2013 TCU Baseball Season Preview: The Outfield

Jerrick Suiter likely won't start the year in the outfield due to an injury, but when healthy he is this team's best bet in right field. - KEITH ROBINSON

Gone are multi-year starters Jason Coats, Kyle Von Tungeln and Brance Rivera, the long time rock of TCU Baseball. Replacing them will be a group of transfers, who are solid defensively but bring questions about their offense.

The 2012 season was a big one for TCU, ending in the super regional at UCLA, and the outfield was a big part of this end-of-season run. Jason Coats played a big role before getting hurt, KVT had his best year as a Frog,his first as the full-time center fielder, and Brance fought hard through a down year at the plate while still providing solid and consistent defense in right.

Just as a reminder, let's take a look at what those three athletes provided to the Frogs.

Position/Name GP AB BA OBP SLUG 2B 3B HR RBI SO/BB wOBA
LF Jason Coats 48 193 .326 .377 .508 13 2 6 45 21/12 .386
CF Kyle Von Tungeln 60 227 .304 .399 .432 10 5 3 25 52/29 .376
RF Brance Rivera 53 175 .229 .340 .349 9 0 4 26 48/19 .320

It is safe to say that the 2013 group of outfielders will almost assuredly not match or beat this production, but it doesn't mean that TCU as a whole will be down offensively. Rather, the focus will shift from the outfield to the infield, but more on that later this week.

All three of these guys are gone, two to MLB and one into retirement. And, I dare say, we didn't fully recognize and appreciate how nice it was to have such a consistent group of outfielders playing everyday for the Frogs. Sure, Brance probably shouldn't have played much in the second half of 2012, but I think having him out there as a stabilizer and leader was big. Even in hindsight, I don't know if I would have managed this situation any different.

But, this brings up a question, what do you ultimately want out of your corner outfielders? Does that have to be an offense first position? Can leadership, hustle and top flight defense be enough to sustain a .700 OPS type of player? Well, we might have given the benefit of the doubt to Brance, but that won't happen in 2013, offense will be the primary factor in playing time for the outfield and there are serious questions as to where TCU will find that offense.

As of right now, four days before the opening of spring practice, here is your outfield two-deep:

LEFT FIELD CENTER FIELD RIGHT FIELD
Brett Johnson Cody Jones Dylan Fitzgerald
Kevin Daniels Kevin Daniels Kevin Daniels

Even as I write this, I chuckle to myself because this IS GOING TO CHANGE.

Let's start here: Jerrick Suiter would normally be your right fielder, but he won't be there to start 2013. Due to a minor injury, he is likely going to be the opening day DH, moving back to the outfield within a few weeks of the start of the season. He could also catch at some point, but that is a ways away. He won't be pitching in 2013, a spot he has some ability at, but it doesn't look like, as of now, the Frogs would need him on the mound. The best case scenario would be a productive BJ, Jones and Suiter across the outfield, but we won't be getting that, at least for now.

Everybody that follows TCU Baseball knows who Brett Johnson is, and you know that he is the hype-machine. Every fall and spring, he is the guy whose name gets shot around, he is all the rage, and then when the season starts he tends to fall flat. This offseason, he was tasked with moving to left field to take over for Jason Coats and by all accounts he has succeeded.

Defensively, he has enough range to go with a strong arm, I don't think most fans will see a tremendous difference between Coats and Johnson, but offense is a different story. I hope, for his sake and for TCU's, that he puts it all together this year. I will take .280/.350/.400 from BJ this year, he has it in him, he just needs to put it on the field.

Cody Jones is one of the newcomers here, and if you made it out to one of the fall scrimmages you no doubt noticed that he is the type of game changer that TCU desperately needs. He is incredibly fast, faster than KVT, and should be a difference maker at the top of the lineup for TCU. Don't expect him to be slapping doubles and home runs all the time, more likely he will be taking walks, slapping the ball around and using his speed to get on base and then move around once he is there.

If he can put together a solid OBP at the top, TCU's lineup will be dynamically more productive. And don't worry about defense, he will likely be the best defensive center fielder TCU has seen this century. Better than KVT, better than Schultzy... Plus arm, plus-plus speed and tracking ability, a true game changer in CF.

Right field is a bit of a tossup right now, although Dylan Fitzgerald is the leading candidate going into spring practice. Fitzgerald is a very good defensive player, likely better than Rivera was, but his offensive ability is in question. If TCU is going to be a force in 2013, they will need to improve the slash-line they put up in RF through 2012, and I don't yet know if Fitzgerald can be that guy.

If not, Kevin Daniels could also get a shot, a fast player who is more akin to Cody Jones in terms of his tool set. Ultimately, Daniels is probably more of a fourth outfielder, late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement, but he could get a shot at the end of the day. Daniels, who was at Blinn last year, flashed strong offensive potential at times with a .336 BA and .406 OBP for 2012, we just have to wait and see if that translates to this level of play. If it does, he could easily fit into RF full time.

But, in all reality, there is a whole host of characters who could slot in at the corner outfield spots, the playing time will go to the guy with the hottest bat. Dylan Fitzgerald is a strong defender, Kevin Daniels has an offensive track record with speed but hasn't shown it yet at TCU, Travis Hennessey has a ton of upside but is still trying to work his way into the rotation... After that group, you find names like Boomer White, who has strong offensive potential but is suspect in the outfield at this point, Colton Turner could fit in as a lower level depth player but could also lock down a redshirt this year in preparation for a 2014 breakout season.

No matter who slots into the corner outfield spots in 2013, the primary need for every player will be offensive production. Sure, you need to be an average defender at a minimum, but if you can't produce you won't play, and it will be interesting to see if the guys who get the first nod to start the year are able to hold onto their jobs throughout the season. My guess is they won't, and we will see a cast of characters rotate through those two spots until the right combination is found. But, with spring practice yet to kick off, it is hard to say what will happen in the end, we will just have to wait and see.

PLAYER PROFILES

13 Travis Hennessey FR OF L/L 6-0 180 Spring, Texas Klein Oak HS
44 Axel Johnson RS SO OF L/L 6-3 200 Tulsa, Okla. Bishop Kelley HS
1 Cody Jones SO OF S/R 5-11 175 Round Rock, Texas Temple College
38 Dylan Fitzgerald RS JR OF L/R 6-1 190 Santa Ana, Calif. Cypress College
47 Kevin Daniels JR OF L/L 5-10 165 Victoria, Texas Blinn College
27 Colton Turner FR OF R/R 6-0 206 Round Rock, Texas Round Rock HS
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