Baseball Preview: TCU

The season got off to an interesting start for Cal State Fullerton with something that doesn't happen too often around here – a rain out last Friday. The Titans opened the season with a doubleheader at Goodwin Field against North Carolina and Long Beach, which ended up being the first game of the three game series against the Dirtbags.

North Carolina won the day game 4-3 in 11 innings after Carlos Lopez tied the game with a two out RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.  Fullerton won the nightcap 2-1 behind seven strong innings from Noe Ramirez, RBI's from Tyler Pill and Richy Pedroza and two innings of relief from Nick Ramirez.

The second and third games of the series with the Dirtbags were played at Blair Field.  Jake Floethe threw five solid innings in his debut with the Titans and left the game leading 4-2 but the bullpen surrendered the lead in the 6th inning and Fullerton squandered 18 hits in an 8-5 loss.  The Titans won the deciding game 4-3 on Monday, taking advantage of four errors and four HBP's and getting solid starting pitching for the fourth game in a row with Colin O'Connell allowing only one run in seven innings.    

Next up for Fullerton is a trip to Fort Worth for a series with TCU.  The Horned Frogs had a magical year in 2010 in what ended up being the best season in the history of their program with their first trip to Omaha.  TCU has high expectations again this season with the all three of their outstanding starting pitchers returning along with seven of their position starters.  The Horned Frogs were ranked in the top three of every major national pre-season poll and were the unanimous choice by the MWC coaches to once again win their conference.

TCU Horned Frogs

  • Overall Record – 54-14
  • Conference Record – 19-5 (1st)
  • Post-Season – 3rd (tied) in College World Series (2-0 vs. Florida State, 1-2 vs. UCLA).  Won Super Regional 2-1 at Texas.  3-0 in Regional at Fort Worth (Wins against Lamar, Arizona and Baylor).   
  • RPI/ISR – 9/3
  • Pre-season ranking  – 1st by Collegiate Baseball and NCBWA, 2nd by USA/Today Coaches Poll, 3rd by Baseball America
  • Predicted conf finish – 1st by the Mountain West coaches and Baseball America

2010 Summary and 2011 Preview

 
TCU has appeared in regionals in all seven seasons that Jim Schlossnagle has been in Fort Worth and have been improving almost every year.  The Horned Frogs program took another step forward by both hosting and winning a regional for the second time before playing Texas in a super regional rematch and defeating the Longhorns to advance to Omaha, where they went 3-2 to finish tied for 3rd.

TCU has gotten off to a solid 3-1 start after winning two of three games at home against Kansas and following that up with a midweek win at Baylor.  The Horned Frogs easily won the first two games against Kansas (8-2, 7-1) before losing a 4-3 marathon in 14 innings.  TCU continued to get good pitching at Baylor in a 2-0 shutout.

TCU expected to have an outstanding pitching staff going into this season with all three standout weekend starting pitchers returning and they have lived up to expectations in holding their opponents to a .130 AVG with a 1.32 ERA and a 4-1 K/BB ratio (36/8) in 41 IP.  The Horned Frogs hit well in their first two games but scuffled in their next two games and are only hitting .262 with a .383 SLG % and two HR's.  TCU has been playing quite a bit of little ball to make up for the lack of power with 6 SAC's and 8-11 SB's.

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 75 from 2007-2010 (decreases offense by 25%), 85 from 2006-2009 (decreases offense by 15%).  TCU's strong pitching staff has helped to cut down the scoring significantly.
  • Batting Average – .334 (2nd in the Mountain West, 21st in the NCAA)
  • Runs Per Game – 8.4 (1/25)
  • Home Runs – 101 (1/9)
  • Stolen Bases – 72 (1/117)
  • Slugging Percentage – .551 (1/10)
  • Walks – 269 (2/36)
  • HBP's – 52 (1/68)
  • Sac Bunts – 63 (1/10)

Lineup
 
TCU returns three of their infielders but lost two major contributors at C and 1B who combined for 35 HR's.  The Horned Frogs return all of their outfielders.
 
