Baseball Preview: TCU

Cal State Fullerton started off the 2012 season last weekend with a series on the road against the Florida Gators, who started the season ranked #1 in every major poll. Fullerton dropped the first two games of the series 7-3 and 5-2 before rebounding to win the final game 8-5 to avoid being swept and get the first win in the Rick Vanderhook era.

Michael Lorenzen got Fullerton off to a good start on Friday night in the 2nd inning by doubling and scored the first run of the season for the Titans and after Florida scored single runs in the 2nd and 5th innings to go ahead, Fullerton came back to take the lead in the 6th inning on Casey Watkins double, an RBI groundout by Derek Legg and an RBI double by Carlos LopezDylan Floro kept the Titans in the game, allowing three runs in six innings, and left the game with a no-decision before the Gators scored four runs in the bottom of the 7th inning against the Fullerton bullpen to take control of the game.

Fullerton got off to a lead on Saturday for the second straight game when Legg singled and Lopez drove him in with an RBI double in the 1st inning.  The Titans increased their lead in the 3rd inning when Lopez walked, Lorenzen doubled and Anthony Hutting drove in Lopez with an RBI groundout.  Florida took the lead for good in the 4th inning with four runs off of Fullerton starter Grahamm Wiest and tacked on an additional run in the 8th inning.  Austin Maddox came into the game in the 6th inning in relief of SP Karsten Whitson and Maddox was dominant, throwing four shutout innings and retiring the first ten batters he faced before Hutting doubled in the 9th inning and he retired the final two batters for the save.

The final game of the series followed a different script from the first two with Florida taking advantage of the wildness of Fullerton SP Kenny Mathews to score three runs in the 2nd inning.  The Titans were held off of the scoreboard for four innings by Gators SP Brian Johnson but got to the Florida bullpen in the 5th inning for four runs on an RBI single by Lorenzen, an RBI double by Ivory Thomas and a two run RBI single by Lopez to take the lead.  Fullerton's onslaught against the Gators bullpen continued in the 6th inning when Richy Pedroza doubled, Thomas was hit by a pitch, Lopez singled in Pedroza and Davis crushed a ball to LF for a 3 run HR to give the Titans an 8-3 lead.  Koby Gauna had come into the game in the 3rd inning and was the beneficiary of the Fullerton bats waking up by holding the Gators to one run on six hits in five innings to get the win and Lorenzen finished off the game with a scoreless 9th inning for the save in his first pitching appearance for the Titans.  Lorenzen (6-13 in the series), Lopez (5-12, 5 RBI) and Davis each had three hits to lead the fifteen hit attack, Pedroza and Thomas scored twice and Lopez and Davis drove in three runs apiece.  Austin Kingsolver had hits in all three games and went 5-9 on the weekend and he and Lorenzen each had diving catches to stop Florida rallies.

Fullerton is looking forward to playing their home opener this weekend against a familiar opponent, the TCU Horned Frogs.  The Titans have played TCU the last four seasons and each team has won two series with the road team winning every series.  Fullerton won the series at TCU in 2008 and last year and the Horned Frogs won the series at Goodwin Field in 2009 and 2010.  TCU started off their season by splitting two games at home against #20 (Baseball America) Ole Miss, losing 7-4 on Friday and winning 5-3 on Sunday with the middle game on Saturday rained out, and losing 7-1 at #25 (Baseball America) Baylor on Tuesday night.

TCU Horned Frogs 

  • Overall Record in 2011 – 43-19
  • Conference Record – 20-3 (1st – regular season) 
  • Post-Season – 3rd in Fort Worth Regional (Win vs. Oral Roberts, Losses vs. Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts).   
  • RPI/ISR – 20/22
  • Pre-season ranking  – 10th by Collegiate Baseball,11th by USA/Today Coaches Poll, 13th by NCBWA, 15th by Baseball America and 18th by Perfect Game
  • Predicted conference finish – 1st by the Mountain West coaches, Baseball America, Perfect Game and Easton College Baseball today

2011 Summary and 2012 Preview

TCU has appeared in regionals in all eight seasons that Jim Schlossnagle has been coaching in Fort Worth and the Horned Frogs have become a national power.  They took a major step forward in 2010 by defeating Texas in a Super Regional rematch of their 2009 match-up to advance to Omaha, where they went 3-2 to finish tied for 3rd.  TCU was predicted to be a contender for the national title last season with most of their lineup and all of their standout weekend starting pitching returning and they were ranked in the top three in every pre-season poll and ranking.  The Horned Frogs were consistent in weekend series with their only series loss coming in the second weekend of the season to Fullerton but they only went 6-6 in midweek games because the depth of their pitching staff was taxed by injuries to each of their starting pitchers during the season.  TCU was running on vapors by the end of the season and they ended their year in a disappointing fashion by being eliminated in the MWC Tournament by New Mexico and losing two out of three games in the regional that they hosted in Fort Worth.

