After months of talk of what could be, countless publications saying what they should be, and weeks of preparation to determine what they are, we are finally heading down the path of what the 2017 TCU Baseball team WILL be. Pre-season #1 rankings are all well and good, but it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t translate into regular season wins. Well, here we are, the start of the regular season. It’s time to put the hype on hold and go play ball.
Friday | 6:30pm | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX:
Jared Janczak gets the ball Friday night in game one of the season and one of a series with the Penn State Nittany Lions. The sophomore righty became one of the most reliable pitchers down the stretch for Jim Schlossnagle’s team, finishing his freshman year with a 7-4 record and 2.61 ERA. Janczak was third on the team in appearances with 26 and second in innings with 82.2. He finished second on the team in strikeouts with 80 and walked only 26, using a deadly combination of overpowering stuff and pinpoint placement to baffle opponents. His likely opponent is junior Sal Biasi, the Nittany Lions statistical leader in strikeouts from 2016. Biasi, a right hander, went 5-6 with a 3.74 ERA, throwing five innings of three run ball against TCU last May.
Janczak is familiar with the Nittany Lions as well, having pitched against them in State College last May. It wasn’t one of his better games, as he spread nine hits over 5.1 innings of two run ball.
Saturday | 2:00pm | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX:
Ace Brian Howard squares off against Taylor Lehman, one of the few pitchers in the country who can look Howard in the eye. Brian has an inch on the 6’8” junior lefty who went 2-9 with a 4.79 ERA in 2016, including 3.2 innings against TCU where he allowed six runs on eight hits, walking three. Howard started that game as well, throwing seven innings of shutout ball with four strikeouts on his way to a 10-2 season and 3.19 ERA.
Sunday | 12:00pm | Lupton Stadium | Fort Worth, TX | Fox Sports Southwest:
Nick Lodolo makes his much anticipated TCU debut, as the true freshman lefty - who left a lot of money on the table to matriculate to Fort Worth - takes the mound in the series finale against Justin Hagenman. Lodolo is the lone left-handed starter for Schloss’ squad, a true freshman with unlimited potential, a plethora of nasty pitches, and the kind of fastball that has big-league teams drooling. He will make his season debut at Lupton Sunday afternoon, in front of the fans who have been waiting so anxiously to see him pitch.
Hagenman started the final game of the series last season as well, allowing five runs on eight hits in five innings pitched. He finished the year 6-3 with a 3.50 ERA and was a Freshman All-American and All Big Ten Freshman player.
What to Watch:
Both teams return the bulk of their lineup and pitching staff, as the Nittany Lions will have the same three starters on the mound and five positional players will be back. They hit .258 as a team a season ago, scoring just under five runs per game. Though they lost their three top hitters for average, they return Freshman All-Big Ten Team member Willie Burger, an outfielder who batted .250 and slugged .336 during a solid rookie campaign. He led the team with 34 RBIs in 2016 and should be even better as a sophomore. Penn State had 92 errors a season ago and are younger in 2017, so playing mistake-free baseball will be key to having any success against the consensus top team in the country.
Meanwhile, the Frogs bring back just about everybody from a unit that made it to the finals in Omaha a season ago. With the entire infield, catcher and two of three outfielders back, TCU should be salty on defense and a tough out at the dish. Nolan Brown is one of the more interesting story lines this spring; the senior center fielder missed the vast majority of last season recovering from a wrist injury, but brings and element of speed on the base paths and in the grass that was likely from last year’s squad. He is a patient hitter who excels at getting on base early in the order, and will create plenty of scoring opportunities for the Frogs and the big bats behind him in the lineup.
Of course, all of the big names are back - Luken Baker is the kind of hitter that can have an entire ballpark waiting on baited breath every time he steps to the plate, and Evan Skoug is the kind of special player that cornerstones a whole program. Seeing Howard take the mound as a senior, and the untold promise of a special player like Lodolo, make the pitching match-ups as exciting as they come.
It’s crucial that TCU gets off to a solid start, especially at their home park, and anything less than an opening series sweep could be considered a disappointment. But with such a large target on their backs and the incredible pressure to perform as the number one team in the country, how they respond when they games are actually played will be fascinating.
The Road to Omaha starts today. Let’s get after it, Frogs.