Even with Jim Schlossnagle becoming the winningest coach in TCU baseball history, perhaps the biggest story to come out of the weekend was freshman Luken Baker–and namely, his performance on Sunday where he pitched a 6-inning gem and hit his first collegiate bomb.
Top Performers for Week One:
I don't think anyone'll fight me on this one: Baker was phenomenal in his debut weekend. For some who saw college action for his first time, and playing in front of the fans for the first time, the Gatorade National Player of the Year didn't disappoint. Personally, I thought his jitters might've had an impact on the mound, but instead it did quite the opposite. In Sunday's game, Baker pitched six scoreless inning, striking out six, and walking only one batter.
Leo rating: Throwing his mimosa out in Wolf of Wall Street
What did I tell you about Barzilli? I don't really like using jargon-bait like "spark plug,"but whenever Barz is in the game, I feel really confident about TCU's chances. And sure, it's only Week 1, but with his seven hits over the weekend, Barz leads the Frogs in average and in slugging %.
Leo rating: Explaining the ends and outs of the South African diamond trade to Jennifer Connelly in Blood Diamond
I said Saturday's game would be the surest bet because of Howard's experience and the YEAR didn't disappoint either. Having Howard, at least until Traver is back, will be the biggest anchor the Frogs have for the foreseeable future.
Leo rating: Realizing he's so undercover at this point it doesn't matter
Skoug, like most catchers, is the backbone of this team. He's currently second on the team in BA, knocked in two runs, and collected four total bases over the weekend.
Leo rating: Cooling off in Inception
Marsh: Not enough can be said about Schlossnagle. I used to chart whether or not he was on pace to break Augie Garrido's record, which is obviously still climbing, but given the state of TCU baseball and the money flowing into it, and also given that AG has been coaching since the Vietnam War- the record is in play.
Will it matter or not if he does that? No. There's plenty of people we could argue that are better than Garrido; take LSU's Skip Bertman, USC's Rod Dedeaux, and so on. This isn't a shot on Augie, or even Bertman, or Dedeaux, but the game is harder now. Not unlike college football, there are simply just more good teams than there were even 10-15 years ago. Vanderbilt and Virginia are powerhouses now, and while Texas is a contender every year, it's just not the same as it was 20 years ago. So for Schloss to take a program from nearly being dumped by the school to a national pitching powerhouse, he's already cementing his place in college baseball history.
It'll obviously take a championship or two for him to be considered Top-5, or something like that, but here's the things: (a) he's got plenty of years left in the tank and (b) if recent history has taught us anything, he's just getting started. He had one year of growing pains in TCU's first year in the Big 12, yet they made it to Omaha the next year.
Travis: I always come back to the comparisons between Jim Schlossnagle and Gary Patterson. Both took programs that had been struggling for a long time and guided them through conference after conference, winning championships all along the way to bringing their respective programs up to elite status. As of this weekend, both are the winningest coaches in school history for their respective sports. Best of all, just like Marsh said, I think they're both just getting started.
Unlike Patterson, college baseball isn't so dominated by TV money and politics that the smaller schools are actively discriminated against when it comes to having a chance to win a national championship. In that way, I think that Schloss has a relatively easier path to winning it all. That being said, what he has done to get to this point is even more impressive I think that what Patterson has done. At least Patterson's program had some successful years under his predecessor. While Lance Brown did have a winning record in all three years prior to Schlossnagle taking over, he did not have the support from the school that football was already receiving at that point.
I could make comparisons between the two all day long, but there's one thing that I know for sure: both coaches deserve a statue on campus by the time they hang it up.
Houston Classic Preview
Louisiana-Lafayette Preview, Friday:
Travis: First off, I have to say that the Ragin' Cajuns have one of the best mascot names in college sports. It's catchy, it's relevant to their area/cultural history and it's loads of fun to say. In kind, their baseball team is a lot of fun to watch. They are the fire to TCU's ice. While the Frogs have built their identity on being a pitching powerhouse, the Ragin' Cajuns have built theirs on being a team that absolutely smashes the ball. But hey, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Just like TCU, the Cajuns have been a part of the last two super regionals, hosting in 2014 and playing in Baton Rouge in 2015.
This year looks to be no different. Louisiana-Lafayette is ranked No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and as high as No. 9 by the National College Baseball Writers Association. Since we haven't heard any official word on the matter, I have to assume that TCU plans to use the same rotation that they rolled out last weekend. If that proves true, the starter for the Frogs will be Rex Hill. The Cajuns got a quality start last Friday out of Gunner Leger, so I don't see why they wouldn't put him back out there against us as well.
The first thing to note is that both pitchers have A++ names. I mean, Hill and Gunner? The headlines write themselves. Stats wise they don't have much in common, other than the fact that neither one has walked a batter. Rex Hill struck out seven in his first game as a Frog, but gave up five hits. Gunner Leger only struck out three in six innings of work last Friday, but only gave up one hit. Both pitchers got a no decision and neither got any run support. I will say, a lot of the runs that LMU scored against Hill were due to his inability to hold runners on first. I expect him to improve in this aspect and put together a better outing on Friday. Gunner was also facing Sam Houston State, which doesn't have TCU's lineup. I expect both pitchers to move closer to the mean this weekend, but I have to give the advantage in this matchup to the Cajuns for now. The good news is, if Hill does get chased, TCU's bullpen has the arms to keep them in the game.
