Last week, we looked at the expected starting lineup for TCU Baseball this spring, a unit comprised of plenty of new faces - mostly juco transfers. The pitching staff, on the other hand, looks far more familiar - led by the talented duo of junior Nick Lodolo and redshirt senior Jared Janczak. But, despite having a veteran look to the front end of the rotation, there are plenty of holes to fill - namely the flame throwing shoes of Durbin Feltman. Who might be up for that challenge? Let’s explore the options.
The Frogs will likely roll out a weekend rotation featuring their two most experienced arms. With junior Lodolo needing a big year to boost his draft stock and senior Janczak looking to make the most of what may be his baseball swan song, fans can expect the starting pitching to return to the high bar set in the past by guys like Brian Howard, Preston Morrison, and Brandon Finnegan. There are plenty of young talents in the arsenal, but Lodolo’s consistency and Janczak’s health will likely determine how far this team can go.
Expected Weekend Rotation:
Pos. Name, Yr. W-L ERA IP SO BB SV
LHP Nick Lodolo, Jr. 7-4 4.32 77 93 28 0
RHP Jared Janczak, R-Jr. 1-1 3.00 42 41 12 0LHP
LHP Brandon Williamson, Jr. Transfer--Northern Iowa Area College
Williamson is the weekend wildcard; a strong fall elevated the juco transfer to a likely starting role. With a 95 mph fastball and a 6’6” frame, the 2018 26th round draft pick is looking to capitalize with a good team and elevate his draft stock this spring. A likely one and done in Fort Worth, Williamson has electric potential as a swing and miss guy (104 strikeouts in 66 innings pitched last year) and doesn’t walk a whole lot of batters to boot.
Nick Lodolo was a very highly rated prospect when he shunned the Pirates for the Horned Frogs - and the former 41st overall pick has mostly lived up to the billing. Inconsistency has been the 6’6” lefties main issue - Lodolo has won a lot of games (12), struck out a ton of batters (165), but has an ERA (3.58) that doesn’t scream ACE. Though the pitches are all there - a brutal fastball, a beautiful breaking ball, and slippery slurve - the command has been lacking at times, rendering Lodolo, at times, merely mortal. But a strong fall seems to have salved those issues, and the TCU coaches believe his best baseball is ahead. By altering his delivery slightly - something that cost him a mile or two on his fast ball - they seem to have found the secret to pinpoint accuracy, with Nick painting both sides of the plate with ease. Schlossnagle seems pleased with the development. “He used to cut his fastball really bad at times on righthanded hitters. He’d fly open with his delivery and the ball would cut. Now, he’s very under control. I think he’ll be an elite college pitcher with big upside. He’s going to get a lot stronger as he gets older. He’s really the anchor to this whole thing.”
Jared Janczak has often been the linchpin of the TCU pitching staff, but in 2019 he doesn’t exactly need to be ‘the guy’. If JJ can stay healthy and provide 10-15 starts on the weekend, that’s an incredible bonus for the Frogs. But, after pitching 42 innings in 2018, and struggling with injuries throughout his career, there’s no guarantee that he will see a full season. He will remain in the weekend rotation for as long as he can - and TCU will be better for every start he makes. But, should things flare up, Charles King and Jake Eissler will be ready and waiting in the wings, along with guys like Haylen Green and Marcelo Perez - the latter a true freshman that reminds a lot of people of Justin Garza, the Cal State Fullerton star who burst onto the scene in his first year by averaging nearly 7.5 Ks per nine innings. Though just 5’10” and 175 pounds, Perez routinely sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, complimenting the heater with a plus slider and a developing change. He might not be a day one starter, but this is a kid that should contribute this spring.
There were two players competing to follow the legacy of Riley Ferrell and Durbin Feltman at closer - sophomores Caleb Sloan and Augie Milhlbauer. Sloan appeared to have the inside track prior to suffering an elbow injury that will cost him the season, an unfortunate setback for a player with a bright future and overpowering stuff. That leaves Mihlbauer, a firey, emotional player who can electrify the crowd with a devastating strike three or a timely out. Having struck out 29 in 22 2/3, it’s obvious that Augie has closer stuff, and he’s proven that he can come up big in big moments already. There are several freshmen and a transfer that could look to steal the back end from Augie, but my money is on the sophomore to be the guy down the stretch.
The Frogs will be without last year’s Tuesday starter, second-year player Russell Smith, as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. That leaves the midweek games open, with King and Eissler the most likely to take the first stab at it. Also returning to the pen is lefty Dion Henderson, a promising young player who made his TCU debut last year after redshirting due to injury. Henderson made one appearance, recording one strikeout, but if he is healthy in 2019, his immeasurable promise may finally begin to be realized. Haylen Green is another name to watch - the junior lefty played his best ball down the stretch of the regular season last spring, and seems primed for a big year three. He will also likely take some weeknight starts for the Frogs as needed.
From the right side, junior Cal Coughlin, one of the most reliable arms in the arsenal returns, and will likely fill the Sean Wymer middle relief role - a job he is more than cut out to do. Coughlin can go multiple innings, can close, and can start in a pinch - the kind of do it all utility knife that really comes to bear in tournament and postseason play. You can’t overstate how important he is to the staff. In addition to King and Eissler, Dalton Brown and James Notary also return the the fold, useful pieces that have room to impress. Just a freshman last year, Notary showed flashes of potential brilliance, but like many young pitchers, struggled with consistency. He will get opportunities, but is likely a long-relief or situational guy at this point in his career. Brown is one of the more experienced players on the roster as a redshirt junior, but an injury shortened 2018 campaign leaves more questions than answers as we head into spring.
New faces abound on the pitching staff as well - the Frogs have added three juco transfers and four true freshmen this year. LSU transfer John Kodros will sit out this season, but will be a big piece moving forward. Former Navarro College closer Asher Cook could be a late inning reliever, while freshmen Matt Rudis (son of former TCU catcher Matt and an all-state selection as a junior and senior), Spencer Arrighetti (All-American who owns the single-season strikeout record at Cinco Ranch HS), and Dawson Barr (posted nearly two strikeouts per inning in high school) all look to find innings in a crowded pen. The luxury of having so many guys that have been there, done that, will certainly help with their development and keep them from having to perform under too much pressure before they are ready - something TCU did not have a season ago for another talented freshman group.
There is a lot more experience for the TCU pitching staff in 2019 - while there are some big questions to answer, namely at closer, the talent and depth is there. If healthy, it’s certainly one of the best collegiate staffs in the country.