C – SR #31 Jimmie Pharr (RH – .363, 7-21-0 in 91 AB's) got playing time mostly at DH last season (18 starts) but has won the starting position behind the plate to replace three year starter and Johnny Bench Award winner Bryan Holaday.  Pharr has started in all four games, three times behind the plate and once at DH.  He has hit 6th twice and 7th twice and been one of the hotter hitters after going 7-19 with 2 RBI.  Soph #24 Josh Elander (RH – .356/.438/.510, 2-33-11) will be sharing playing time with Pharr.  He stepped right into the lineup last year as a FR, starting most of the time either in RF (33 games) or at DH (17 games) and was 2nd on the team in AVG and OBP while earning FR All-American honors.  Elander did have issues making contact and struck out over 25% of the time with 50 K's.  He went 4-12 with an RBI at Fullerton.  Elander started once behind the plate against Kansas.
 
1B – SR #33 Joe Weik (RH – .357/.417/.580, 6-29-0) came in as a JC transfer and was looked at to provide power.  He was in the lineup most of the non-conf schedule before being a part-timer during conf play and regaining his position in the lineup during the post-season, when he made the Fort Worth all regional team.  Weik made all 30 of his starts at DH and will be taking over at 1B for Matt Curry, who was one of the team leaders in HR and RBI.  He went 2-6 with an RBI at Fullerton.  Weik has hit cleanup in all four games and gotten off to a slow 1-14 start, with the only hit a solo HR.
 
2B – SR #2 Jerome Pena (Both – .313/.386/.510, 11-52-7) came in as a JC transfer after being drafted in the 40th round and gave the lineup quite a bit of power for both a middle infielder and a leadoff hitter and was 1st team All-MWC.  He got off to a good start by getting on base at least once in each of the first 24 games and continued to hit well by leading the team with 31 RBI in MWC games.  Pena has a big swing and struck out 56 times.  He went 2-11 with an RBI at Fullerton.  Pena was the leadoff hitter last season and hit second in all four games, going 4-17 with 3 RBI.
 
SS –JR #12 Taylor Featherston (RH – .313/.386/.510, 11-52-7.  '09 – .322/.395/.461, 5-28-8) came into TCU with high expectations and has lived up to them as the starting SS his first two years and was 2nd team All-MWC in '09 and 1st team All-MWC last season.  He was MVP of the Fort Worth regional after going 7-12 with 8 RBI and stayed hot in Omaha, going 5-15 with 7 RBI to make the all CWS team.  Featherston is projected to go in the first five rounds of the draft in June.  He went 2-12 with 3 RBI last season at Fullerton and is 6-23 with 6 RBI in his career against the Titans.  Featherston has gotten off to a slow 3-14 start but had the only two RBI in the Baylor game and has hit fifth in all four games.
 
3B – Soph #35 Janzen Witte (RH – .374/.425/.552, 4-39-2) missed the first three weeks of last season with a broken wrist but was tough to get out of the lineup after that and led the team in AVG.  He is a good bunter who was second on the team with 11 SAC's.  Witte made the MWC conf all-tournament and Fort Worth all-regional teams and got hits in four of five games in Omaha.  He is the pre-season All-MWC choice at 3B.  Witte has hit 6th twice and 8th twice, going 5-13 with an HR and 3 RBI.
 
LF – JR #38 Jason Coats (RH – .361/.403/.617, 13-69-8.  '09 – .316/.393/.518, 6-32-2) is one of the most dangerous hitters in the country and is projected to be picked in the first two rounds of the draft.  He was 1st team All-MWC and MVP of the Fort Worth regional last season after starting as a FR.  Coats was in the top ten in the MWC in AVG, R, H, 2B, HR, RBI and SLG in 2010.  He has absolutely worn our Fullerton pitching and went 8-14 with 2 HR and 3 RBI last season against the Titans and is 12-25 in his career.  Coats has hit third in all four games and gotten off to a slow 2-18 start and Fullerton is hoping he continues to stay cold.
 
CF – JR #29 Aaron Schultz (RH – .293/.371/.482, 9-53-11.  '09 – .254 in 71 AB's) started the season playing 3B while Witte was out and eventually settled into playing CF.  He was a clutch hitter who was tied for third on the team in RBI.  Schultz is a good bunter who led the team with 11 SAC's.  He was voted to the all Fort Worth regional team after getting five hits and five RBI.  Schultz went 3-8 with 3 RBI at Fullerton last season.  He has hit 7th twice and 8th twice and gotten off to a good 5-13 with two 2B's and a 3B.
 
