Jim Schlossnagle’s teams have appeared in regionals all four seasons that he has been the head coach at TCU and they are the favorites this year to once again represent the Mountain West Conference in the post-season . TCU is coming off of a strong season in 2007 where they went 48-14 but the Horned Frogs lost several front line players including the 2nd through 5th hitters in their lineup (which includes their top three HR hitters), all three SP’s and an All-American closer.
Because TCU lost their leading power hitters from last year, the Horned Frogs are going to have to manufacture runs early in the season until their offense comes around although that hasn’t really been the way that Schlossnagle’s teams have played at TCU, averaging 40 SAC bunts and 58 SB’s per season. The lowest HR total for TCU the past four years was 52 HR’s a couple years ago with three seasons of 60+ HR’s. The dimensions at Lupton Stadium are pretty standard – 330 down the lines, 389 to left center, 382 to right center and 400 to CF and the park affects on scoring are pretty neutral, according to Boyd’s World, with cool temperatures forecast for this weekend in Fort Worth likely to keep the ball from carrying very well.
TCU has an experienced infield and is very good defensively, fielding .975 as a team last year. Their middle infield combo of SS Bryan Kervin (LH - .290-4-32-6, 10 SAC’s) and 2B Ben Carruthers (RH - .303-4-31-9, 8 SAC’s) made only 16 E’s last year. 3B Matt Carpenter (LH - medical redshirt) made only 6 E’s in 2006 when he hit .349 but he missed last year due to injuries. Corey Steglich (RH - .314-1-20-2) played part-time last year and will move into the lineup on a regular basis at 1B. The C’s will be Hunt Woodruff (RH - .273-2-12-0), who was the backup C last year, and JC transfer Bryan Holaday. TCU allowed 83 SB’s last year and with the new Fullerton coaching staff’s approach to aggressively running the bases, the C’s at TCU will be tested early and often this weekend.
TCU has experienced players at all 3 OF positions, although one of those players wasn’t an OF last year and another was a part-time player due to injuries. Clint Arnold (RH - .326-4-39-13, 6 SAC’s) was the leadoff hitter last year and the table setter at the top of the lineup. Arnold has good speed in CF. Matt Vern (RH - .319-5-36-8) was the 1B last year but is being moved to OF. Vern is a good athlete and there are big expectations for him because Baseball America picked Vern to be the MWC Player of the Year in their season preview. Matt McGuirk (LH - .205-5-18-2) has struggled with injuries the past two seasons but is healthy now and when he was healthy in 2005, McGuirk hit .317-7-38 and was a FR All-American. McGuirk and Vern figure to be key hitters in the middle of TCU’s lineup to compensate for the loss of their three leading HR hitters from last year.
TCU has developed some outstanding pitchers recently (Lance Broadway, Jake Arrieta). However, this year they will be starting from scratch after losing all three SP’s from last season, including Arrieta. Seth Garrison (RHP – 1-0, 1.96 ERA, 6 apps, 3 starts, 23 IP) is probably the most talented pitcher on the TCU staff but is coming back from TJ surgery and will be brought along slowly in the first part of the season. Steven Maxwell (RHP – 1-0, 3.86 ERA, 15 apps, 21 IP) was a middle reliever last year and will be one of the weekend SP’s and will be starting this Saturday. Two hard throwing newcomers are contenders to be weekend SP’s this season – 6’6” JC transfer RHP Andrew Cashner, one of the five best draft prospects in the MWC according to Baseball America, and 6’8” FR RHP Greg Holle, the top newcomer in the MWC according to Baseball America. Holle will be starting on Sunday.
TCU will be looking for a new closer after losing All-American Sam Demel. There are three candidates for the closer role and all of them are newcomers to the TCU program – RHP Collin Auten (transfer from Texas Tech), RHP Matt Coburn (transfer from JC power San Jacinto) and RHP FR Chris Anagnostou. TCU does have several experienced middle relievers, including likely midweek SP RHP Tyler Lockwood (5-2, 4.09 ERA, 26 apps, 3 starts, 55 IP), RHP Tyler Cragin (2-0, 2.42 ERA, 13 apps, 22 IP) and LHP Derek VerHagen (1-0, 4.24 ERA, 13 apps, 17 IP)
This is not an easy spot for Fullerton to be opening up the season against a team that went 27-3 at home last season. Fullerton usually fares very well in non-conference series (winning 7 of 8 last year) and has a few less pitching questions than TCU. This figures to be a closely contested series in all three games but Fullerton is projected to be the better team this season and should find a way to win 2 out of 3 this weekend.