TCU Baseball had a record nine players selected in last week’s MLB Draft, but, for the first time in a long time, managed to hold onto most of their top recruits.
The roster is going to look a lot different in the fall; gone are long-standing veterans Jared Janczak and Josh Watson, as well as ace Nick Lodolo, who wore the purple and white for three seasons. Gone as well is centerfielder Johnny Rizer, the third senior on the team, and one and done stars Brandon Williamson, Jake Guenther and Alex Isola.
But, and here’s the good news - only one of the Horned Frogs incoming players is expected to sign a professional contract, while the rest went in the late innings or were not drafted at all. And for a program that has seen their top talent choose the minor leagues over three years in Fort Worth time and time again over the last several years, it’s impossible to overstate what a boon that is. In 2017, the three of the top four signees elected to go pro (Shane Baz, Jacob Gonzales, and Tyler Freeman); in 2018, Cole Winn, Alek Thomas, Adam Kloffenstein, and Mateo Gil all signed. Schlossnagle relayed to Carlos Mendez at PressBoxDFW how tricky scouting high school players for college programs can be. “You have to recruit the kids so early, you don’t know what they’re going to become. When Quinn Priester committed to us the summer before his junior year, he was a 6-foot-3, 180-pound skinny right-hander from Chicago throwing 87 mph. He became the 18th pick in the draft throwing 96 mph. Sometimes they end up being too good. Other times, they end up being perfect. And there’s a portion that don’t ever get any better.”
Projecting well - not only from a talent perspective, but a sign-ability one - is the key to building a successful program. Based on what happened last week, it seems Schloss and the Frogs are on the right track.
It’s also starting to pay, literally and figuratively, to go the collegiate route:
51 of the 78 Day 1 selections were college players.— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) June 8, 2019
That's the second-most all time, and the most since 1981. https://t.co/35NpkJNXaG
That’s good news for programs like the Horned Frogs’, who have shown they can not only recruit talent, but develop it - and win with it.
Let’s take a look at who’s going, who’s staying, and who’s coming.
Nick Lodolo (junior pitcher): Round 1, Pick 7 - Cincinatti Reds
Lefty Lodolo is the highest drafted player in the Jim Schlossnagle era. After turning down $1.75 million out of high school, he nearly tripled his value after three years with the Horned Frogs. Thank you for everything Nick, now go get paid.
Brandon Williamson (junior pitcher): Round 2, Pick 59 - Seattle Mariners
Williamson turned one year in Fort Worth into a 30+ round difference in draft selection, and a significant financial difference to boot. Williamson was a 37th round selection out of juco ball, and now will make probably 3X as much as he would have after just one season at the DI level.
Jake Guenther (junior first baseman): Round 7, Pick 218 - Tampa Bay Rays
Guenther had an impressive first season in Fort Worth, doing the number 19 proud at first base while proving himself to be a major league masher. Jake could have likely raised his profile even more with a second season at the DI level, but hard to blame him for going now when he has some bargaining power still.
Alex Isola (junior catcher): Round 29, Pick 869 - Minnesota Twins
If there is a player that is making a surprising choice, it’s Isola, who went near the feel-good area in the draft and will be looking at a very small signing bonus, in all likelihood. But, Isola lost his job behind the plate late in the season to Zach Humphreys, and with just one year at TCU, probably doesn’t feel a deep tie or obligation to the program.
All in all, that’s not a devastating haul for TCU, who loses two of their three weekend starters but just one everyday player who had eligibility left.
Returning to TCU:
Zach Humphreys (junior catcher): Round 26, Pick 793 - Milwaukee Brewers
Keeping Humphreys in Fort Worth is probably the biggest move of the off-season for Jim Schlossnagle, who desperately wanted to keep his only experienced backstop on the roster. Schloss has often said that sometimes, the most important recruiting you do is on your own roster, and that’s the case with Hump. He will start the season as the starter behind home plate, and will be an excellent mentor to both the young pitching staff and his future successor - incoming freshman Kurtis Byrne. And then likely get drafted even higher in 2020.
One other note, here, redshirt freshman Nick Juaire came in as a catcher, and could be in the mix going forward as well.