Unlike last season, TCU is not nearly as experienced and they will be breaking in a bunch of new players with sixteen freshmen and three JC transfers on the roster and they have recruited well (this recruiting class was ranked #10 by Baseball America) so they will be young but very talented.  The Horned Frogs have some good arms returning along with some arms waiting for their chance to make an impact and they have some potential All-Americans behind the plate and in the outfield.

TCU has had one of the better offenses in the country over the last two seasons, ranking in the top thirty nationally in scoring, HR, AVG and SLG.  The Horned Frogs are usually a patient team at the plate, working counts and taking pitches and squaring up the pitch they want and driving it and they have some players who are more than capable of doing that.  TCU doesn't mind playing little ball by bunting and moving runners and it wouldn't be a surprise to see them do that to scratch out some runs with a much more inexperienced team than they had last year.

TCU also had a strong pitching staff in 2011 with power arms in the rotation but due to injuries to each of their starting pitchers at one point or another during the season their pitching depth was taxed.  The Horned Frogs have a couple of Sophs who stepped up for them last season due to injuries to the pitching staff and a bunch of freshmen looking to take their crack at becoming the next Purke, Winkler or Maxwell.

TCU has gotten off to a bit of a sluggish start and has scored only eight runs in three games and hit .205 with a .273 SLG % and they were held to two hits on Tuesday.  The Horned Frogs have had five extra-base hits (no HR's), no SB's and three SAC's.  TCU has been showing some patience at the plate with 13 BB's and 4 HBP's but has also struck out 24 times.

TCU has had some issues with their pitching to start the season with an ERA of 5.19.  They got ok starting pitching on Friday before the bullpen let things get away, got four solid innings from their SP on Sunday before he tired and the bullpen came through with four shutout innings to get the win and the midweek pitchers weren't sharp in allowing 7 R (6 ER) on 11 H and 7 BB at Baylor.

Offense

  • Park Factor according to Boyd's World – 80 from 2008-2011 (decreases offense by 20%), 75 from 2007-2010 (decreased offense by 25%).  TCU's strong pitching staff has helped to cut down the scoring significantly along with cross winds that usually blow in from the plains at night. 
  • Batting Average – .306 (1st in the Mountain West, 30th in the NCAA)
  • Runs Per Game – 6.7 (1/30)
  • Home Runs – 50 (1/19)
  • Stolen Bases – 78 (1/75)
  • Slugging Percentage – .464 (1/10)
  • Walks – 217 (3/109)
  • Strikeouts – 396 (4/x)
  • HBP's – 91 (1/10)
  • Sac Bunts – 51 (1/73)

Lineup

Infield

TCU had a very experienced infield last season but this year it is a different story with the only returning starter behind the plate due to an injury to their other returning starter at 3B.

C – JR #24 Josh Elander (RH – .333/.426/.509, 5-38-9. '10 – .356/.438/.510, 2-33-11) started out last season splitting time with SR Jimmie Pharr as they attempted to replace 2010 Johnny Bench Award winner Bryan Holoday.  Elander only started three of the first eighteen games behind the plate and didn't play against Fullerton but took over the position in late March, hit .382 in MWC games, developed into one of the better catchers in the country and was the starter for Team USA last summer.  He stepped right into the lineup 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 had issues making contact as a FR and struck out 50 times but cut down on his strikeouts last year with 36 and also showed good patience at the plate and was in the top ten in the MWC in BB and OBP.  He has good speed for his size and for a catcher and was tied for second on the team in SB's.  Elander will most likely be hitting in the middle of the lineup after batting either 4th or 5th thirty times last season.  He is a pre-season 2nd or 3rd team All American on just about every list and is projected to be drafted in the 2nd – 3rd round.  Elander went 3-10 with two walks and hit cleanup in the first three games.

