Today, Monday June 8th, is a day we very well could have watched TCU Baseball clinch a trip to the College World Series. Maybe they would have been matched up with Texas A&M at Lupton, or maybe they would have been an underdog on the road. We will never know what might have been in 2020 — the Frogs were 11-4 with Maryland headed to town when the season was halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent cancellation of... well, everything.
But, sports are on the verge of returning at the professional level, and hopes are high that college athletics will follow suit. In fact, Major League Baseball will hold their draft this week beginning Wednesday — though it will be just five rounds and no team has more than seven selections. This change, coupled with the NCAA granting waivers for all spring athletes to grant them an extra year of eligibility, will greatly impact the TCU Baseball program (among others), as we begin to look ahead to fall ball and the 2021 season.
In past years, when teams could make selections 40+ rounds deep, the Frogs might have lost some talent, draft-eligible players in the form of current players and incoming recruits. With around 160 players set to be selected this week, Jim Schlossnagle will have a much deeper roster the next time he writes a lineup card at Lupton. Draft-eligible players like Johnny Ray, Russell Smith, and Drew Hill would have likely had their name called and enough money to make leaving tempting, while seniors would have been out of service years regardless, meaning Zach Humphreys, Charles King, Haylen Green, Austin Henry, Hunter Wolfe, Conner Shepherd, Gene Wood, and Dalton Brown would have played their last games in purple. Instead, it’s like Ray, Smith, and Hill will be back to anchor the pitching — though Ray is ranked #164 in the prospect pool — and Humphreys, Wood, Brown, and Shepherd have all announced their intent to return for one more season. Additionally, Green and King were vocal proponents of granting an extra year of play for spring athletes, and thus expected to return as well. For what it’s worth, all of the previously listed, along with Henry and Wolfe, are listed on the active TCU roster at this time. Caleb Sloan has announced his intent to transfer after missing the last two seasons due to injury, but did participate in the CSBI Tournament last week and looked like his old self.
As far as incoming recruits, the Frogs have 18 commitments in the class of 2020. Two of those players are ranked in the Top 200 of draft-eligible players — pitchers Cam Brown (#61) and Carter Baumler (#102), and could take the opportunity to go pro, especially with 17 pitchers already on the current roster. It’s doubtful all 18 commits make it to campus in the fall — with 32 players on the current roster, that’s just not reasonable. NCAA rules concerning roster size have been as follows: a strict 35-player roster, consisting of a maximum of 27 scholarship players and eight walk-ons. There are only 11.7 scholarships to be divided amongst those 27 players, and no single player can receive more than 25% of tuition from that fund. For context, TCU’s 2020-2021 tuition is $51,660, meaning that the maximum athletic scholarship for any one player is less than $13,000 —- something that will certainly impact the decision-making of current and future students (of course there are other ways to supplement costs). For 2021, returning seniors will not be counted against the roster limit, which means TCU’s could expand to as many as 43 players if all eight seniors elected to exercise their right to an additional year of eligibility.
Even if all three of the Frogs top MLB prospects get drafted and head to greener pastures, TCU is still looking at a ridiculously deep roster in 2021. Theoretically, the entire weekend rotation could return (Ray, King, and Smith) along with a fully stocked bullpen and one of the best relievers in all of college baseball in Green. The Frogs will also return every key started on the infield and outfield and will have outstanding depth at catcher with Humphreys and Kurtis Byrne. Four of the top five hitters, with only Wolfe being a question mark at this point, come back, including Wood and Gray Rodgers, who was off to a torrid start in 2020. Young players like Sam Thompson and Booby Goodloe, who had big moments before the shutdown, will compete for starting jobs as well.
Of course, all of this depth could have a downside, and we could see additional players enter the transfer portal to look for more playing time. But, in the meantime, we will watch the draft closely to see the impact on TCU’s roster, while we anxiously await the return of baseball in the fall.