Baseball Preview: TCU

The second year of the Dave Serrano era at Cal State Fullerton begins with the same opponent that the Titans played to open last season - the TCU Horned Frogs. Jim Schlossnagle's teams have appeared in regionals in all five seasons that he has been the head coach at TCU and they are once again the favorites to win the Mountain West Conference.

TCU is ranked in the 30's in three different polls (USA Today/Coaches, NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball) and went 44-19 to have another strong season in 2008.  The Horned Frogs have an experienced team that returns six starting position players and all three weekend starting pitchers and are also bringing in an outstanding recruiting class that Baseball America ranked #9 nationally. 

LINEUP

TCU struggled offensively last year after losing most of the power hitters from their 2007 lineup.  The Horned Frogs hit only 37 HR's in 2008, which was easily the lowest total in Schlossnagle's five years at TCU (the previous low was 52).  The coaching staff at TCU feels that their offense should be much more productive this season because they return the three leaders in HR's and the four leaders in RBI's from last year and add to that mix several promising newcomers.  Because TCU struggled to score runs last year, especially in non-conf games against better pitching than they saw in most MWC games, they bunted much more than they had in previous seasons and ran quite a bit, averaging a SB per game, to try to scratch out some runs.  The Horned Frogs don't figure to bunt and run quite as much this season, instead playing for more big innings with the expected increased production from their lineup.

Infield

TCU returns three infield starters along with their catcher and is a very good defensive team, fielding .976 and .975 the past two seasons – the two best marks in school history.  The only new starter that TCU will be breaking in after the graduation of SS Bryan Kervin is FR Taylor Featherston (RH hitter), whom Baseball America listed at #28 in the state of Texas on their draft list for last June.  Featherston is a good all-around athlete whom TCU has high expectations for both offensively and defensively. 

SR 2B Ben Carruthers (RH - .308-2-33-15) is a three year starter and was 1st team all-conf last year.  He is the leadoff hitter, a scrappy player (21 HBP's) and the biggest threat to steal bases.  Carruthers is a very good defensive player, making only 6 E's last year.  He went 5-13 in last year's series against Fullerton.

SR 3B Matt Carpenter (LH - .283-11-46-8) is also a three year starter (starting in '06 before a medical redshirt in '07) and was 2nd team all-conf last year.  He is a patient hitter who led TCU in BB's and was also their best power hitter, leading the team in HR's.  He was the cleanup hitter last season and will once again hit in the middle of the lineup.  Carpenter is also a good defensive player so he should be up to the task of defending against Fullerton's bunting game.  He went 2-9 in last year's series against Fullerton.

SR 1B Matt Vern (RH - .275-6-44-9) is another three year starter and was projected to be the MWC player of the year going into 2008 but didn't have as good of a season as he had hoped for and led the team in K's.  Vern is a good athlete and could end up in LF.  He went 5-12 in last year's series against Fullerton.

JC transfer Matt Curry (LH hitter) will be either the 1B or DH, has big-time power (.451-20-90 last year at Howard JC) and is predicted by Baseball America to be the top draft prospect in June's draft on the TCU roster.  He will likely be hitting in the middle of the batting order. 

JR C Bryan Holaday (RH - .311-1-41-1) returns as the starter and did a solid job in his first season.  Baserunners were 53-74 against Holaday and he allowed 43 WP's/PB's.  Fullerton was 11-14 in stealing bases in last year's series so the running game of the Titans as usual will be a key aspect of the series to watch.  Holaday was 1st team all-conf last season.  He went 0-7 in last year's series against Fullerton.

The DH and backup C last season was Hunt Woodruff (RH - .263-1-24-1), who might not get as many AB's this season with the addition of Curry and several other talented newcomers.   He went 3-8 in last year's series against Fullerton.

Outfield

Last year, TCU's OF starters were figured out pretty early because that was an area where they had several experienced players.  This year, things are a little unsettled with only one starter returning.  SR Chris Ellington (RH - .344-6-55-2) was the RF last year and led TCU in RBI's, batting in the middle of the lineup and figuring to do so again this season.  He was 2nd team all-conf last year. 

If Vern plays in LF, that would leave only CF without a starter who was in the lineup last year.  It looks like Brett Medlin (RH - .245 in 49 AB's) could end up in CF but that is very much up in the air.  Other OF's in the mix include Corey Steglich (RH - .167 in 66 AB's) and Aaron Schultz (RH - .205 in 44 AB's) and incoming FR Brance Rivera (RH hitter) and Jason Coats (RH hitter – ranked #51 by Baseball America in Texas on their draft list for last June), players who could also end up getting AB's at DH. 