1B – FR #00 Kevin Cron (RH) is stepping into the lineup for SR Joe Weik, who tied for the team lead in HR's last season.  He is huge at 6'5", 260 lbs and as you can imagine has plenty of power.  Cron crushed the Arizona HS record for HR's with 59 and hit 27 in 2011 and was a third round pick but decided to go to college instead of signing with Seattle.  He isn't a great athlete and doesn't have much speed so he will probably be limited to 1B and DH during his career at TCU.  Cron went 1-3 last Friday but came out of the game with a strained back and hasn't played in the last two games.  FR #8 Michael Resnick (RH) came into the game for Cron, started on Sunday and hit a two run double that broke a 3-3 tie.  That was his only hit in six AB's.

2B – Soph #7 Brett Johnson (LH – .286/.384/.429, 2-12-0 in 63 AB's) and JC transfer #4 Josh Gonzales (RH) will be battling to see who will take over for two year starter Jerome Pena, who was 1st team All MWC both seasons.  Johnson has been converted to 2B and started 19 games in 2011 at 1B and DH so he would be starting to try to put more power in the lineup.  He went 1-3 in the Sunday game against Fullerton.  Gonzales hit .295 as a FR at Houston Baptist before transferring to San Jacinto, one of the best JC's in the country, and he hit .350 last season and was an all-conf selection.  He is a solid defender and has good speed.  Johnson went 0-6 and hit sixth in the first two games and Gonzales went 1-4 and hit second on Tuesday.

SS – There has also been a battle for playing time at the other middle infield position between FR #26 Keaton Jones (RH) from Laguna Beach and FR #2 Derek O'Dell (LH) to find the replacement for three year starter Taylor Featherston, who was 1st team All-MWC the last two seasons.  O'Dell is a good athlete who was a 42nd round draft pick and has some pop in his bat but is still a work in progress.  Jones was known more for his pitching in HS and has a good arm.  He went 2-9 with an RBI double and hit ninth in the first three games.

3B – JR Davy Wright (RH – 2-16 last season and .195 in 41 AB's in 2010) has only started nine games over the last two seasons but will be pressed into duty for at least the first month of the season due to an injury to JR #35 Janzen Witte (RH – .331/.400/.469, 4-31-7. '10 – .374/.425/.552, 4-39-2), who was 1st team All MWC and was in the top ten in the conf in R, H, RBI, TB, 2B and BB.  Wright went 1-6 with 4 BB and a HBP and hit eighth in the first three games.

Outfield

As inexperienced as TCU is in the infield, they are much more experience in the outfield with both of their corner OF's returning along with a part-time starter taking over in CF.

LF – SR #38 Jason Coats (RH – .325/.403/.518, 5-56-8.  '10 – .361/.403/.617, 13-69-8.  '09 – .316/.393/.518, 6-32-2) is a dangerous hitter who was 1st team All-MWC the last two seasons after starting as a FR.  He was in the top ten in the MWC in R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI and TB.  Coats absolutely wore out Fullerton's pitching staff on his previous visit to Goodwin Field when he went 8-14 with 2 HR and 3 RBI but was only 2-10 against the Titans last season and is 14-35 in his career against Fullerton.  Coats poor series against Fullerton was part of his cold start due to adjusting to the new BBCOR bats and pressing while trying to improve his draft status as he went 4-33 to start the season before rebounding to hit .402 in MWC games.  He was drafted in the 12th round but decided to return to school and is projected to be drafted around the 5th-6th round in June.  Coats is among the national leaders in career H, R, 2B, RBI and TB and figures to end up among the school leaders in those categories as well as in HR's.  He takes a big cut when he gets the chance to but he works counts and had a solid 25/34 BB/K ratio in 2011.  Coats went 3-11 with 2 RBI in and hit third in the first three games.

CF – JR #1 Kyle VonTungeln (LH – .267/.363/.384, 0-11-8 in 86 AB's.  '10 – .236/.364/.324, 0-16-3 in 89 AB's) has been one of the fastest runners on the team the last three years and has been a part-time starter in CF and RF.  He hasn't been able to crack into the lineup on a regular basis until this season due to being inconsistent at the plate and not being able to put everything together.  VonTungeln is 3-22 in his career against Fullerton.  He went 3-12 with 2 RBI in the first three games and hit second in both games against Ole Miss before leading off at Baylor.  VonTungeln is projected to be drafted in the teens in June.

