Over the several weeks or so, I have gotten more emails, tweets, and DMs than ever before, and they are all asking the same questions: What is TCU Baseball going to look like next season?
Since the MLB signing deadline passed last week, we have more insight as to who will be making their way to campus come fall, looking to replace the considerable production lost to graduation and the big leagues. Let’s take a look at the first year players expected to hit the ground running in the coming weeks.
Adam Oviedo (SS): The highest drafted player to spurn the pros for TCU (35th round, Twins), Oviedo might remind some Frog fans of a young Keaton Jones - but with a better bat. At 6’0” tall, he has good range for the position, and projects out to a smooth fielding middle infielder that should bat .300 with a little pop. The #2 shortstop in the state, the Texas native was an honorable mention All-American, and was thought to be a potential second round pick prior to making his intentions to honor his commitment to the Frogs - one he made his sophomore year - clear to Big League scouts. Though he’s not the fastest player, he has great instincts and an above-average arm, plus all the tools to improve annually. I expect him to be the Frogs’ opening day starter at SS.
Brad Czerniejewski (OF): An intriguing prospect out of Illinois, Czerniejewski (man, we need a nickname for this kid, stat) was the best outfielder in the state and a top 300 player overall. At 6’2” and 190 pounds, he has a great baseball frame, and should be able to add good weight without sacrificing his above average speed. Brad reads the ball very well off the bat and covers a ton of ground with ease, and has the arm to make runners hesitate when he gets the opportunity for an assist. A plus hitter with a ton of power, Czerniejewski will need to work on his timing at the next level, but has quick hands that generate exceptional bat speed. He’s another exceptional athlete, a la Josh Watson, who should only get better as he moves his primary focus to baseball. With plenty of holes in the grass to fill, Brad could see the field early and often for the Frogs.
Tristan Hanoian (SS/2B): If you like Mason Hesse, you’re going to love Tristan Hanoian, a compact 5’9”, 160 pound middle infielder and explosive athlete. A bit of an under the radar prospect, Tristan was the 57th ranked shortstop in the country, but could see more time at second base in his time at TCU.An exceptional defender, Hanoian’s footwork is top-notch for a young player and he can make any throw from any angle, making him a weapon on defense. With great natural instinct and quickness, Tristan could surprise some people - and with his speed on the basepaths and ability to read pitches, he could earn time on the field for his ability to hit leadoff. Another high energy, exceptionally positive player and person, Hanoian should quickly endear himself to teammates and fans as he fights for one of the two available middle infield jobs.
Esteban Cardoza (SS/2B): Another middle infielder in a class stacked with them, not a whole lot is known about the Dallas native heading into his freshman campaign. Another compact player at 5’9” and 175 pounds, Cardoza was the 12th ranked shortstop in the state, an exceptional student both of the game and in the classroom. He hit over .400 as a senior, helping lead his team deep into the playoffs after a rough start to the year, cementing his status as a Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American.
R.J. Lan (OF/1B/3B): Lan is an interesting prospect because of his versatility; though generally considered a candidate for the outfield, he can also play third base - where there just so happens to be a major hole for TCU. At 6’0” and 215 pounds, he certainly has the build for the corner, though the former football star might remind most fans more of Josh Watson than Elliott Barzilli. Lan was a three star rated athlete with multiple collegiate offers before deciding to pursue baseball, and the athleticism and toughness he gained from his time on the gridiron certainly translates to the diamond. With good defensive potential and a ton of pop in his bat, expect him to find a way on the field - at whatever position the throw him in.
Coby Boulware (SS/2B): Yet another middle infielder, Boulware, an Arizona native, is an accomplished hitter with outstanding fundamentals and the ability to consistently barrel up the ball on the bat. He uses all fields well and has the speed to beat out grounders and turn singles into doubles, and has the defensive acumen to go with it. He will need to get stronger - and is a good candidate to redshirt for the reason - but certainly has the tools to be an every day player in the future.
Caleb Sloan (RHP): One of the top pitchers in the country, the big righty is the kind of player that can step into the bullpen from day one and compete. Sloan, the top player out of Colorado in 2017, can run his fastball up to 94 mph already from a 3⁄4 slot, and has a wicked slider to go with it. An All-American, he throws a heavy ball and he throws strikes - something that will endear him to his new coaches quickly. Sloan could be a candidate for Tuesday nights or to fill the Sean Wymer setup role in 2018.
Russell Smith (LHP): Can anyone say . Brian Howard 2.0? With the graduation of the former “wait, how tall is he?” title holder Howard, the Frogs have room for the next generation of lanky pitchers, and have found their mound in the 6’9” Smith. Already thicker than Howard at 220 pounds, Smith is ranked as the #2 left handed pitcher in Texas, and while he doesn’t throw a blazing fastball, his height helps him get on hitters quickly and makes things difficult for opposing hitters. With a four pitch arsenal (fastball, two seamer, cutter, and curveball) it’s easy to project him in the rotation sooner rather than later.
Austin Mihlbauer (LHP): The Frogs needed to add some left-handed pitching depth this off-season, and seem successful in that goal, highlighted by Mihlbauer, out of Wisconsin. Not the biggest guy, at 6’1”, Mihlbauer certainly has room to add to his wiry frame, but has a good build and is athletic for his position. With a smooth motion from the mound and sound mechanics in his throwing motion, Coach Saarloos has to be excited about his ability to reach the next level under top-notch tutelage. Already consistently hitting the upper 80’s with his fastball, Austin is a contact pitcher who induces a lot of swing and misses as well as soft contact grounders. He also has a solid curveball and is very consistent with both pitches.
James Notary (RHP): Another Colorado pitcher, Notary is a big kid at 6’3” and 205 pounds, who uses his frame to get a nice downhill angle and keep the ball low in the zone. Though he hovers in the upper 80’s, there’s room to add speed to his fastball - the primary pitch he throws - as well as further develop his curve and add an off-speed pitch. Known for working quickly and challenging hitters head on, he’s a great addition to the bullpen and could be a candidate for the late inning work as he continues to develop.
Ryan Eiermann (LHP/1B): Another Illinois native, the 6’0” lefty was one of the top prospects in the state, showcasing a fastball that averaged in the upper 80’s but he was able to run up into the high 90’s at times as well. Another honorable mention All-American, Eiermann committed to the Frogs as a sophomore, during a season that saw him win pitcher of the year honors and set his school’s strikeout record. After finishing his senior year with a sub-2.00 ERA, Eiermann, who has a two seam fastball and a tricky curveball to go with his fastball, will look to contribute to the Frogs right away. He reminds me a little of a left-handed Cal Coughlin with his ability to overpower and outthink hitters, and uses a lot of emotion to maximize his ability.
Chose Pro Contracts:
Shane Baz (RHP)
Jacob Gonzalez (3B/1B)
Tyler Freeman (SS)
Junior College recruiting is still a bit up in the air; with 11 signees and 22 (expected) returning players, there’s not a hole lot of room left on the roster. But Jim Schlossnagle will likely look for a veteran middle infielder and potentially a center fielder, and could also be in the market for a backup catcher behind Humphreys. When we have more information in that regard, we will be sure to share it.