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A HFI Conversation: Previewing the 2016 TCU Horned Frogs Baseball Season

As TCU baseball begins its quest for another Big 12 crown tonight, the writers at Horned Frog Insider take a look at what this Horned Frogs team brings to Lupton Stadium

With TCU baseball starting out tonight, what are the chances that TCU repeats as Big 12 champions, a national seed and a regional host?

Brad Hardcastle: Of course it's really too early to tell. However, I don't think TCU has a great shot at winning the Big 12 and hosting a regional. This team doesn't have a lot of depth or senior talent like the last couple teams have. This team lost it's entire infield, almost all of its starting pitching and its best hitter, Cody Jones. Sure, there will be some guys who can step up, but I think it will take a season or two for TCU to be considered for a national seed. 

Mitchell Stehly: TCU has a great chance at repeating as Big 12 Champions. Along with Texas and Oklahoma State, I think this is a three team race in the Big 12. It's going to be quite the task for this pitching staff to replace the likes of Riley Ferrell, Trey Teakell, Preston Morrison and Alex Young. I'll hold off on predicting this team gets a national seed. A lot of uncertainty on this pitching staff. As Schlossnagle said, it's wide open. 

J.D. Moore: Although I think TCU and Oklahoma State are rightfully the frontrunners for the Big 12 title this year, Texas, Texas Tech and Baylor (under new coach Steve Rodriguez) should be teams that mess up the pecking order for this season. TCU’s youth is a bit of an obstacle to overcome, but there shouldn’t be any reason that this team fails to make a regional, if not be a regional host. I think most people would agree that while a national seed would be awesome, it’s not expected this season, and that’s fine.

How troubling should Mitchell Traver's 4-6 week injury be for TCU?

BH: It's very troubling. Traver was the best arm that TCU returns from last year's team. He would have been the ace, and a pretty good one at that. Not having Traver available to make weekend starts is a big loss. 

MS: It's a big loss. Traver is the clear ace on this staff with the most experience. It does mean TCU fans will get to see the big-time freshman Luken Baker as part of the weekend rotation. TCU will get Traver back when it counts, as long as the staff can stay afloat without him.

JDM: With the amount of young players on this team, losing any sort of talented veteran is not good. One thing the Frogs will miss with Traver this season is the ability of a starter who can eat seven, eight, nine innings on a normal outing, ala Preston Morrison. Brian Howard and Rex Hill will have to prove their salt this year, and the Tuesday by committee starters will have to find someone who can be a workhorse. Who those guys are, no one’s sure, including Schlossnagle.

As one of the highest ranked prospects ever landed at TCU, how hyped should TCU be about Luken Baker?

BH: Luken Baker is one of the better players that I can remember passing up the draft to play college baseball. He is one of the best power hitter of the class, who also sports a mid-90s fastball. With Traver out for awhile and not a whole lot of offense returning, Baker could end up leading the team in home runs and ERA. He could very well end up being the best player on this team, and perhaps one of the better players in the conference. 

MS: Simple - VERY HYPED. This kid can absolutely destroy a baseball in the batter's box and throw a fastball right by you on the mound. He's going to be fun to watch. 

JDM: Generally, expectations are supposed to be tempered for a freshman, but man, there’s a reason why this guy is possibly the best player to walk into Lupton Stadium. He won two national high school home run derbies, throws a mean set of pitches from the mound, and is apparently getting free reign from Schloss on what he’d like to do on the field. He’s the first Gatorade Player of the Year since 1994 to exclusively play college baseball, and the fact that TCU landed him is nothing short of amazing. The award has gone to players like Alex Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw, Rick Porcello, Gary Sheffield and Justin Upton, so the fact that he’s this good already and TCU has him for three years is something for TCU fans to get HYPED about.

After losing guys like Riley Ferrell and Trey Teakell, what should TCU fans expect out of the bullpen this year?

BH: I don't think TCU fans should have high expectations for this year's bullpen. There's a lot of young guys, who don't have a whole lot experience. With that said, guys like Brian Trieglaff and Drew Gooch, who made a decent amount of appearances last year will probably be the go-to guys.  

MS: Like Schlossnagle said, it's wide open. Who really knows?  One thing to look for is how Schlossnagle manages the series this weekend. In 2015 it was 1) starter 2)possible situation-based lefty/righty 3) Teakell and 4) Ferrell. That formula worked. This year he may have to get more creative.

