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Monday Morning Manager: Frogball USA delivers on opening weekend

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TCU Baseball is back, and fans are excited about what lies ahead.

Second baseman Gray Rodgers and short stop Tommy Sacco lead a new-look infield for the Horned Frogs.
Melissa Triebwasser

It’s early.

It’s too early.

After all, we are just one series into the 2020 season, so declaring the Horned Frogs the best team in college baseball would be downright preposterous. Right?

Right?!

Of course TCU Baseball has flaws, and of course, they aren’t the definite Big 12 Champions and a sure-fire lock for the College World Series. But watching the first three games of their 2020 campaign, the Horned Frogs sure looked like a team that’s going to finish better than their predicted fifth place finish.

In sweeping Kentucky, TCU:

  • scored 22 runs
  • allowed seven runs
  • held the Wildcats to a sub-.200 batting average
  • had a 1.33 staff ERA
  • had nine extra base hits including three home runs
  • drew 16 walks

The pitching was generally outstanding for TCU, who got three quality starts over the weekend. In his first Division I action, Johnny Ray lived up to his considerable billing, allowing just one run on two hits across 4.2 innings, with seven strikeouts and just three walks. Charles King, the only truly experienced starter on the staff, looked great in the first outing of his senior season, bouncing back from an uneven first two frames to throw six innings of one run (unearned) ball, striking out a pair and not allowing a walk. Russell Smith, returning after a 600+ day absence, was dominant through four innings, retiring 12 straight and striking out five before the Wildcats touched him up a bit in the fifth — though for just one earned run.

Eight different relievers saw action, and of the guys expected to play a significant role, the results were positive. Drew Hill inherited a bases-loaded, no out, jam Sunday and minimized the damage, and after getting out of the inning with just one earned run (two total), went on to pitch two more quick and clean frames. Austin Krob was great Saturday, earning the win with two scoreless frames Saturday. Freshman Jacob Meador and sophomore Marcelo Perez, two of the bright young stars on the staff, both looked the part for the most part, combining for three strikeouts and just two walks against six hitters combined. Haylen Green was Haylen Green, and though John Kodros and Harrison Beethe struggled some Sunday, they made some solid pitches and should bounce back to contribute down the line. Riley Cornelio, a true freshman out of Colorado and one of Schlossnagle’s prized recruits, was awesome in his debut — allowing just one hit across two innings (on a catchable ball), while striking out one and walking one.

It was the type of performance on the mound we were all hoping to see.

The bats came alive Sunday, but up to that point, the Frogs did an excellent job taking advantage of 16 walks issued by Wildcat pitchers and some defensive miscues (nine errors), increasing their run total each game before exploding Sunday for ten runs and three home runs. Gene Wood was a pleasant surprise; the Alabama transfer hadn’t hit one out since 2017 and had never had a multi-homer game, but he hit one to each corner Sunday showcasing power to all parts of the ballpark. Second baseman Gray Rodgers was exceptional at the plate as well, collecting six hits in 11 at bats with two doubles and a home run himself, scoring five times and knocking in three. The Frogs went 6-7 on stolen bases and got production from all parts of the lineup — and of the players that struggled at the plate, we have seen enough of Austin Henry and Conner Shepherd to know they’ll bounce back, and Porter Henry is a guy who will absolutely cause opponents problems on the base paths — and he managed to draw three walks despite going 1-11 from the dish.

If there is a cause for concern it’s the defense; expected to be much better in 2020, TCU committed four errors on the weekend, including three by short stop Tommy Sacco. Schloss was high on the juco transfer all offseason, calling him an elite defensive shortstop and the best he’s seen since Keaton Jones. Sacco has a long way to go to get close to one of the Frogs’ all-timers, and hopefully the opening weekend was just a bit nerve-wracking for a player making his DI debut. Sacco has the tools, but with the weight of heavy expectations on him, struggled in his first three games. That being said, I would be shocked if he wasn’t much better next time out.

Kentucky is a middling SEC team at best, so we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves through three games. But the Frogs haven’t swept a season opener in three years, and it’s certainly understandable to be excited about the makeup of this young group. If they stay healthy, they have the pieces at every spot to compete at the top of the conference, and if they can survive what is probably the league’s toughest schedule, they’ll be battle tested for a postseason run. The starting pitching looks promising, the bats are more than good enough, and if the defense delivers... there’s reason to be excited about Frog Ball USA 2020.

Sure, it’s early. But it’s okay to be excited about TCU Baseball again.

You can see them for yourself Tuesday night, when the Horned Frogs face off with ACU at Lupton, with first pitch set for 6:30 PM.