Austin Super Regional Preview: TCU

The TCU Horned Frogs come into this weekend's Austin Super Regional with a 39-16 record and a top-10 RPI ranking. Burnt Orange Beat takes an in-depth look at the Longhorns' opponent and former Southwest Conference rival.

Regardless of what happens in this weekend's Austin Super Regional, the Horned Frogs have had one of the most successful seasons in school history.

At 39-16, the club's overall record doesn't particularly stand out. TCU won 44 games last season when they placed third in the Stillwater Regional. But the club has been one of the nation's best according to the computers all season.

The BoydsWorld.com Pseudo-RPI ranks TCU ninth in the nation heading into the Super Regionals, ahead of powers Rice, Arkansas, Clemson and Florida State, among others.

The Frogs' successes are for real. They have an extremely talented roster that allows them to compete with the nation's best at any time. TCU has a deep pitching staff and a much-improved offense. And don't think they'll be intimidated by the Longhorns' pitching staff—this is a team that has already faced Stephen Strasburg twice this season.

TCU has struggled against Big 12 opponents this year, going 1-6 against the conference. They were 0-2 against Baylor and Oklahoma, 0-1 versus Texas and Texas A&M, and 1-0 against Texas Tech.

But that doesn't mean TCU can't run with college baseball's upper echelon.

The midweek games don't particularly feature what TCU uses on the weekends, especially pitching-wise. The Horned Frogs began their season by taking two-of-three on the road at Cal State Fullerton.

They had a three-game road series scheduled against Ole Miss, but rain shortened it to a one-game weekend. TCU won that game, 19-13.

The club also swept through its regional last weekend—in which they were the one seed—beating Wright State once and Oregon State twice.

Their offense is much improved [as shown by the 25 runs they scored in three games against Fullerton] and the pitching has been excellent. At one point during their weekend series against UT-Pan American, the Frogs had tossed 17.1 consecutive hitless innings. They threw a no-hitter on Saturday and took another into the ninth inning on Sunday.

TCU has been fueled by a big-time recruiting class that has helped them replace talented players such as Andrew Cashner and Clint Arnold. Baseball America ranked their recruiting class as top 10 in the nation last season.

A number of players—including Kyle Winkler, Kaleb Merck, Taylor Featherston, and Jason Coats—are making significant contributions.

Offense


With good pitching and stellar defense, the 2008 version of the TCU Horned Frogs was a solid baseball team. However, they simply lacked the offensive firepower necessary to become an elite team. The club had just 37 home runs on the season and only one player socked more than 11. They batted .301 as a team and didn't have a particularly deep bench.

Things have changed for the better this season. The Frogs offense has belted 62 home runs this season to go along with 133 doubles. They are hitting .312 as a team and slugging .499.

The Longhorns pitching gave TCU all kinds of trouble in their mid-season matchup. In fact, Texas kept the Horned Frogs off the scoreboard altogether. But they have an excellent offense that can put up runs in a hurry.

Probable Starting Lineup


C: Bryan Holaday, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.297 192 10 10 47 39 2/2 12 33 .350 .516


1B: Matt Vern, Sr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.363 190 13 15 50 58 16/22 32 44 .465 .679


2B: Corey Steglich, Sr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.307 192 7 2 30 32 7/10 24 36 .382 .406


SS: Taylor Featherston, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.317 218 13 4 27 52 8/12 21 38 .394 .450


3B: Matt Carpenter, Sr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.335 197 23 9 45 55 13/14 50 24 .475 .650


LF: Jason Coats, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.335 182 17 6 31 36 2/3 22 35 .413 .549


CF: Aaron Schultz, Fr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.266 64 1 2 9 11 2/3 8 23 .365 .375


RF: Chris Ellington, Sr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.342 225 21 6 52 40 2/3 11 28 .376 .533


DH: Matt Curry, Jr.
AVG AB 2B HR RBI R SB BB SO OBP SLG
.327 153 10 3 31 30 2/4 27 37 .435 .464


The Frogs still don't have a particularly deep bench, but that may not even come into play during a three-game weekend series.

Senior first baseman Matt Vern is the team's biggest overall threat. He leads the club in batting average, home runs, RBIs, runs scored, and stolen bases. He has plus power to go along with the good athleticism and speed that allowed him to swipe 16 bases in 22 attempts this year.

Taylor Featherston is the team's most highly touted position player. Just a freshman, the Katy native has been impressive in the plate, but somewhat inconsistent defensively. He has committed 26 errors on the year, giving him a .908 fielding percentage, but he has improved as the season has progressed. With good raw power and strong raw defensive skills, scouts like Featherston's chances to be a big-time prospect down the line.

