First: Apologies this is delayed. I'll preview the arms soon. Series preview comes tomorrow.
TCU was the best pitching team in the Big 12 last year. They were, for all intents and purposes, the best defensive team in the Big 12. What were they not? A team that could score a run.
So, the recipe for success this year? Keep pitching, keep defending, score a few runs.
I know it sounds simple, but obviously with offensive output shrinking across the NCAA it is easier said then done. Will this years team get the job done? WHO KNOWS! Let's find out more about the team that will take the field on Friday, starting with the backstop.
Kyle Bacak returns this year with the experience, the defensive ability, and as the starter for the Frogs. Bacak has outplayed teammate Dylan Delso (transfer from Cowley County College) in every way this fall and spring, earning him the right to start. Delso could play some, potentially as an offensive substitute late in games. Freshman Will Foreman backs up Delso, while Jerrick Suiter could also see time behind the plate, but thats pretty doubtful at this point.
Kevin Cron returns at first base, looking to continue the success he found this summer in the Cape League and this fall during team practices. Cron is mostly healthy and appears ready to have a great contract year (eligible for the draft this summer). It's not fair to put everything on Cron's enormous shoulders, but it is fair to say this: A dominant Cron in the three hole transforms this team completely. A "distant" Cron makes it much harder for TCU to put anything together at the plate. Michael Landestoy backs up Cron at first (but could also RS), along with utility infielder Garrett Crain.
Derek Odell moved from second to first last season, and will make another move across the diamond this spring to third. Odell adapted well to his new position this fall and should be a quality hot corner glove. Like Cron, the bat is an entirely different story, although it is worth noting that Odell was one of the more productive bats on the 2013 team, similar to being the prettiest ugly duckling. Unfortunately, Odell is listed as questionable this weekend with an elbow injury, so filling in will be utility infielder Garrett Crain. Crain is a transfer from Rose JUCO on Oklahoma where he was an offensive stud, carrying a batting average above .350 with consistent power. Backing him up will be Eric Garza (currently out with an injury) and Will Fox. When Odell is back healthy, Crain battles Castellano for playing time at second.
Speaking of Castellano, he will get the starting nod at second base to start the year, as the position best fits his unique talents (over Crain) at this point. Castellano started his college career at Vandy with a fairly productive freshman campaign before transferring to junior college where he lost one season to injury and put up OK numbers last year (.310 avg, 1 HR). Don't expect to see Castellano there all season, he could move around quite a bit. Backing him up will be Garrett Crain, Will Fox and Eric Garza. For yet another year, second base looks to be the weakest position for the Frogs, but Castellano looks likely to improve production a little bit.
Keaton Jones returns at short, still the same guy: Great defender with little/no bat. He will occupy the nine hole, but a consistent bunt or walk could go a long way towards helping the Frogs. One thing we shouldn't have to worry about: The routine play, Keats has that on lockdown. Eric Garza (out with an injury) is the most likely backup, but Castellanoand Crain could also play if needed. If you haven't noticed, depth will be a bit of a problem for TCU in 2014.
In left field, Boomer White returns from his breakout 2013 season as the leading offensive producer for the Frogs. He will start opening day in left field as Jeremie Fagnan continues his road back from injury, but he could see some time at DH once Jeremie is healthy. Fagnan, last year's JUCO MVP/All-American/All-World star, is the more athletic outfielder of the two, with better speed, instincts and a better arm. Regardless of where he plays, White will have an impact for the Frogs in 2014. Ty Slanina could also see some time backing up left field, as well as freshman Walker Pennington, senior Dylan Fitzgerald and freshman Connor Beck.
Cody Jones returns in center after an up and down 2013 campaign. The coaches were impressed with Jones work this summer and fall to get more consistent at the plate, and his natural speed and ability in center should compliment that nicely. Jones, the leadoff hitter for the Frogs, will be key to TCUs success in 2014, he is the glue that will hold this whole thing together. Backing him up will be Fagnan, Slanina, Pennington, Fitzgerald and Beck.
In right field Jerrick Suiter returns revitalized and ready to once again produce for the Frogs. Like Cron, Suiter showed impressive growth during the summer and fall and he appears to be returning to form. Fagnan could also see some time in right once healthy, but one hopes Suiter produces consistently from the start, making that a much harder decision. Fagnan, Slanina, Pennington, Fitzgerald and Beck could all see time in right as well.
Overall: Is this group more talented than last year's team? I have to say yes. But, remember, this time last year we also were expecting this team to be Omaha quality, and what we got was the ultimate sophomore slump. What will be get in 2014? Who knows, but I think we have reason to believe this team will be a little bit better. And as we said, they don't need to do much: Keep pitching, keep defending, and maybe get a few hits. Do that, and this is a group of bats that can get back to the NCAA tournament.