Opening Questions

TCU head coach Jim Schlossnagle said he's appreciative of his team's high ranking but not certain it is worthy of such lofty status at this point.

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The Horned Frogs are ranked as high as No. 10 nationally. The season opener is Friday night against Ole Miss.

"I think our preseason ranking is more of a statement of where our program's been the last couple of years rather than this particular team, and I'm not trying to sandbag," said the veteran coach who took his team to the College World Series two years ago. "I don't know how you rank a team in the top 15 that is going to start a completely new infield. We only have four pitchers on our team that pitched in a Division I game last year."

TCU was 43-19 last season but didn't advance out of an NCAA Regional. There is talent again this year, and there are some quality players on his ballclub.

"We have some good players in the outfield," Schlossnagle said, now in his ninth season. "I really like our catcher (Josh Elander). The guys on the front end of our pitching staff, (RHP) Andrew Mitchell and (RHP) Stefan Crichton, are proven. But everywhere else, we're very inexperienced. So I'm not sure we're that kind of club yet, although at some point if we can get healthy and stay healthy, then we might have a chance to do that.

"We're going to start two seniors in the outfield. Leftfielder Jason Coats has been one of the better hitters in TCU history and was a 12th round pick by the Orioles last year but came back. And Brance Rivers in right field has been a four-year player for us and very consistent. Then in centerfield is a guy who has been in our program for three years in Kyle Von Tungeln. Our defense in the outfield, if they stay healthy, is probably as good as anybody in the country."

Elander this week earned his third preseason accolade as Baseball America tabbed him as a second-team preseason All-American. He has also been named second-team preseason All-American by the NCBWA and Perfect Game and a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Additionally, Elander was selected as a preseason all-conference performer.

Elander had a solid sophomore campaign en route to earning second-team all-Mountain West honors. He hit .333 in 48 games with 11 doubles, two triples and five home runs. Elander drove in 38 runs and was a perfect 9-for-9 in stolen bases.

"(Elander) is a pretty highly rated guy," his head coach said. "He was the starting catcher for the USA national team all summer and just an unbelievable kid, great leader, very physical player.

"Mitchell and Crichton on the front end of the pitching staff and (RHP) Kaleb Merck who didn't pitch last year and had Tommy John but looks to be back from that. We feel good about those guys. Everything else is an unknown."

Josh Elander
File Photo

Schlossnagle has at least one key injury heading into the season opening weekend. And the infield is extremely young.

"The best true college player on our team is hurt," he said. "Jantzen Witte, our third baseman, had a hip injury and will probably miss the first 20 games or so. We'll start a freshman at short, either a freshman or sophomore at second base, and probably a freshman at first. I like the ability level of our young players, but we'll roll them out there against a great SEC program the first weekend."

Schlossnagle said he is looking more down the road with this team than what it might be like right now.

"The kind of team we will become may not be the team that we show early," he said.

Schlossnagle tried to get his team ready for the season by taking them to the Dominican Republic in the fall to play three games against the New York Mets team in the Dominican League. His Horned Frogs hosted Sam Houston State for a game and Central Arkansas for a game also in the fall. Those two count against the 56 they will play this spring but not count in the won-loss record.

"I think it helps us," Schlossnagle said of fall ball contests against other schools. "It breaks up the monotony of the fall. You get to see your players in as close to a game environment as you can create. We probably had 500 to 800 people here. It's certainly better than an intrasquad game.

"I like it. It's a lot of fun. It's the closest thing to like a spring training game. You get a chance to have an inexpensive experience. The games don't count in a won-loss situation."

This is the third series since 2008 Ole Miss and TCU have played. Schlossnagle will bring his ballclub to Oxford to open the 2013 season.

The Horned Frogs, picked to win the Mountain West Conference for a seventh straight season, will be a member of the Big XII Conference a year from now.

"It's been great," he said of the Rebels-Frogs series. "Coach (Mike) Bianco and I go way back. I was at Tulane. He was at LSU. We were always banging heads on the recruiting trail and of course playing each other twice a year in the LSU-Tulane days.

"He's a really dear friend of mine. I don't normally like playing close friends. But I really respect the program and what he's accomplished over there. I believe in playing good people and guys who run their program what I consider the right way. When you play good teams to open the season, it makes those practices leading up to the season a little sharper. Guys are more ready to go because they know they're going to have to be to have success. We're looking forward to it and coming back there next year."


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