Jake Eissler (junior pitcher): Round 38, Pick 1150
I would expect the Eiss-man to come back to TCU, but there hasn’t been an official announcement made by him or the program to this point. Eissler was nearly unhittable as a sophomore but regressed some in year three; when he’s on, he doesn’t walk anybody and has ground ball stuff with the ability to induce plenty of swings and misses. Moving into the rotation seemed to mess with his mind, but at the end of the season, he looked much more like his old self. A top 15 round talent, I think Eissler returns and reasserts himself as one of the best relievers in college baseball.
Quinn Priester (high school pitcher): Round One, Pick 18 - Pittsburgh Pirates
Priester is the highest-rated recruit in TCU’s class of 2019 and is widely expected to take somewhere between $3-4 million dollars and sign. Can’t really blame him.
Jacob Meador (high school pitcher): Round 31, Pick 936 - Seattle Mariners
Meador is the fourth-highest rated signee for the Frogs, and his falling to the 31st round likely means he made it clear he was going to college. A top 200 prospect overall, the man we will henceforth refer to as The Matador (thanks Billy, or Purple Menace) was receiving calls in the earlier rounds, but played hardball and seems happy to be heading to Fort Worth.
Kurtis Byrne (high school catcher): Round 38, Pick 1145 - St. Louis Cardinals
Byrne is the highest-rated position player in the Frogs’ 2019 class and plays the biggest position of need for TCU going forward. With Isola off to the pros and Humphreys the only other catcher listed on the roster, having a freshman the caliber of Byrne onboard is significant for Schloss and co. A native of St. Louis, Byrne is a .400 high school hitter with a maturity beyond his years and one of the top defensive catchers in the class of 2019. He will find a way on the field as a true freshman, likely spelling Humphreys behind the plate and as a DH.
Riley Cornelio (high school pitcher): Undrafted
A top 100 prospect, Cornelio was widely expected to go early enough to make him think twice before heading to the Horned Frogs. With a 93mph fast ball already, and serious swing and miss stuff, the incoming freshman - who will be draft-eligible after his sophomore season - should be an impact arm from day one. HUGE to keep him in the fold.
Drew Hill (juco pitcher): Undrafted
Hill has two years of eligibility remaining after spending one season at South Mountain Community College by way of Utah Valley University. He was considered a day two or early day three selection, but went undrafted instead.
Sam Thompson (high school outfielder): Undrafted
Filling another position of need, with TCU sending two thirds of their outfield to the pros, Thompson was a highly recruited player who could have been a day two pick. Instead, he matriculates to Fort Worth where he will have a chance to be a day one starter - possibly in the spot vacated by a guy who was also a day one outfielder starter - and held his position for four years and 253 games.
Other High School Signees:
Tim McHugh OF 6-3 210 R-R Commack (Commack, NY)
Austin Plante OF 6-4 214 L-L Lake Travis (Austin, TX)
Beau Wimpee SS 6-1 170 L-R Rockwall (Rockwall, TX)
Kaden Dydalewicz 3B 6-2 210 R-R Liberty Hill (Georgetown, TX)
Nolan Hudi LHP 6-0 172 L-L Calvary Christian (Safety Harbor, FL)
Logan Letney OF 5-10 195 L-R Oak Ridge (Spring, TX)
Will Martin LHP 6-1 180 L-L Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, NV)
Rhett Maynard SS 6-1 180 R-R Amarillo (Amarillo, TX)
Jacob Speaker RHP 6-4 210 S-R All Saints Episcopal (Fort Worth, TX)
Mason Speaker RHP 6-4 220 R-R All Saints Episcopal (Fort Worth, TX)
Zach Taylor RHP 6-5 183 R-R Granite Bay (Granite Bay, CA)
Obviously, having 16 incoming players - plus whatever juco players are in the mix outside of Hill - with just seven exiting doesn’t add up. TCU has 26 players on the roster eligible to return, and carried 34 this past season. Some of these players will redshirt, others will decommit, others still will likely go the juco route. But, it’s a better position to be in that having to recruit a handful of kids in late June, as has been the case recently.
However the roster shakes out, 2020 is looking like a chance to see the Frogs return to elite. With a solid mix of veteran and young talent - plus the return of Caleb Sloan and Russell Smith - the pieces are there.
It’s up to Schloss to put the puzzle together.