Baseball season is just around the corner, and it will once again be a new-look team for TCU. This week, the Frogs officially begin practice for the 2019 season, and thus, the roster was finalized. There were a few surprises to go along with a lot of new names.
The Frogs have seven freshman that signed in the class of 2018 and matriculated to campus to go along with John Kodros (a transfer from LSU) and eight juco signees. There are just 18 returning players from last year’s team, headlined by seniors Johnny Rizer, Josh Watson, and Jared Janczak. We will likely see a completely overhauled infield, a new starter in the outfield, and at least one new weekend starter. A new closer will be on the menu as well as a new Tuesday night starter, as the man that primarily had those duties in 2018, then freshman Russell Smith, is out for the season after having Tommy John surgery.
Let’s take a look at the projected lineup for Opening Day, coming to you on February 15th, along with their slash lines (AVG/OBP/SLG) from 2018, where available.
C Zach Humphreys, Jr. .225/.369/.264
1B Jake Guenther, R-Jr. Transfer--Sacramento City (Calif.) College
2B Austin Henry, R-Jr. Transfer--Walters State (Tenn.) College
3B Adam Oviedo, So. .228/.319/.257
SS Hunter Wolfe, R-Jr. Transfer--Walters State (Tenn.) College
LF Josh Watson, Sr. .305/.437/.495
CF Johnny Rizer, Sr. .231/.344/.400
RF Andrew Keefer, Jr. Transfer--Weatherford (Texas) College
DH Alex Isola, Jr. Transfer--Yavapai (Ariz.) College
Coby Boulware announced that he would be transferring to Arkansas, giving TCU a hole at second base. The decision was also made to move Adam Oviedo, who had a good, not great freshman year defensively, to third base - where Conor Shepherd had struggled (11 errors) a season ago. Jim Schlossnagle found a pair of defenders to shore up the middle infield in juco teammates Austin Henry and Hunter Wolfe, a duo that has turned a double play a time or two in their two years as teammates at Walters State. The pair can do it with the glove and at the plate - both were All-Conference selections as sophomores, when they each hit well over .400 and combined for 20 long balls. The Frogs haven’t had that kind of infield production at the plate in a while, especially from a power perspective.
Seeing someone other than Luken Baker at the bag at first isn’t exactly a new thing for Frog fans - the big slugger dealt with injuries each of his three years at TCU. But the imposing power hitter, now with the Cardinals, will certainly be missed. Looking to fill his enormous shoes is another juco prospect, 6’4”, 230 pound Jake Guenther, an Oshkosh, WI native who played his first two years of collegiate ball in Northern California. Guenther didn’t hit for power much at Sac City, but the former pitcher has showcased the long ball in the summer circuit enough to prove he can hit ‘em out. He’s very productive at the plate regardless, hitting .337 with 43 RBIs last season for City. A lefty, Guenther is a natural defender who moves really well for his size. He also has a Luken-like command of the strike zone when he steps into the box.
Adam Oviedo has come back stronger and more confident after another full offseason and a summer spent facing high-level pitching in the Cape Cod League. Being thrust into what is quite possibly the highest-pressure position on the field as a freshman is tough enough, but being asked to hit for a team that often struggled to do just that put even more pressure on a young player. Oviedo should thrive on the corner, and with better defensive support around him - and better hitting - his sophomore year should be even better.
At catcher, Zach Humphreys need to make this his team. With what still amounts to a young staff, Humhpreys - now firmly out of Evan Skoug’s shadow - should take on more of a leadership role. He has a solid backup behind him in the form of Alex Isola, a one-time Ute who comes to the Frogs via Yavapai College (AZ), where he hit .367 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. The former prep standout, who played for powerhouse Jesuit High in Sacramento, can take some of the pressure off of Humphreys behind the plate, and could also see time as a DH and pinch runner. He’s a good athlete behind the plate that has a solid mental makeup to go with his skill set, and will find his way into the order one way or another.
The outfield should be a real strength for TCU in 2019 - Josh Watson returns for his senior season and should be the big bat in the heart of the order that keeps opponents honest. The lefty slugger came on strong at the end of last season, and if he can consistently do what he’s capable of, he should make himself some money in his last go-round. Johnny Rizer is the wildcard in center - a smooth athlete with a ton of pop, he was delayed by injuries last year, but showed flashes of the ability that had Jim Schlossnagle praising him last fall, too. Schloss expects him to be a productive player in the bottom of the lineup, the type of guy that can get on base and bring guys home. The new face in right field is expected to be Andrew Keefer, another juco product that has the ability to play multiple positions in the in and out field. Keefer is a native Texan who played his high school ball in Allen before matriculating to Weatherford College. An All-Star and Home Run Derby participant as a Coyote, Keefer hit .451 during the regular season with 35 RBI, 42 runs, nine stolen bases and five home runs.
While the turnover is evident throughout the lineup and on the field, Jim Schlossnagle has welcomed the transition for what it has done both on and off the field. “The junior college kids have brought an awesome baseball mentality. So, we have that, a much more physical and athletic team, and we have more speed.” It’s true that spending a year or two at the juco ranks can give a young player some perspective and appreciation for a place like TCU, where baseball players are treating like royalty and have everything at their disposal. Entitlement hasn’t been an issue for the Horned Frogs under Schloss, but a year out of the postseason after four straight trips to Omaha is certainly a wake-up call for a young team. “I do think our guys had some purpose this fall. The guys who returned — not making the postseason is something we talked about at the end of last season and something we talked about again at the beginning of the fall. We simply failed to meet the expectations that this program has.”
With practice beginning Friday, the expectations are back in full force.
We will have previews on the reserves and pitchers coming in the next few days.