Josh Watson was a force as a freshman, blasting dingers completely out of ballparks as he led the Frogs with 11 long balls in an impressive opening season in Fort Worth. A day one starter, Watson paired with Luken Baker to be one of the most formidable power-hitting duos in the conference, and they were just true freshmen.
So much was expected from Baker and Watson in 2017, but it didn’t materialize quite as expected. Baker missed the second half of the season due to injury and Watson didn’t get a ball out of the park until the postseason. Both are back, though, and big things are expected of each. Josh, the impossibly strong, deceptively fast left fielder with a cannon for an arm is the newly entrenched leader in the outfield, having more starts for TCU in his first two years than his likely running mates combined. If he continues to flash the leather with the impressive ability he has shown so far, and gets his power stroke back, he could also anchor a lineup that will need production from one of their most dangerous bats. He will bracket the grass with senior Connor Wanhanen, who looks like the opening day starter in right. Wanny has been up and down at the plate in his first three years as a Frog, flashing impressive poise at the plate in his first year on campus before going through a debilitating sophomore slump. But he bounced back as a junior, falling short of the ridiculous numbers of his freshman year, but settling into a role as a consistent, reliable hitter that could move runners over and play a couple positions in a pinch.
2017 TCU Baseball Outfielder Stats
Likely joining Watson and Wanny in the outfield on Opening Day is juco transfer Johnny Rizer, a junior out of Cypress, TX who comes to TCU by way of Blinn College. Rizer is the epitome of scrappy, gritty, hard-nosed, and several other adjectives thrust upon athletes who have a way of getting things done, despite any perceived “on paper” weaknesses. He seems like a perfect fit for Schloss’ squad; though he isn’t a speedster in the mold of Cody Jones or Nolan Brown, he still covers ground well, is willing to sacrifice his body to make a play, and has an excellent arm. He is probably a more complete hitter than either player preceding him in the lineup - while both Jones and Brown went on pretty ridiculous hot streaks at times, Rizer is consistently good, and has a little more power as well, as evidenced by the 11 bombs he hit a season ago at Blinn. He also batted .354 with 13 doubles and three triples, and is an exceptional student to boot. He won’t be like Brown and Jones, who were probably taking off every time they stepped on first base, but he can certainly swipe a bag or take the extra base, something that Schloss will expect him to do. I think he will quickly become a fan favorite for his attitude and effort; he is a true dirt bag in the very best sense of the word.
Coming off the bench, Schloss will have more options than we have seen in Fort Worth in quite some time, as several newcomers look like potential impact players in different areas. Grad transfer AJ Balta is likely slotted in at DH, but he played in the outfield and at first base for Oregon and is a reliable glove if needed. Balta has been inconsistent in his three previous seasons of NCAA play, blasting nine bombs as a sophomore before regressing to just one a year ago, after starting his career by being named a freshman All-American . Maybe he and Watson can work things out together, as both will be counted on to help replace the 45 homers (out of 58 total) lost to graduation/pro ball from 2017. Balta has power and can spray it to all fields - if he can reclaim his stroke in Fort Worth, he can make a big difference up and down the lineup.
A pair of true freshmen are exciting prospects as well, as both RJ Lan and Brad ‘buy me a vowel’ Czerniejewski come in highly touted and full of promise. Lan is my player to watch in the outfield, at 6’0”, 205 pounds he looks college-ready from day one. The native Californian held 13 Division I offers for football in addition to double digit baseball opportunities, and chose TCU over two local powerhouses in UCLA and Pepperdine. As a high school player, he hit .359 for his career, adding 12 long balls and, maybe most impressively, going a perfect 30/30 in the stolen base department. He has the big arm, he has the speed, and he has the ability in the box, so it’s likely just a matter of time before he sees the field. Having an athlete like Lan on the bench will push the first rotation and ensure that they can’t get away with anything less than their best, while also allowing Schloss to give the starters a night off occasionally.
Czerniejewski is another young player that should push for reps; a high school teammate of pitcher Cal Coughlin, Brad hit .391 over his career, with a junior season average of .427. He uses the whole field and hits for contact, but has serious power (eight career home runs) and incredible speed on the base paths (53 steals). With plenty of intangibles to make him a great leader, BC (please come up with a nickname for him, and soon) could see some work as a defensive replacement in the late innings as he eats up grass like Les Miles. Though he might not be a year one guy, he will no doubt be an impact player before his career as a Frog is over.