“All of the seniors got together and decided that’s not how we were going to go out.”
Meeting with the media Thursday, Zach Humphreys made it clear that he, along with seven other TCU Baseball seniors, came back for a “victory lap” for one reason — to win. After seeing a promising 2020 season cut short due to COVID, the Horned Frogs return to the diamond in 2021 on a mission — and with a championship on their minds.
And, according to Jim Schlossnagle, they have the talent to achieve that lofty goal. “We have some athletes on our team that are as athletic of players that I’ve had at TCU in 18 years, as far as pure athleticism, speed, and power potential. That’s the beauty of this team: if somebody’s struggling, it’s not like we are goin to replace a speed guy with somebody that can’t run — we can replace athleticism with athleticism,” he said. But, there’s a caveat to that: “unfortunately so can many of the teams that we play.” With the NCAA granting a free season of eligibility and the MLB Draft cut to just five rounds last summer, many college baseball programs find their rosters stocked with fifth year seniors and more high-level freshman than would generally be available in a “normal” season — but the bountiful cupboards should make for a fun season, and according to Schlossnagle, “college baseball is going to be played at an all-time level, like we have never seen before. Especially the pitching.”
That’s not lost on the players, either, many of whom turned down professional opportunities to finish what they started. For Zach Humphreys, “I knew in the bottom my heart that I was going to come back. It was a fairly easy decision once they gave us that year back.” Star pitcher Haylen Green — and All American in the abbreviated 2020 campaign — had a tougher choice to make. “I had a number — if it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. I had to promise Schloss multiple times that I wasn’t going to take the $20,000 [that clubs offer undrafted players], that I would come back and compete and do something special here.”
But, even for long term contributors like Haylen and Hump, there will be no givens when it comes to PT this spring. Schlossnagle mentioned that as many as three freshmen could start opening weekend, including outfielders Elijah Nunez and Luke Boyers, as well as infielder Brayden Taylor — an unheralded prospect out of Utah that Bill Mosiello discovered and pushed to sign. All three have special athleticism, and Schloss spoke highly of each. Of Nunez, he said “he has a Matt Carpenter-esque command of the strike zone. Once he settles in and gets comfortable, he’s going to be a high on base guy, tough to pitch to. And he can really run.” Boyers, who was a high-level football player in high school, is going to “force his way in there. He’s not the polished player you would normally see at this age because he just hasn’t played as much, but he’s a really physical player that can hit from both sides of the plate.” Taylor might have the best fall bonafides of the bunch, though, as he had more walks than strikeouts against the Frogs’ talented pitching staff in the fall, something that freshmen don’t ever do.
If the season were to start today, the weekend pitching rotation would have some familiar names: Russell Smith and Johnny Ray are back, while sophomore Austin Krob seems primed to slide into one of the three spots. Though each of them have pitched college baseball innings, only Smith has pitched in a Big 12 game, and that was all the way back in 2018. Schloss commented on that fact, saying, “the thing I love about our team is that we are a very unproven team. It’s interesting that we don’ have one player on Big 12 preseason team, but we are picked to finish second in the league in a great conference. It’s an interesting dichotomy of those two things.” The ‘disrespect’ certainly motivates the players, as well, according to Green. “We love it. Whenever that preseason Big 12 Conference team came out, it was something that got sent in our team group message immediately. Our attitude was ‘let’s go boys’. It pumps us up, it motivates us. We like being the team that gets slept on — we had that underdog mindset last year, and it was a lot of fun to go out there and prove ourselves. Looks like we’re going to have to do that again.”
The Frogs will get a very fast opportunity to prove themselves, kicking off their season as part of the State Farm College Baseball Showdown on opening weekend. The tournament features six teams — three each from the SEC and Big 12 — all of whom are ranked in the top ten of the preseason polls. “I think the beauty of playing a great opening series like that — and we’ve done it many times — is I don’t have to say anything to the players about being ready,” Schlossnagle said. Humphreys added, “we’re so excited [to play in a tournament with that kind of field], but it doesn’t change anything. We all know we’ve got really good competition, which creates a sense of urgency. We will know what we’ve got, what we have to get better at; it will be a real test week one, knowing where our team is at.” Humphreys went on to say, “our expectation is not only to get to Omaha but to win it. The potential is very high. We’ve got an old team that’s experienced and talented, a bunch of really good players that are hungry to prove themselves and are playing with a chip on their shoulder.”
Schlossnagle knows that the potential is there. “When we are at our best, it’s going to be exciting baseball.”
The Horned Frogs open their season on Friday, February 19th against Ole Miss. First pitch is scheduled for 3:00 PM at Globe Life Field. Limited single game tickets are available for purchase through the Texas Rangers website.