RF – JR #5 Brance Rivera (RH – .342/.404/.481, 6-28-9.  '09 – .250 in 32 AB's) didn't play much as a FR and was only a part-timer early last season but started to get more playing time as TCU got closer to the MWC schedule.  When Rivera got his chance, he was scorching hot and hit .471, a .736 SLG %, 6 HR and 21 RBI in 21 conf starts to be named 1st team All MWC.  He is also a good bunter and had 10 SAC's.  Rivera went 1-2 at Fullerton last season.  He got off to a hot 7-16 start with a 2B and a 3B, leading off twice and batting 9th twice.
 
OF/DH - Soph #1 Kyle VonTungeln (LH – .236/.364/.324, 0-16-3 in 89 AB's) is one of the fastest runners on the team and was starting in CF early before losing his position due to shuffling with the lineup.  He went 1-14 with an RBI at Fullerton last season.  VonTungeln started once at DH and once in RF last weekend, leading off both times and going hitless in nine AB's.  JR #23 Zac Jordan (RH – .273 in 44 AB's) saw limited time last season and has started in one game at DH and is 2-6 with 2 RBI.
 
Defense
 
Fielding % - .971 (1/52) – 78 errors.  Experienced with 2B Pena, SS Featherston and 3B Witte.  All three have very good range (Pena and Featherston were both in the top five in the MWC in assists) but had some issues with making errors and combined for 40 of them.  Featherston made 27 errors as a FR before cutting that down to 16 last year.  Good range and good arms at all three OF spots with Curry, Schultz and Rivera.  TCU has fielded .982 and made three errors (Featherston, Pena and Weik).
 
Stolen Base Attempts – 30-57.  Holaday did a good job of shutting down the running game.  Kansas went 5-5 last weekend (4-4 against Pharr, 1-1 against Elander) and Baylor did not attempt to steal a base.
 
WP's/PB's Allowed – 33.  Holaday was also very good at blocking pitches.  TCU allowed three wild pitches against Kansas and none against Baylor.
 
Pitching

  • ERA – 3.55 (1/9)
  • BA – .252 (1/xx)
  • HR – 52 (3/xx)
  • H's/9 IP – 8.5 (xx/9)
  • BB's/9 IP – 2.99 (2/22)
  • K's/9 IP – 8.2 (1/29)

Starters

TCU returns all three starting pitchers from one of the best rotations in the country in 2010 and they combined to go 39-5 with a 3.05 ERA.

FRI – JR #8 Kyle Winkler (RHP – 12-3, 3.39 ERA, 19 GS, 117 IP, 111 H, 36 BB, 92 K, 15 HR, .252 BA, 6 HBP, 3 WP, 1-5 SB.  '09 – 7-1, 4.15 ERA, 17 apps, 14 starts, 74 IP, 70 H, 35 BB, 48 K, 5 HR, .262 BA, 7 HBP, 4 WP, 7-11 SB) ended up being the best SP on TCU's staff as a FR, not suffering his first loss until the super regional at Texas.  He was even better last season and ended up 2nd team All-MWC, won the super regional clinching game at Texas with 7 2/3 scoreless innings, pitched for Team USA last summer and is a 2nd team pre-season All-American. Winkler has a fastball in the low to mid 90's, a power sinker and a solid changeup and is projected to be drafted in the first five rounds.  He was the MWC pitcher of the week after holding Kansas to one unearned run on 1 H in 7 IP with 0 BB's and 8 K's.  Winkler won the series deciding game at Fullerton when he held the Titans to one unearned run and 4 H in 6 IP.

SAT – SR #4 Steven Maxwell (RHP – 11-2, 2.70 ERA, 18 GS, 103 IP, 89 H, 34 BB, 93 K, 9 HR, .239 BA, 9 HBP, 3 WP, 4-13 SB.  '09 – 3-2, 6.10 ERA, 12 apps, 10 starts, 38 IP, 49 H, 10 BB, 27 K, 5 HR, .331 BA, 3 HBP, 2 WP, 3-8 SB) had a slow path back from TJ surgery in 2008 after making only three starts that season (one was a win against Fullerton – 7 IP, 2 R).  He had a strong JR season and was MWC Pitcher of the Year and a 2nd team All-American.  Maxwell was drafted in the 12th round but decided to come back for his SR year.  He has a fastball in the low 90's with a power curveball and a good changeup.  Maxwell allowed 2 R on 6 H in 6 IP and received a no decision last Sun against Kansas.  He was outstanding at Fullerton when he took a no-hitter into the 7th inning and ended up allowing 1 R on 2 H in 6 1/3 IP.