 PITCHING

Starters

TCU has developed some outstanding pitchers in the last few years and it looks like the Horned Frogs should have another very good pitching staff this year after leading the MWC in team ERA and finishing 5th nationally at 3.63.  TCU returns most of the pitchers who were contributors last season except for All-American closer Andrew Cashner.  TCU started from scratch in 2008 with the starting rotation after losing all three SP's from 2007 but this year the Horned Frogs will be returning all three weekend SP's. 

JR Tyler Lockwood (RHP – 7-2, 2.75 ERA, 17 apps, 11 starts, 105 IP, 97 H, 15 BB, 71 K, 5 HR's, .247 BA) started last season as a middle reliever but quickly pitched his way into a starting role and by the end of the season was the Fri SP and was 1st team all-conf.  Lockwood has very good control and is a ground ball pitcher who does a good job of keeping the ball down. 

He threw 3 1/3 scoreless innings in two apps in last year's series with Fullerton. 

Soph Sean Hoelscher (RH – 7-3, 5.02 ERA, 15 starts, 66 IP, 62 H, 26 BB, 53 K, 4 HR, .253 BA) started last season as the midweek SP but was moved into the weekend rotation after the first month of the season.  He is a hard thrower but sometimes struggled with his control and as a result was often quickly pulled out of the game due to TCU's deep bullpen.  Hoelscher was 2nd team all conf last year and a FR All-American.

Soph Greg Holle (RHP – 1-2, 4.50 ERA, 14 starts, 60 IP, 71 H, 30 BB, 32 K, 0 HR, .310 BA) came into the season with high expectations as a high profile recruit and was projected to be the top newcomer in the MWC according to Baseball America. Holle is 6'8" and as tall pitchers tend to do, he often struggled with his mechanics and control and was also often quickly pulled out of the game due to TCU's deep bullpen.  He allowed 4 R's on 6 H's in 4 2/3 IP in last year's series with Fullerton. 

TCU has other options if either Hoelscher or Holle struggle this season.  Steven Maxwell had a 2.50 ERA in three starts last year (including a win against Fullerton – 7 IP, 2 R) before suffering an elbow injury and being lost for the season due to TJ surgery.  Maxwell is being brought along slowly by the TCU coaching staff.

FR RHP Kyle Winkler was listed #19 in Baseball America in the state of Texas (#167 nationally) on their draft list for last June and is projected to be the top newcomer in the MWC.  He has good stuff and despite being only 5'11", he throws hard with a fastball in the low 90's.  Winkler pitched well in TCU's alumni game, throwing four shutout innings and allowing only one hit with 7 K's.  The coaching staff isn't sure what Winkler's role is yet and he could end up as the closer.

Relievers

TCU has had All-American closers the past two seasons (Sam Demel, Andrew Cashner) but is looking for a new closer after Cashner was drafted in the first round of the draft last June.  One of the leading candidates for the closer role along with Winkler is Soph Trent Appleby (RHP – 6-2, 2.31 ERA, 24 apps, 66 IP, 63 H, 13 BB, 32 K, 1 HR, .257 BA), who pitched very effectively in middle relief last year.  Appleby is a control specialist who is capable of throwing long relief, going 7 innings in both a MWC tournament game and a regional game last season.  He was a FR All-American last year and threw two scoreless innings in his only appearance in last season's series against Fullerton. 

TCU has a group of experienced middle relievers that include Tyler Cragin (RHP - 1-0, 1.61 ERA, 14 apps, 22 IP), Derek VerHagen (LHP, 1-0, 4.50 ERA, 13 apps, 12 IP), Eric Marshall (RHP – 3-0, 4.91 ERA, 16 apps, 26 IP) and Paul Gerrish (RHP – 4-3, 5.35 ERA, 13 apps, 6 starts, 37 IP), who ended up being one of the midweek SP's last year.

Incoming FR in addition to Winkler who look like they will have an opportunity to contribute are RHP Kaleb Merck, ranked #41 in Baseball America in the state of Texas for last June's draft, LHP Walker Kelly, ranked #83 in Baseball America in the state of Texas for last June's draft, and RHP Erik Miller


OUTLOOK

TCU is looking to make their mark this season and advance past the regional round for the first time this season and a series win at Fullerton would give them a big boost towards that accomplishing that goal.  Fullerton went to Omaha in 2006 and 2007 and is looking to get back to the College World Series after being eliminated in the super regional round last season.  The Titans are similar to TCU because Fullerton has a lineup with returning starters at most positions.  Fullerton's pitching is less experienced than TCU's and the Titans are going to have to pitch well to win the series with the solid pitching that the Horned Frogs will be bringing to Goodwin Field.  Fullerton usually fares very well in non-conference series at home, having not lost a regular season series to a non-conference opponent at Goodwin Field since 2001, and this figures to be a closely contested series.  Fullerton is projected to be the better team this season and should be able to win the series this weekend.