Only one team gets to go home happy at the end of any and every season, and as the championship series begins tonight, we must confront reality that we are not that team. But, it’s quite a legacy for a senior class that made it to Omaha for four straight years, winning eight games and making it to within in one of the final series in consecutive years. The Frogs have hosted a super regional series in three of the past four years, won a total of 198 games, won three Big 12 Tournament titles and two regular season championships. What a run.
Thank you, seniors.
Brian Howard. Mitchell Traver. Cam Warner. Ryan Merrill. Elliott Barzilli. Nolan Brown. Evan Williams. Mason Hesse.
Howie, Mitch, Nolan, and Evan have been in Fort Worth for four years - Traver actually has five years in - and played varying roles in each of these magical runs. Howie’s post season exploits are well documented, as he has earned the Big Game Howie moniker across multiple big games in the postseason. Traver has overcome injury time and time again to have his best starts when there’s the most of the line. Evan Williams, who overcame a series of injuries following a car accident on his way to the Alamo Bowl, will be fondly remembered for scoring the winning run against NC State to win the regional in 2015.
Elliott Barzilli transfered from Georgia Tech and made a name for himself in Funky Town, hitting the game-winning single against NC State and lighting up the TCU offense in early 2016 as he flirted with a .400 batting average for much of the year. Warner and Merrill filled huge holes at second and short for the Frogs in their two seasons, both improving their defense dramatically in 2017 and becoming valuable members of the lineup. Camo filled the clean-up spot after Luken Baker’s injury and Ryno was a hometown hero in Omaha this past season, hitting the Frogs’ only home run of the tournament. Mason Hesse didn’t see as much time of the field, but was a dugout leader, always smiling and encouraging his teammates and incredibly beloved within and without the program. He also had one of the best moments of the year in hitting a grand slam home run against UT Rio Grande Valley.
In all, these eight seniors are going to be a lot to replace, both for their exploits on the field and their leadership off of it. How will TCU do it? We will look into that in the coming weeks.
Goodbye, Evan and Austen?
Also likely to need replacing are juniors Evan Skoug and Austen Wade, both top ten round draft picks in the MLB and likely to sign pro contracts. Evan Skoug is an absolute TCU Baseball legend, starting 198 out of 199 total games across the last three seasons, taking ownership of his role behind the plate, at the plate, and of the pitching staff. Skoug hit 36 career home runs, had 160 RBIs, and became one of the most feared hitters in the Big 12. His late season run to 20 dingers was one of the greatest stretches by any college player I have ever seen, and his 2-run shot to beat Missouri State, and the ensuing celebration, is one of the greatest moments of the last three years.
Wade is a candidate for most improved player, raising his batting average from .182 in limited action as a freshman to leading the Frogs with a .332 average this past season and .441 on base percentage. He stepped into the role of right field when Nolan Brown went out with an injury last season, causing him to miss all of 2016. He drew 49 total walks and solidified the lead-off position, completely changing the TCU lineup when he missed a few games with an injury of his own. Wade went in the fifth round this year, and will likely jump on the opportunity. It’s a smart decision on his part, though certainly a bummer for fans.
Big, blonde elephant in the room.
Luken Baker will be back in 2018, as it appears his rehab is going well. Losing a player like Baker would be devastating to any team, but was especially challenging to a TCU lineup that seemed lost without him. The Frogs had a couple offensive explosions in the post season, but mostly hovered well below their season average in runs scored. Part of that is due to the pitching they ran into, but it’s hard not to think about what might have been had the big slugger been hitting in the three or four spot. Especially in Omaha. Baker will be the leader of the 2018 team, and while he will be without his #BashBro Skoug, he should have plenty of help on offense. TCU loses a lot this year, but they return a lot too, and have a quality class of bats coming in.
Speaking of those quality bats, the class of 2017 is loaded for TCU Baseball. Though top talents Shane Baz and Jacob Gonzalez have already decided to go pro, there are still some interesting names that had said they will come to Fort Worth as planned, or seem to be leaning that way. Middle infielders Adam Oviedo, Tyler Freeman, Tristan Hanoian, Estaban Cardoza, and Coby Boulware are all candidates to step in for departing seniors Merrill and Warner. R.J. Lan is a talented hitter and solid defender at the corner, and could take ownership of third base with Barz’s graduation. TCU also has three left handed pitchers committed, including 6’9” Russel Smith, whose build is reminiscent of Brian Howard. Two righties, Caleb Sloan and James Notary are top ranked talents as well. Outfielder Brad Czerniejewski is a former high school teammate of freshman pitcher Cal Coughlin and a potential fill in for Wade/Brown.
The incoming freshmen will supplement a returning core of Baker, Josh Watson, Connor Wanhanen, Michael Landestoy, and Zach Humphreys, playing defense behind a weekend rotation of Jared Janczak, Nick Lodolo, and likely Sean Wymer. Stalwart relievers Durbin Feltman and Cal Coughlin return to bolster a young unit that includes highly talented freshmen Charles King, Jake Eissler, Trey Morris, and Haylen Green. Dion Henderson and Alec Creel, who redshirted this year, are intriguing talents, and Saarloos continues to develop Dalton Brown and Austin Boyles, both of whom should have expanded roles next spring. Trent Franson, Austin Ingraham, and Bryan Sturges are utility players off the bench who could see significant PT next year as well.
Oh, and let’s not forget Jim Schlossnagle, Kirk Saarloos, and Bill Mosiello all return as well.
Ultimately, as much as it hurts to be so close and so far, yet again, what TCU has done for the last four seasons is incredible. The Frogs have the pieces to make another run to Omaha, but for now, let’s appreciate the past and present before we look too much into the future.