Like I said earlier, Louisiana-Lafayette is known for their offense, and their stat sheet thus far tells the story of another formidable lineup. Brenn Conrad, the Cajun's second baseman, has a batting average of 0.636 after four games with a slugging percentage of 0.909 and an on-base percentage of 0.750. Conrad also hit his team's first home run of the year in their first game, no less. That solo homer helped them to force extra innings in a game they ultimately won 2-1.
Aside from Conrad, the Cajuns have two other regular starters with batting averages above .400 in outfielder Kyle Clement (.471/.588/.500) and catcher Nick Thurman (.429/.571/.500). Kyle Clement was the hero of game two against Sam Houston State in which he recorded a game-high two RBI and a double. Nick Thurman produced multiple hits in both the second and third games of the Sam Houston State series.
After a slow start on offense for the first couple of games, TCU scored 5 runs and 17 runs in their last two contests. Each of those games included multi-run home runs by Luken Baker and Elliott Barzilli respectively. They have two starters of their own who's batting averages are at or over .400, Barzilli (.688/1.00/.688) and Josh Watson (.400/.733/.438). Evan Skoug (.357/.357/.375) is not far behind and is the only one of these three that was a regular starter last year.
Rice Preview, Saturday:
It'll be the Luken Baker show in Houston on Saturday, and consider me quite jealous if you're going. Baker has a real chance to (a) not only dominate on the mound but (b) really take advantage of Houston's hitter's ballpark. Sure the CF goes on for miles, but the LF wall is a hitters' dream.
Houston Preview, Sunday:
Marsh: The Cougars bring in an offense that is scoring 10 1/4 runs thru four games into the 2016 season. Ranked only 22nd by D1baseball.com, I personally feel like Houston is more reflective of the Top 10 team in the opinion of the Baseball America poll.
Regardless, Houston is a great team and they're going to bring a lot of offense against a batch of new arms inTCU's arsenal–namely in the bullpen. Even though earlier I discussed the chance of Rex Hill getting the Saturday start rather than Friday, in a situation like this, playing a different team each day in a round-robin tournament, TCU doesn't have the same approach as if we were playing UCLA this weekend or something. Thus, having a more experienced Howard throw Friday won't really matter as much as if it were a different scenario.
Hill will likely face fellow lefty, John King, who was absolute dynamite in his Saturday start last week: 6IP, 9K, 2BB (one was a HBP). King, who was named American Pitcher of the Week (conference not nationally) gave up only one hit in his 6 innings of work, but the good news for the Frogs is that he's going to throw a lot of pitches–he threw 81 last game–and will thus wear out pretty early should the TCU offense make him work. Given the patience displayed so far, and what we know from the recent history, it's more than likely that'll happen. The prime example that comes to mind is Tyler Stubblefield in the Super Regional elimination game last year. With hard throwing lefties, the Frogs just have to be patient and bide their time.
1B/C Joe Davis has been a really hot bat so far. The freshman from Austin (Bowie) leads the team in BA (.571), hits (8), doubles (3), and RBIs (14). Clearly the kid is going to put the ball deep, and in a park like Minute Maid, I fully expect him to fall in love with Houston's green monster imitation.
Elsewhere, Corey Julks will test Skoug's defensive abilities, especially with a new makeup for the TCU defense up the middle. Julks possesses a .473 BA, has nine hits (2nd on the team), three doubles (T-1 with Davis), and one stolen base. OF Zac Taylor will perhaps test Skoug more, as he leads the team with four SBs, on four attempts. But with a ho-hum average of .154, Taylor--at least so far--hasn't shown he'll be as much of a threat despite his ability to advance.
It's not even close to be worried about Rex Hill yet, but what we knew about his JUCO days were semipermeable Friday night: he struck a lot of people out and he gave up a lot of runs–at least for how much he threw. Still, the JUCO transfer didn't give up any walks and got no support from his offense when he was in the game.
I really like what I see from Zak Plunkett. I didn't get to stream the games, and I'm not sure if I wrote about this in the season preview, but I really liked what I saw from Plunkett in Los Angeles a year ago. His stat line wasn't great last year, but the swings he was taking were very encouraging. It's only the first weekend, but Plunkett made a huge stride in, for lack of a better phrase, catching up with the game. Skoug can't catch every game, that's just unfair; so having a guy who can successfully back him up, both offensively and defensively, whilst Skoug plays first and is still able to be in the lineup will be a very big plus this season and beyond.
For TCU, just keep putting your stock into Barzilli. He continued his hot streak in the TCU's shellacking of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. In addition to Barz playing outstanding baseball, freshman Josh Watson has been awesome. Watson, brings a .400 BA to Houston, and half of his six hits of the 2016 season have been extra-bases (one double, two triples). Watson and his fellow bash brother, Luken Baker, have matured quite quickly and are already playing big roles on this team.