RF – SR #5 Brance Rivera (RH – .324/.411/.512, 7-36-14.  '10 – .342/.404/.481, 6-28-9) didn't play much as a FR (32 AB's) and cracked into the lineup in the middle of 2010 and got scorching hot and hit .471 with a .736 SLG %, 6 HR and 21 RBI in MWC games to be named 1st team All MWC.  He followed that up last season by finishing in the top ten in the MWC in R, H, 2B, TB, SLG and TB and was a 2nd team All-MWC selection.  Rivera is a very good bunter and was 2nd in the MWC and led the team with 12 SAC's.  He is the leadoff hitter and has good speed, leading the team in SB's last season.  Rivera has trouble making contact and led the team with 58 K's in 2011.  He is 5-13 in his career against Fullerton.  Rivera went 2-6 with 2 BB in the first two games and sat out Tuesday's game with a sore hip.

DH – SR # 23 Zac Jordan (RH – .303/.333/.508, 4-24-4 and .273 in 44 AB's in 2010) started a few games in the OF last season but was usually the DH when he was in the lineup.  He doesn't usually see too many pitches because he goes up there hacking and only walked six times last season.  Jordan got off to a good start before slumping and only hitting .196 in MWC games.  He went 0-10 in the first three games and played RF on Tuesday.  Jordan hit fifth in both games against Ole Miss and batted sixth at Baylor.

Defense

Fielding % - .965 (1/130) – 78 errors.  TCU will be breaking in a new infield although they had issues with defense last year with the infield combining to make 50 errors.  Good range and decent arms at all three OF spots with Coats, VonTungeln and Rivera.  The Horned Frogs have played pretty solid defense with only one error in three games.

Stolen Base Attempts – 32-49.  Teams did most of their running on Pharr (19-22) earlier in the season and Elander was better against runners (13-19).  Runners are 2-2 against Elander in three games.

WP's/PB's Allowed – 61.  TCU was below average at blocking pitches and finished next to last in the MWC.  Elander has allowed five WP/PB in three games.

Pitching

  • ERA – 3.20 (1/26)
  • BA – .240 (1/xx)
  • HR – 28 (4/xx)
  • H's/9 IP – 8.0 (1/20)
  • BB's/9 IP – 2.7 (1/21)
  • K's/9 IP – 7.7 (1/46)

Starters

Unlike last season when TCU returned their entire weekend rotation, the Horned Frogs will be breaking in a new weekend rotation with their midweek SP and their best reliever moving into weekend SP roles.

FRI – Soph #34 Andrew Mitchell (RHP – 6-1, 2.84 ERA, 22 apps, 2 saves, 10 GS, 76 IP, 52 H, 31 BB, 73 K, .197 BA, 5 HR, 5 HBP, 6 WP, 5-5 SB) usually was the midweek SP, despite injuries to the other SP's later in the season, because of the strong midweek schedule that TCU faced and only started twice in MWC games.  He got off to a great start and allowed only one run in his first 23 IP and ended the year in strong fashion by starting the first game of the regional and shutting out Oral Roberts for seven innings, allowing only two hits and one walk.  Mitchell was a FR All-American and was a standout reliever for Team USA during the summer.  He has a mid 90's fastball and a power breaking ball and is working on a changeup.  Mitchell was called into emergency duty last year against Fullerton and held the Titans scoreless for five innings and allowed only one hit with three walks.  He wasn't sharp in his start against Ole Miss and allowed 4 R (3 ER) on 6 H (one HR) in 6 IP but he also didn't walk any batters.

SAT – Soph RHP #28 Stefan Crichton (RHP – 6-3, 1.98 ERA, 26 apps, 5 saves, 2 GS, 50 IP, 38 H, 10 BB, 42 K, .208 BA, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 3 WP, 3-4 SB) hit the ground running and became the most reliable option out of the bullpen and ended up being the closer, beating out other more experienced RP's for that role and ended up being 2nd team All-MWC and a FR All-American.  He was a workhorse and was able to throw several innings without losing any effectiveness.  Crichton has an average fastball that sits in the upper 80's and his best pitch is a very effective sinker that allowed him to only give up one HR in 2011.  He was effective in the first four innings of his start against Ole Miss before tiring in the 5th inning when he allowed 3 runs.