Senior Matt Carpenter and junior Bryan Holaday are also helping the Frogs post more extra-base hits this season. Carpenter has been outstanding out of the three-hole in the TCU lineup. He hits .335, but he has also drawn 50 walks in 55 games this season, giving him an eye-popping .475 on-base percentage. The third baseman has shown excellent power, as he leads the team with 23 doubles and six triples. He's also got nine home runs and 13 steals in 14 tries. Carpenter may be the best all-around player on the club.

Holaday, the team's catcher, is just eighth on the team in batting average, but he still hits .297. The backstop has 10 home runs and 47 runs batted in on the year.

Yet another important piece to last year's recruiting class was designated hitter Matt Curry, who has started 44 games as a transfer from Howard Junior College. With a 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame, scouts have compared Curry to thick slugger Matt Stairs. He has batted .327 this season with strong power and excellent discipline.

Starting Pitching


Paul Gerrish, Jr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
6-2 54.0 56 16 53 4.00


Kyle Winkler, Fr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
7-0 68.1 65 32 46 3.95


Tyler Lockwood, Jr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
4-1 67.1 71 17 43 4.41


Greg Holle, So., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-2 41.2 43 15 26 3.89


Coach Jim Schlossnagle's club doesn't have a set-in-stone ace, but they will most likely go with Gerrish on Saturday and Winkler on Sunday. Winkler has been the team's best pitcher this season, but he is also a freshman playing in his first postseason.

Gerrish started the club's Fort Worth Regional opener against Wright State last weekend, surrendering three runs in seven innings pitched.

Winkler was even better, as he limited Oregon State to only one run on two hits over eight innings of work.

It's hard to believe Winkler is only a freshman. The right-hander is smallish at 5'11", 190-pounds, but he has an excellent arm. Winkler works in the low-90s—sometimes bumping 94-95 mph—with a good curveball. He has good stuff and also commands it very well. Winkler will almost certainly be a very high draft pick when he becomes eligible.

Lockwood doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he locates well and pitches to contact. He is the most likely candidate to get the third starting spot because he is an experienced strike-throwing veteran. Even more than the other pitchers on TCU's staff, Lockwood could benefit from the slow FieldTurf at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.

Holle, a 6-foot-8 righty, could start, but he will most likely be an option out of the bullpen this weekend. The New York native started against Texas earlier in the season and surrendered two runs in two innings, throwing 45 pitches. He is a big, hard thrower, but remains raw.

Bullpen


Eric Marshall, Jr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
2-2 27.2 19 5 19 1.30


Trent Appleby, So., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
4-1 56.0 53 19 46 3.05


Taylor Cragin, Sr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
5-0 53.2 40 16 33 2.68


Erik Miller, Fr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
0-2 25.2 26 7 25 4.21


Kaleb Merck, Fr., RHP
W-L IP H BB SO ERA
0-0 16.2 24 10 22 5.94


The Horned Frogs are very reliant on right-handed pitchers, both in the starting rotation and the bullpen. They don't have a potential left-handed starter for this weekend. The only southpaws on the staff are Derek VerHagen (6.48 ERA in 7.1 innings) and Walker Kelly (7.71 ERA in 11.2 innings).

Depth doesn't figure to be an issue for the TCU bullpen, which goes about five pitchers deep and has a load of talent.

Righties Trent Appleby and Taylor Cragin have been the workhorses of the staff, as they've combined for over 100 innings this season despite having not started a single game. Both pitchers could help keep the Frogs in the game if their starters don't work deep into the game.

Closer Eric Marshall has stepped up as one of the nation's best this season. He has yielded just three extra-base hits in 27.2 innings, posting an ERA of 1.30.

Erik Miller and Kaleb Merck are a couple of ultra-talented freshmen that have seen middle-to-late inning relief roles this season.

Breaking Down the Horned Frogs' Chances


If the Longhorns and Horned Frogs both play like they did last weekend, the series will likely go three games and could be decided in the final at-bat.

Talent-wise, the Longhorns are the better club. Not by a bunch, but they are a bit better. In terms of overall play this season, the Longhorns were the better team. But anything can happen in the postseason. Texas hasn't reached Omaha since 2005. In fact, this weekend's Super Regional is their first since 2005.

Texas did not hit the ball particularly well last weekend, and this TCU pitching staff offers far more talent than Boston College and Army did in the regional.

The ‘Horns have history on their side, but the fact is that neither team has a player that has ever stepped foot on the field of Rosenblatt Stadium. When it comes to big-time experience under the bright lights [all three games will be played on the ESPN family of networks], neither team has much in the way of experience.

But the Longhorns do have home-field advantage on their side. And they used that advantage to post a methodical 6-0 shutout of TCU earlier in the season.


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