With such a veteran team, especially when it comes to position players, it’s easy to look past the freshman class as we look ahead to a season that starts with the Frogs as number one. But with the most talented class in history, and limited experienced depth behind the returning vets, expect the new guys to play a big role.
The biggest name that signed with the Frogs in the class of 2016 is lefty Nick Lodolo, a wunderkind from Southern California who was the highest drafted player last summer to not sign a pro contract. Lodolo comes to TCU with the highest expectations of any freshman pitcher to enter the program, and while he won’t need to be great for the Frogs to reach their goals, having a power lefty in the lineup fills one of the biggest holes remaining from last year. Lodolo fits the Schlossnagle mold to a t - long, lanky, with an even demeanor and a live arm. A Perfect Game All-American, top 100 player nationally, and top-rated lefty in California, Lodolo has the makeup to be a weekend starter by the time conference play rolls around.
We would be remiss to be so focused on Lodolo that we missed the rest of a talented batch of incoming arms - this group is much deeper than just its brightest star. Joining Lodolo in the competition for a starting job are a pair of pitchers that bring different skill sets - Charles King from Coppell and Jake Eissler out of Colorado. King is another big righty; he stands 6’5” and logs in at 215 pounds, with a fastball that tops out at 95 mph and really good control for a young player. Eissler is a bit more under the radar; one of the top players in Colorado, the 6’1” 205 pound righty was the player of the year in the state and a top 150 player nationally at his position. With a ton of movement on his pitches, he provides a nice change of pace on the mound.
The Frogs brought in two additional young lefties this fall in Haylen Green and Dion Henderson. Henderson, who stands 6’4”, is a candidate to be a left-handed specialist out of the pen this year, with a low 90’s fastball complemented by a low 70’s curve ball and a change-up that bounces near the high 70’s. He has great stuff, the three pitches, and big stage experience having pitched for USA Baseball. Green may not see many innings this year, and could be a redshirt candidate, but is a great developmental prospect for the future. With a high 80’s fastball and a the ability to paint the black, Green should be an important piece in the future as far as pitching, but could see time in the outfield even sooner than that, as he is listed as a multi-position player.
A trio of righties round out the pitching class; Cal Coughlin out of Illinois, Trey Morris from Katy, TX, and Alec Creel makes his way from North Carolina. Coughlin is one of the more interesting prospects in the class, a 6’1”, 205 pound player that will see time both as a pitcher and in the outfield, he was a top 15 player in Illinois who hit .431 at the plate and had a 2.31 ERA and 93 strikeouts from the mound. He has excellent genes - his dad, Rich, played for the Astros and his uncle, Mike, pitched for the Cubs. With the Frogs light on outfielders this spring, and his aptitude at the plate, Coughlin could be used off of the bench as a bat or defensive replacement.
Morris is a Texas kid, who possesses the frame that TCU loves in their pitchers - 6’5” and 207 pounds coming into college. He was a 40th round draft pick by the Phillies, speaking to his projectable upside and potential. A Baseball America top-30 pick, he was another great get for the Frogs and a kid who should see time out of the pen this season.
Creel, from the city of Wake Forest, was an honorable mention All-American and a member of the 16U Perfect Game World Series team. As a home-school player, he has flown a bit under the radar, though he drew attention from some of the best academic schools due to his stellar record. With a fastball in the high 80’s, he’s not the hardest throwing guy - but he may grow to remind Frog fans of another hidden gem from NC that didn’t overpower players - TCU legend Preston Morrison.
Only two players were signed in 2016 as pure positions players, catcher/infielder Zach Humphreys and utility man Bryan Sturges. Humphreys is a guy who we all hope doesn’t become an important piece of the puzzle, as he is expected to be the primary backup to catcher Evan Skoug since Zack Plunkett elected to transfer after last season. A DeSoto native, Zach played his high school ball at Midlothian, where he earned all-state and offensive player of the year honors. He is another one who comes with a long pedigree - his dad played for Texas Tech and spent four years in the majors, and his brother Alec spent time both at Tech and Tarleton State as a player. He has a big bat and is a plus defender, so if Schloss needs to give Skoug a blow now and again, he should be able to step in seamlessly behind the plate.
Sturges comes to Fort Worth from Katy, where he was an honorable mention All-America and second team all district player. Primarily a catcher and outfielder in high school, Sturges will be able to step in at several different positions for the Frogs, possessing elite athleticism and one of the best high school bats in the country. Having hit over .400 for his high school career - including four seasons of varsity ball - he has shown exceptional plate discipline along with plus power. His speed is also a weapon - he had interest as a defensive back recruit as well - and should make him a candidate to come off the bench as a rookie to both pinch hit and pinch run. He will be a lot of fun to watch as he discovers his role for TCU.
While this team will ride the vets if they want to make it to Omaha, there are a lot of young, exciting players to look forward to for this season and the future.