JDM: As Brad said, we’ll probably see Trieglaff and Gooch in these new roles, assuming they don’t get lumped into the Tuesday committee rotation, which honestly, might happen. I think the big expectation should be that there’s not an automatic game ender like Ferrell to end games, so we may see a handful of games get decided by extra frames this year (not that TCU isn’t used to that).

TCU has a ton of exciting series this year, including Penn State, USC and the Houston College Classic. What series on this season's schedule excites you the most?

BH: USC at Lupton Stadium will be a fun series to watch. USC used to be THE college baseball powerhouse program for a long, long time. But during the mid-2000s, Trojan baseball has been mediocre, at best. But last year, USC looked vastly improved, and should be a pretty good team this year as well. That series my end up being a good test early on to see how good TCU really is. 

MS:  USC comes to Lupton this year and I can't wait. USC is a historic program that is finally regaining old form. The PAC-12 is full of great baseball programs and this should be a great barometer for TCU at a national level.

JDM: For non-conference, I too have to agree with USC at Lupton, although the Penn State game is a close second. This is an old-school powerhouse visiting a new-school powerhouse, and it can turn into a statement series for TCU, especially given the resources it has to choose from this year. Penn State will be a delight though, seeing a southern school go north and play a Big 10 team that could compete for a league title this year.


What hitter (or hitters) needs to be at the top of his game this season to keep TCU's offense going?

BH: I think Evan Skoug is the guy who really needs to build off of last season's success. He's by far TCU's most proven hitter in a lineup that consists of guys who are good, but not great at the plate. Skoug needs to be that guy in the middle of the order who can consistently come up with the big hit with runners in scoring position. I think a big part of TCU's potential success this season relies on him. 

MS: It starts with the two sophomores in Evan Skoug and Connor Wanhanen. They will need to be the run producers, along with Baker, at the heart of that lineup. 

JDM: Evan Skoug, who may be the de facto “old man” of the group this season, definitely needs to keep on top of his game. I think we’re also going to need to see some freshmen contribute immediately, perhaps Houston 5A Hitter of the Year/infielder Trent Franson and two-time Under Armor All-American outfielder Ryan Johnson.

With all the updates to Lupton Stadium, what - in your opinion - is the coolest upgrade?

BH: The locker rooms are great and everything, but man, thank god they finally put seats in the outfield. Makes things a lot less cramped, especially during regional play.

MS: The new seating in right field that features a clear fence is going to be a great addition, especially come regionals. The more people TCU can pack into Lupton, the better. The atmosphere against Texas A&M was terrific and the new renovations will only add to that.

JDM: Nothing is cooler than Micah Ahern’s locker in the locker room. Pretty every TCU fan knows Micah’s story, but the fact that this emotional spark is getting a forefront place in the program with a locker is really, really cool.

Paint a rough picture of TCU's season this year. Be as creative/detailed as you like.

BH: I think TCU cruises through the early part of it's schedule, maybe dropping a series or two. But then this teams youth becomes apparent against more experienced teams. There will be times where we see how good they can truly be, but there will be some nights where they'll struggle – bad. Luken Baker will thrive at the plate, and help carry the team through tough times, both as a hitter and a pitcher. Skoug will have another special season and few other guys like Dane Steinhagen and Conor Wanhanen will have steady seasons. The bullpen will struggle at times, but will be generally serviceable. Ultimately, TCU will finish in the Top4 of the Big 12 and be a 2-seed in a regional, and perhaps play its way into a super. 

MS: Worst case scenario: Traver never regains form after returning from injury, the pitching staff can't replace last year's staff effectively and Evan Skoug and Connor Wanhanen both endure sophomore slumps. Best case scenario: None of that happens and TCU is back in Omaha again.

JDM: I think TCU will surprise some people early in the year, particularly with this round of recruits churning out a capable offense and pitching staff. Mitchell Traver may not come back in full form, but his presence will be felt immediately when he comes back for April/the rest of Big 12 baseball. I think Oklahoma State will serve as too powerful of a foe for TCU, and Texas will be hard, but TCU can slip in a title by winning the Big 12 tournament. I think TCU will host a regional, and get to a super regional. Whether they advance is dependent on their pairing, but I think this will be an excellent year for Horned Frogs baseball.

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