SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
1. Texas Christian
2016 Record (Ranking): 49-18 (3). RPI: 6.
Coach (Record at school): Jim Schlossnagle (565-254, 13 years).
Postseason History: 14 regionals (active streak: 3), 4 CWS trips (active streak: 3), 0 national titles.
No sooner had Texas Christian’s players stepped off the bus after getting back from last year’s College World Series than head coach Jim Schlossnagle gathered them in the Lupton Stadium locker room in Fort Worth. That Omaha trip, the program’s third straight, had been unexpected. Schlossnagle knew the external expectations would have a different feel in 2017 and wanted to give his players a sense of what awaited them.
“In 2011, coming off the College World Series in 2010 (TCU’s first Omaha appearance), I think we were in the top three in every poll,” Schlossnagle said, “and we didn’t handle it great. This time around, we’ve addressed it several times, but I’m not going to bring it up again.”
TCU will take the field in February ranked No. 1 for the first time ever, preseason or otherwise. And with good reason.
The Frogs return eight of nine everyday players from last year’s team that led the Big 12 Conference in scoring at 7.0 runs per game. Even the one “new” starter isn’t really new, as Nolan Brown steps into center field after taking a medical redshirt last season due to a hand injury. Brown started everyday in right field and hit .302/.371/.373 in 2015, and he should be a difference-making defensive player in center.
The lineup’s cornerstone is hulking sophomore Luken Baker, a second-team All-American as a two-way player last year who gave up pitching in the offseason. Baker has plenty of thunder in his bat and the feel for hitting to match it, but the Frogs don’t need him to be a one-man show, either.
Evan Skoug—who has filled the No. 3 hole in the lineup for most of his college career—Elliott Barzilli and Josh Watson all can hit balls over the fence. The rest of the lineup is a nice mix of speed and on-base guys such as Brown and Austen Wade.
“I think it might be the most dynamic offense that we’ve had,” Schlossnagle said. “We’ve always been known for pitching. Our ballpark tends to lean towards being a pitcher’s stadium. But when you look at our lineup, whether it be right or left, hitters or speed guys or power guys . . . we’re certainly going to have our bad days like every team does, but there’s not a stretch in this lineup where you’re going to be able to take a breath.”
The Frogs may not have the same star power on the pitching side, at least among their upperclassmen. But as Schlossnagle says, it remains the program’s hallmark, as the Frogs have finished in the top 20 nationally in ERA in four straight seasons.
Veterans Brian Howard and Mitchell Traver return from last year’s group—back problems limited Traver to seven starts last year—along with sophomore Jared Janczak, who emerged as a starter down the stretch in Traver’s absence.
Pitching coach Kirk Saarloos has plenty of options in the bullpen as well, from returning closer Durbin Feltman to junior lefty Ryan Burnett.
The Frogs effectively have five starters to pick for four spots, with the returners reinforced by freshmen Nick Lodolo and Charles King, who headlined the Frogs’ fifth-ranked recruiting class. Lodolo ranked No. 78 on last year’s BA500 and was the highest-drafted player (41st overall) to not turn pro out of the 2016 draft, choosing TCU over signing with the Pirates. If Lodolo lives up to his billing as a projectable lefty with a low 90s fastball and three-pitch mix, it’ll be hard to keep him from pitching on the weekends.
It’ll also be hard to keep TCU from being one of the last teams standing once again.
“We’ve tried to take on that Cubs ‘embrace the target’ type of mentality,” Schlossnagle said. “We know it sells tickets. We know it gets people excited, and that’s awesome. But whether we’re first or we’re 21st, our expectations are still the same. We can’t let any of that stuff affect our preparation or our mindset, and the best thing I can say about this club is it has not affected them.”
|C||Evan Skoug, Jr.||.301||.390||.502||9||51||7|
|1B||Connor Wanhanen, Jr.||.231||.327||.290||0||23||9|
|2B||Cam Warner, Sr.||.300||.346||.431||6||43||10|
|3B||Elliott Barzilli, Sr.||.339||.418||.518||7||48||14|
|SS||Ryan Merrill, Sr.||.298||.353||.410||1||25||11|
|LF||Josh Watson, So.||.280||.398||.506||11||44||12|
|CF||Nolan Brown, R-Sr.||.000||.250||.000||0||0||1|
|RF||Austen Wade, Jr.||.286||.434||.359||1||27||13|
|DH||Luken Baker, So.||.379||.483||.577||11||62||1|
|RHP||Brian Howard, Sr.||10||2||3.19||99||93||0|
|RHP||Mitchell Traver, Sr.||1||3||3.26||30||28||0|
|LHP||Nick Lodolo, Fr.||HS—La Verne, Calif.|
|RP||Durbin Feltman, So.||3||0||1.56||35||49||9|