Omaha or bust?
It certainly feels that way for Frog fans, and with six weeks of successful fall ball under their belts, the sentiment is echoed by the manager as well. “Our goal, as always, is the College World Series.”
Off to a red-hot start and looking like they had a championship caliber team in the spring, TCU Baseball’s season was ceremonially cut short in March amidst the Coronavirus pandemic. Set packing in surprising fashion, a roster loaded with seniors and MLB prospects found themselves home months earlier than planned, and a year that was supposed to end in Omaha just... ended.
With the major league draft cut to just five rounds and a grace year of eligibility granted to all spring athletes, a robust roster returned to Fort Worth this fall with high expectations and big dreams. Bolstered by the somewhat surprising return of big league prospects like Haylen Green, Johnny Ray, and Zach Humphries, and the addition of freshmen that could be in MiLB parks in a normal year, the ceiling is as high as ever for Jim Schlossnagle’s squad.
But, as he pointed out Tuesday, it isn’t just him.
“I am super excited about our team, but every coach I talk to is saying the same thing. No idea what the season will bring, I just like our team.”
With pitching depth that would be unheard of in a “normal” year — the Horned Frogs have as many as ten contenders to start on the weekends — and a ton of mature offensive players that can hit for contact and power — this is as loaded a college baseball team as you will see. And that’s before you factor in the freshmen that Schloss says are vying for innings right now. “We have young players really pushing for playing time and to be in the lineup on opening day. If it was today, we would start two freshmen position players for sure — maybe three.” That’s rare for the Frogs, who tend to roll out plenty of young pitchers but have not often started multiple true freshmen in the field. But Schlossnagle was clear — the best players are going to play. “I’m excited about those guys — not a slap in the face to other players — but our job is to win the game. So we will be playing the best guy.”
And that well be the main issue at TCU and for programs across the country; with unlimited roster sizes, keeping guys in the fold could be a problem — especially when you factor in quarantine procedures and the possibility of positive COVID tests. It’s something that Coach Patterson went into detail on during his own press conference (that preceded Schloss), mentioning that a guy that tests positive on a Friday could miss as many as three games, and those in quarantine for close contact are out close to three weeks as well. Once a player clears the COVID hurdle, they still have to get EKGs, cardiograms, are other tests beyond just checking for the virus. For a young player, going from out of commission to back on the field can be a month long process — or more.
“It’s a culture thing,” Schlossnagle explained when asked about roster management. “From day one, I've told everybody ‘you’re going to get coached like crazy’. In a normal college baseball season, if you’re 12th or 13th pitcher, it’s hard to get innings. But this, year you may not pitch for a month — and in the blink of an eye, you may pitch this weekend.” TCU Baseball has long made selflessness their number one tenant: according to their coach, “that culture of selflessness is going to get tested” in 2021.
But those are problems for another day. For now, they’re just glad to be back on the diamond. “Just to be out on a baseball field, under the lights, playing baseball — watching these guys do what they love, and what I love — we really needed it.”