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TCU Baseball Opening Weekend Preview: Southern Illinois

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After a tremendous 2014 season that ended a few games too early, the Horned Frogs open up the 2015 season against Southern Illinois in hopes to win it all...

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

TCU’s doing it the right again. By right way, I mean they’re opting out of the now customary opening weekend tournaments that ignite college baseball. By waiting a few weeks before they head out to Los Angeles where they’ll play; Vanderbilt in Dodger Stadium, and UCLA and USC on their respective diamonds, the Frogs will get a nice little warm-up with a team that’s picked to finish 8th in the Missouri Valley Conference.

We could’ve said the same thing last year, however, as TCU dropped one game to Jacksonville and spiraled into mediocrity through late April. Before that, Boomer White was anchoring the offense and Brandon Finnegan was respectively doing the same with the pitching staff, and the Frogs were completely out of the college baseball conversation. So by late April, the Horned Frogs were a heavily loaded dry ice bomb--shaken violently--that went off at the exact right moment. (note: I don’t recommend you make dry ice bombs). Better to finish hot than cool off later, right? TCU can, and should, be on the pace they were last year that began in Austin in late April.

Pitching

As generally thought, Preston Morrison will kick off the series and begin his senior year as the Friday night starter, followed by Tyler Alexander tomorrow, and Alex Young to close out the series on Sunday. Young, who has the most to prove will be a perfect fit for the role that Alexander grew so well into last year.

Day

TCU

Southern Illinois

Friday

RHP Preston Morrison

LHP Aaron Hauge

Saturday

LHP Tyler Alexander

RHP Kyle Pruemer

Sunday

LHP Alex Young

RHP Alex Lesiak

Preston Morrison will return in top form. A nice little warm-up against Southern Illinois will be a perfect entry point to P-Mo’s season. While Morrison is one of my favorite athletes to ever come through TCU, and Riley Ferrell--who has the kind of fastball that’s more intriguing in sound, not sight...a sound you can hear from the Mary Couts--has the kind of showmanship that defines Lupton's pulse and keeps the stadium's heart beating like a kickdrum with a deathwish, it's Tyler Alexander who I’m most excited to see this weekend. While Finnegan became a key asset for the Royals’ playoff run, Morrison finished 9th Nationally in ERA, and Ferrell did well, Ferrell Things--it was Alexander who seemed the most poised and confident by the time TCU really hit their stride going into the Big 12 tournament. His sophomore season should be a delight to watch.

Southern Illinois strength is definitely pitching, mostly defined by their salty bullpen. Most notably is the returning Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, and LHP, Kyle Pauly. The good news for the Frogs is that Pauly is currently nursing a shoulder injury and will not play this weekend. But look for fellow salty bullpeners; Kyle Pruemer (17 app.) and Chad Whitmer to play big roles this weekend. 

Hitting

Despite my somewhat vinegary tone, and love for things that you’d find in the best pop-journalism book written in the last twenty-five years, I fully believe that TCU’s capable of making a sizeable offensive dent. Lupton is obviously a pitcher's park, and while that excuses the lack of home runs, it doesn’t excuse the lack of runs---reminder: this is a team whose last 7 games were decided by 1 run. But again, I’m confident the experience of Garrett Crain, Cody Jones, Derek Odell, and Keaton Jones can get TCU producing numbers not far off from where they were in 2010. Granted, the BBCOR bats have been implemented since then; but now, with the introduction of the new baseballs, TCU’s offensive production could take flight.

Aside from the senior sticks, there’s no newcomer more exciting than Evan Skoug--albeit Connor Wanhanen is also really promising. TCU’s been blessed with captains behind the plate in recent years including; Bryan Holaday, Josh Elander, and Kyle Bacak. Skoug, who’s TCU’s main source of power, will more than likely be another name cemented onto this wonderful list. And as this main source of power, should the Frogs improve their OBP ever so slightly, Skoug will rake in heavy dividends and earn Big 12 Freshman of the Year.

For Southern Illinois, it's just unfortunate they're not as interesting as the teams TCU's played since last spring. There are no Aaron Browns (Pepperdine), no Mike Papis (Virginia), this is a scrappy team who won 6 of their 26 road games last year. The upside for the Salukis is that last year they were dominated by youth, and they're returning 15 lettermen this season. Their most experienced player, Park Osborne hit .250 with 19 RBIs last year.

The bottom line is that Southern Illinois will have to be perfect in a given game if they want to take one away from a TCU team that's going into this season already super polished.

Prediction: TCU starts 2015 with a sweep and wins all three.