortably made the NCAA tournament as an at-large and will go off as a No. 3 seed for the third straight year. The Bearkats have won games against a higher-seeded team in each of their last two regional trips, and they're very much a threat to do so again. Junior Tyler Eppler (8-6, 3.33) fronts a deep pitching staff that carries a 2.79 ERA into the postseason. A physical righthander, Eppler can touch 94-95 mph and works mostly at 90-92 with a devastating changeup. Senior Jason Simms (5-3, 2.72) took off after moving into a starting role for the first time, while freshman Sam Odom (9-2, 2.57) has shined on Sundays, leading the team in wins and holding opponents to a .213 average. Opponents can't catch their breath against SHSU's deep bullpen either. The pen shortens games to the tune of a 35-0 record when SHSU has a lead after seven innings, and it is perfectly capable of matching up with lefthanders and righthanders. The Bearkats can put up some runs as well, ranking in the top 50 nationally in average (.287), slugging percentage (.400) and homers (36). Senior catcher Anthony Azar (.376/.454/.560, 9 HR) is the centerpiece. The Southland player of the year, Azar lacks projection but is a highly intelligent hitter and has been a fantastic college player. Junior first baseman Ryan O'Hearn (.301/.355/.470, 8 HR) has a lifting swing with pull power as well, and redshirt sophomore shortstop Corey Toups (.297/.374/.500, 7 HR) finished the season on a tear. There's no lack of familiarity among the three Texas-based teams in this regional. All three played each other in the regular season, including Sam Houston taking two of three from DBU in a Week Two series. The Bearkats also defeated TCU at the Houston College Classic a week later.

Siena started the season 0-17—that's not a misprint—so give coach 45th-year coach Tony Rossi's crew credit for keeping up the good fight and making something special of their season. The Saints toppled heavily favored Canisius in the finals of the MAAC tournament, completing a run through the losers' bracket to earn the program's second-ever NCAA appearance. First baseman Vincent Citro batted an unconscious .700 (14-for-20) in the conference tournament, earning MVP honors, but he's also been the Saints' best offensive player for the season. The senior, who bats leadoff, leads the Saints in most major categories, including average (.333), runs (50), walks (26) and steals (18). Most of Citro's help comes from athletic freshman outfielder Dan Swain (.291/.367/.362, 2 HR), the MAAC rookie of the year, and senior second baseman Mike Allen (.303/.420/.400, 1 HR), a steady player on both sides of the ball. Citro and company will have to stay hot to give Siena a chance, as the pitching staff brings an unsightly 5.40 ERA (249th in the country) into Fort Worth. Junior lefty Matt Gage (4-7, 4.81) is the team's best arm, working in the low 90s at times, but the rest of the staff looks overmatched, particularly as they get into matchups against heavier-hitting Dallas Baptist and Sam Houston State. If nothing else, Siena comes into the regional flying high. But considering the firepower they're up against, the Saints—one of three teams in the tournament with a sub-.500 overall record—have to be considered one of the longest shots to win a game this weekend.