SUN – Soph #47 Matt Purke (LHP – 16-0, 3.02 ERA, 20 apps, 18 GS, 116 IP, 91 H, 34 BB, 142 K, 6 HR, .212 BA, 10 HBP, 7 WP, 10-17 SB) was the 1st round pick of the Texas Rangers out of HS but couldn't agree to terms with them and ended up on campus in Fort Worth.  He came into TCU with a great deal of hype and lived up to all of the expectations and was 1st team All-MWC and the consensus national Freshman of the Year and is expected to be drafted in the first five picks in June as a draft eligible Soph.  Purke has a mid to upper 90's fastball, a wipeout curve and a solid changeup.  He threw four innings last week against Kansas before leaving with an 8-0 lead and received the win in what was designated as a "staff day" and has had his start pushed back due to blisters.  Purke didn't struggle often last year but one of the two starts that he didn't get the win in was at Fullerton in his second career start when he allowed 4 R on 5 H in 2 1/3 IP.

Relievers

TCU had a very deep and experienced bullpen last season but most of those relievers have moved on with the expected closer out for the season with an elbow injury so there are only two returners and several freshmen who are looking to make their mark.

JR #43 Erik Miller (RHP – 1-1, 4.67 ERA, 19 apps, 27 IP, 28 H, 12 BB, 30 K, 2 HR, .275 BA, 3 HBP, 2 WP, 6-9 SB.  '09 – 0-2, 4.50 ERA, 22 apps, 26 IP, 3 saves) has moved into the closer role and has the upside with a good fastball to do well in that role.  He threw two shutout innings last Sat and came back to throw more three scoreless innings on Sun before tiring and allowing two runs.  Miller has allowed 2 R (1 ER) on 4 H in 4 1/3 IP in two career appearances against Fullerton.

SR #11 Trent Appleby (RHP – 3-1, 4.39 ERA, 23 apps, 41 IP, 49 H, 12 BB, 24 K, 4 HR, .308 BA, 5 HBP, 2 WP, 8-10 SB.  '09 – 4-1, 3.61 ERA, 24 apps, 57 IP, 57 H, 20 BB, 47 K, 3 HR, .270 BA, 9 HBP, 2 WP, 6-9 SB) is a control specialist whose best pitch is a power sinker. He has been a solid middle reliever for three years and will be the main set-up reliever.  He threw 3 2/3 shutout innings last Sun, allowing only one hit.  Appleby has allowed 1 R on 7 H in 6 IP in four career appearances against Fullerton.

RHP #34 Andrew Mitchell has made the biggest impact of the FR, allowing only one run in 8 2/3 IP in two appearances, including 6 2/3 shutout innings in his start on Tuesday at Baylor when his fastball was sitting in the 93-94 range.  Other FR who have made appearances are RHP #15 Tyler Duffie, who allowed 1 R in 3 IP when he got the save last Friday, and RHP #28 Stefan Crichton, who got the save on Tuesday at Baylor with 2 1/3 hitless innings of relief.  Another FR that there are high expectations for is RHP #37 Tony Rizzotti.  The only LHP in the bullpen is JC transfer #17 Teddy Nowell.

Outlook

Fullerton is going to have to hit better and do a better job of manufacturing runs to win this series.  The Titans averaged only 3.5 runs in their four games last weekend and didn't score more than five runs in any game.  They squandered many scoring opportunities on Sunday when they got 18 hits and only hit .206 in the other three games.

Pitching depth is one of the strongest areas for Fullerton this season and the starting pitchers delivered with a 2.52 ERA.  However, the bullpen had some issues and had a 5.25 ERA last weekend, allowing 7 R in 12 IP.  The Titans cannot afford to have their relievers let games get away in the late innings, which is what happened in both losses last weekend.

It isn't often that Fullerton is an underdog in a series but this weekend in Fort Worth is one of those rare occasions.  As good as Fullerton's starting pitching is, TCU has the rotation to match up with the Titans and two of their starters completely shut down the Titans last year.  The Horned Frogs have been the better hitting team the past two seasons, which was a big reason why they won both series at Fullerton, and it looks like they have the better offense again this year.

Fullerton is going to have to do something special to win the series this weekend, either getting some lights out pitching performances to outduel the TCU starters and scratch out some runs to take advantage of the few scoring opportunities they are likely to get.  If Fullerton is unable to do that then it is likely that TCU will win this series.