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2013 TCU Baseball Season Preview: The Infield

TCU Baseball returns everyone to their infield in 2013, including a few upgrades... But, will the offense be good enough to carry the Frogs in 2013?

Kevin Cron and Jantzen Witte return in 2013, fully healthy, to man the corners for the Frogs.
Kevin Cron and Jantzen Witte return in 2013, fully healthy, to man the corners for the Frogs.

Welcome to what is, for 2013, the new normal: The TCU infield will carry the load offensively for the Horned Frogs. Contrary to previous years, where TCU often looked to Jason Coats or Brance Rivera for its offensive spark, the bats of Cron, Witte, Odell and Hendrix will all be major factors for the Frogs going forward.

First, let's take a look at what we saw from the infield in 2012:

1B Kevin Cron 43 151 .338 .383 .525 7 0 6 34 27/12 .390
2B Derek Odell 52 174 .276 .339 .420 5 4 4 26 26/16 .335
3B Jantzen Witte 43 162 .315 .374 .444 12 0 3 22 21/11 .364
SS Keaton Jones 62 169 .166 .283 .189 4 0 0 17 45/23 .238

Not too shabby, with one major and noticeable exception.

This core group of men returns in 2013 with one exception, shortstop, which we will get to in just a little bit. Witte and Wright are seniors, taking their final swings in Purple this year, but the Odell/Cron punch has at least two more years (13/14) left in Fort Worth check that, Odell is draft eligible after his sophomore year (this year) due to his late birthday, similar to Purke a few years ago, but Cron still has a few years left in Fort Worth before he heads back to the draft. A lot is expected of these young men, but each one of them has proven they have the ability to step up when needed and prove themselves valuable.

So, let's dive in: Here is the 2013 TCU Baseball Infield Depth Chart (as it stands right now)

Kevin Cron Derek Odell Jantzen Witte Keaton Jones OR
Axel Johnson Josh Gonzalez Davy Wright Paul Hendrix
Davy Wright Davy Wright Keaton Jones Josh Gonzalez

Jantzen Witte is looking to start off 2013 much differently than he did 2012, when a torn him labrum sidelined the excellent corner infielder for the first few months of the season. Witte being a consistent presence, both in the field and in the lineup, is going to be a major factor for TCU in 2013. Think of him as this team's Michael Young, circa 2011. He doesn't have the best range, or the best arm, but he is a consistent bat that you need on a young team that wants to go places... A rock.

Davy Wright will back up Witte at third, and I wanted to take a moment to recognize his service over the years for TCU Baseball. This guy has done anything that was asked for him at any time, whether it was playing third, second, first, learning to catch, he has an incredible work ethic and is a true fighter in every sense of the word. He may not have the true, raw offensive talent needed to start at this level but that doesn't mean he isn't valuable for TCU. Having a guy you can stick in three infield positions, when necessary, is crucial, and Wright gives you that option.

So, this is the one position that is totally, and justifiably, up in the air coming into spring practice. In the left corner, we have Keaton Jones. Keaton had, in every single way, a terrifically awful offensive year in 2012. There is no need to go over every number and break out every detail, they are all bad and it serves no purpose to rehash that. So, why did he continue to play at short? He is an absolute wizard out there. Better yet, he is a wizard with a vacuum cleaner. He makes the routine play, he makes the hard play, he hustles, he bunts... He is what you want at short IF you have an amazing offensive team.

TCU will not have that team in 2013. Very few college baseball teams ever do.

In the right corner enters Paul Hendrix, a JUCO transfer who decided to hold off on a pro-career (drafted by the Indians late in last year's draft) and come to TCU, with the likely thought that he would take over at SS for Jones. Hendrix has an excellent bat that will definitely play at this level, and he has the range and arm to make the hard plays at short. It is the routine, everyday plays that gave him trouble in the fall and gave the coaches pause in their plans to pen him in the lineup at SS every day in 2013.

Right now, from everything I have been told, Keaton Jones is 1A and Hendrix 1B. If Hendrix shows he can make every play at short this spring, I have to believe he will be the guy. If not, they will find a place for his bat (likely RF to start the year), but that would be unfortunate in my opinion.

Jones has beefed up some this offseason, he certainly is not lacking a work effort and I don't think we will see him give up his starting spot easily. But, what did we say about the outfield... If you can't hit, you won't play. Now, playing at short stop allows for more offensive flexibility due to the demand for top flight defense, but ultimately if TCU has to slot a .166 BA into the lineup for 60+ games in 2013, things will likely not end well, and with the talent available on this team right now you have to be willing to go for it with your best guy.
As the team likes to say, it is time to grind, may the best man win.

Derek Odell returns as your everyday second baseman, a position he locked down in 2012. Listen, we all had the concerns that maybe we were looking at a T-Bird Pt. 2 kinda situation, but I think Derek is absolutely past all that now.

I would caution everyone with Odell, don't put all the weight on him right away. It isn't likely he will make a massive leap this year into the stratosphere of offensive production, but it is likely he could improve the little things in his game. I expect to see a more refined player in 2013, a more consistent defender, who sports a slash line of .285/.350/.450, which is GREAT for a college sophomore.

Backing him up will be Josh Gonzalez, the speedy JUCO transfer who always seems to get the big hit. Davy Wright could also see time at second as needed.

The one thing to watch for in 2013 is how rangy the right side of the infield can be. At times in 2012, it was apparent that the average range of Odell and below average range of Cron was a major deficit for the Frogs defensively and at times made me question Cron's ability to stick at first. But, after a lot of hard work in the offseason, I expect the right side to bump up their game in 2013 and be average defensively, which is a WIN when you consider the arms they will get a chance to play behind.

This is probably the simplest pick of the group: Kevin Cron, when healthy, is your first baseman. The kid has worked extremely hard throughout the off season to prepare his body for a full season of play and he looked pretty good defensively during the fall. The offense, though, could be a bit of a concern. Towards the end of the year and into tournament play in 2012 it became apparent that some pitchers had figured out a hole in Cron's offensive game, anything down and away was game. This same issue continued to play out throughout the fall, there were some truly ugly strikeouts.

We all know what Cron can do with a fastball in the zone, but you have to have an approach at the plate that allows for those types of pitches to come your way more frequently than not. If a pitcher feels ok throwing a 2-1 fastball down and away because he thinks you will swing then, well, we got problems. Cron will figure things out in time, the former third round selection by the Mariners has some development left in him, I think he adjusts and improves as we get into the middle of 2013.

Axel Johnson, Davy Wright and Jerrick Suiter could all see time at first in 2013... Heck, I guess Brett Johnson could show up there if needed as well. But, as long as Cron is healthy, I expect him to lock it down.

24 Paul Hendrix JR INF R/R 6-2 177 North Richland Hills, Texas Howard College
00 Kevin Cron SO INF R/R 6-5 245 Phoenix, Ariz. Mountain Pointe HS
7 Brett Johnson JR INF L/R 6-2 195 Plano, Texas Plano Senior HS
4 Josh Gonzales SR INF R/R 5-9 185 Pearland, Texas San Jacinto College
35 Jantzen Witte RS SR INF R/R 6-1 195 Arlington, Texas Martin HS
26 Keaton Jones SO INF R/R 6-2 195 Laguna Beach, Calif. Laguna Beach HS
5 Derek Odell SO INF L/R 6-1 185 Canyon, Texas Canyon HS