SUN – TBA.  FR #29 Brandon Finnegan (LHP) was scheduled to be the third SP of the Ole Miss series but his start was pushed back due to the rainout in the series.  He pitched in relief on Sunday and allowed hits both of the batters he faced and allowed 2 R (1 ER) on 3 H and 2 BB in 2 IP at Baylor on Tuesday.  Finnegan has a pretty live arm with a low 90's fastball, a cutter and a changeup.  He was projected to be drafted in the teens last June but due to his commitment to TCU he wasn't drafted until the 45th round.

If Finnegan isn't the SP on Sunday then it would most likely be either FR #40 Trey Teakell (RHP) or FR #18 Preston Morrison (RHP).  Teakell has a fastball that sits around 90 with good control and a solid changeup, breaking ball and sinker.  He threw one scoreless inning against Ole Miss and allowed 1 R on 3 H in 3 IP at Baylor.  Morrison is a sidearmer whose fastball sits in the mid 80's and he was very effective against Ole Miss when he retired all ten batters he faced with 2 K's on Sunday.

Relievers

TCU had a very deep and experienced bullpen in 2010 when they made their run to Omaha but most of those relievers moved on and their expected closer sat out for the season with an elbow injury so their bullpen was thin and that weakness was exposed as injuries occurred with their SP's and some of their RP's had to take on SP roles.  The Horned Frogs will not have any relievers returning from last season that appeared in more than ten games or threw more than 30 innings so the newcomers will have to step up right away.

JR #6 Kaleb Merck (RHP – Redshirt in 2011.  '10 – 2-1, 1.47 ERA, 22 apps, 3 saves, 31 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 23 K, .210 BA, 3 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP, 1-1 SB) was going to be the closer last season after sharing closer duties in 2010 but had TJ surgery in the fall and was a medical redshirt.  He was topping out in the mid 90's in 2010 before the surgery and has been throwing in the low 90's and his breaking ball hasn't been as sharp as it was before the injury.  He picked up the save in the Sunday game against Ole Miss when he threw a scoreless inning.

Whoever isn't starting among Finnegan, Teakell and Morrison will be available in middle relief.  The only pitcher in the bullpen with much experience is Soph #25 Nick Frey (RHP – 1-0, 3.45 ERA, 10 apps, 4 GS, 29 IP, 32 H, 4 BB, 18 K, .288 BA, 2 HR, 9 HBP, 1 WP, 0-2 SB).  He allowed 3 R on 4 H in 2 IP against Ole Miss. 

Others who might figure into the bullpen mix are Soph #15 Tyler Duffie (RHP – 8 2/3 IP with 11 BB in 7 apps in 2011), FR RHP's #31 Jerrick Suiter (35th round draft pick last June) and #43 Chris Murphy and JC transfers #20 Justin Scharf and #32 Kevin Allen.  Duffie and Suiter have low 90's fastballs and Scharf is a sidearmer.  Against Baylor on Tuesday, Suiter walked two batters in 2/3 IP, Murphy allowed 4 R in 1/3 IP, Scharf threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Allen allowed a hit and 2 BB in 2/3 IP.  The only LHP on the roster besides Finnegan is FR #11 Travis Evans.

Outlook

Fullerton played pretty well last weekend despite losing the series at Florida.  The Titans battled the Gators in all three games and were rewarded for their efforts with a win in the final game of the series.  Fullerton had solid fielding and didn't commit an error but the pitchers had issues holding down one of the best offenses in the country and had an ERA of just over six in the series.

The series last year at TCU featured some standout pitching with low scoring games that were 4-1, 8-4 (3-3 after eight innings) and 2-1.  Both teams figure to have solid offenses although TCU hasn't hit much in three games but they will turn it around with the power that they have in their lineup and Fullerton is hoping that it doesn't happen this weekend like it has in the Horned Frogs two previous visits to Fullerton when they scored 43 runs in six games.

This figures to a close series with two evenly matched teams that going into the season have similar strengths (offensive potential) and weaknesses (lack of experienced pitching depth) and figure to be hungry after starting out 1-2.  If TCU turns it around offensively and gets better pitching than they have thus far the Horned Frogs have a decent chance to win this series.  If Fullerton puts together rallies like they did at Florida and gets more consistent pitching than they did in Gainesville the Titans should win this series.