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TCU Baseball Preview: The Bullpen

The Horned Frogs’ pitching staff is as deep as any in college baseball.

TCU Baseball vs Kansas State (March 23, 2018)
Augie Mihlbauer was a star in 2018, and after a strong fall, could regain his role as a shutdown reliever out of the pen this spring.
Melissa Triebwasser

TCU Baseball expects to open their season Saturday — a day later than originally scheduled thanks to an unprecedented winter storm in Texas — and as Drew Davison of the Star Telegram reported Thursday, Johnny Ray will get the Opening Day nod on the bump for a second consecutive season.

We have talked about Ray and the weekend rotation already in our previews; Johnny will face off with Ole Miss Saturday, with Austin Krob and Russell Smith expected to round out the weekend. Jacob Meador, Drew Hill, and Riley Cornelio could vy for the week day role and slide into the rotation in a pinch. We also detailed the roles that Charles King and Haylen Green could play this spring: ie, all of them, as we talked about the four players on the roster to have spent their entire careers in Fort Worth.

Now, we delve into the bullpen, the part of the roster that might ultimately set the Frogs apart from the rest of the contenders trying to get to Omaha this summer.

Though the starting lineup is as good as any in college baseball, the bullpen might be even better: in addition to King and Green, there are at least seven other guys with collegiate experience. Led by Augie Mihlbauer and Marcelo Perez, two players that have proven themselves in big spots in college baseball, Jim Schlossnagle and Kirk Saarloos have a bevy of pitchers available that can fill a variety of roles in relief.

Let’s start with the end — there are several players that will be competing for the role of closer, led by the sophomore Perez, who is heading into just his second full season as a Frog. Though the long-term plan for Marcelo may well be to convert him into a weekend starter, he was so good out of the pen as a true freshman that it’s hard not to keep him in a shut down role as a reliever. He leads all active players with five saves, all in 2019, and has a career 3.99 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 29.1 innings. He is vulnerable to some wildness — he’s allowed five home runs and six doubles — but with a fastball that can drive up to 97 mph and a nice compliment in a slider that can be wicked, Perez is a true weapon at the back end. If he continues to evolve, he has the potential to be great in the eighth and ninth innings.

Another young player with high potential is junior Augie Mihlbauer; the lefty out of Wisconsin threw 22.2 innings as a freshman and 23 as a sophomore, but was injured before the 2020 season began and was shelved for much of last year. But after a strong fall, he’s ready to continue his growth as a reliever, and after leading the team with 28 appearances in 2019, he could do so once again in 2021.

Other contenders to close include freshmen Garrett Wright and Cam Brown, both of who are big, strong youngsters with mid-90s fastballs that can ride up to 97/98 mph when they’re clicking on all cylinders. Schlossnagle has spoken highly of both players, throwing around comparisons to Jake Arrieta, Durbin Feltman, and Riley Ferrell. If either or both of them get close to that level, the Frogs are in great shape for the next 3-4 roles.

Critical pieces include the biggest unknown of the bunch: LSU transfer John Kodros. After sitting in 2019 due to transfer rules, the 6’4” lefty out of Coppell made just one appearance in 2020 but after some work on his mechanics is throwing harder and faster and most importantly, more in control. Harrison Beethe is another highly-touted guy who was incredibly impressive in six appearances last spring: 1.50 ERA, five strikeouts in six innings, and a save. The 6’5” Fort Worth native could be an excellent middle reliever this spring. Riley Cornelio has proven himself in very limited chances: though he has just 10 innings under his belt at the collegiate level, he has three starts, a 0.85 ERA, and six strikeouts. His eight walks as a freshman were concerning, but he has a knack for pitching himself out of trouble and his command should be better after an offseason and fall of work.

We can’t forget about Drew Hill and Dalton Brown; Hill made seven appearances in the 15 game schedule, striking out 14, allowing just six hits, and holding down a 1.32 ERA in 13.2 innings. Brown is as experienced as they come; having arrived at TCU in the fall of 2015, he has dealt with injuries throughout his career, but if healthy, is a calming presence and mentor for a young staff. He has 50 strikeouts in 37.1 career innings pitched.

With COVID-19 protocols still in place, contract tracing makes depth even more of a necessity than ever. The Frogs have that in spades, and the flexibility of the guys in the ‘pen might be their saving grace.

We get to see just how good they can be Saturday, when the season opens at Globe Life Field in Arlington, when the Horned Frogs face off with Ole Miss in their season-opener as part of the College Baseball Showdown.