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Monday Morning Manager: Tommy Sacco and a new generation of (old) TCU Baseball stars

The 2021 Horned Frogs might have the best infield defense of the Jim Schlossnagle era, and it’s centered around a bunch of guys who have played a lot of baseball.

Melissa Triebwasser

“No disrespect to the other guy’s we’ve had, Tommy is the best defensive shortstop I’ve had at TCU,. And, outside of a couple of national teams, he’s the best I’ve had in College Baseball.”

That’s high praise from Jim Schlossnagle, who has annually had exceptional middle infielders, led by legendary players like Keaton Jones and Taylor Featherston. “He’s super, super consistent and he’s one of those guys you can gain an appreciation for in just one day of workouts. And then, after a week, you might sit back and say he’s the best player on the team,” Schlossnagle elaborated to Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball after fall practice. In meeting with the media last week, Schloss added, “he started every game last year but not everybody got to see what he’s capable of doing. He’s got an incredible clock for the game, plays shortstop very easily. Just have to keep him healthy and he’s going to have a heck of a season.” Coupled with fourth year junior Gray Rodgers, it’s going to be hard to get many balls past the middle of TCU’s defense, and with Hunter Wolfe back and healthy and expected to man centerfield, this could well be one of, if not the, best defenses of the Jim Schlossnagle era in Fort Worth.

Though it’s hard to put the words COVID-19 and benefit in the same sentence, you can find a silver lining for spring athletes in that they were granted an extra year of eligibility. For baseball players, who saw the MLB Draft cut to just five rounds, this became especially valuable, and many seniors across the sport elected to return for another trip around the collegiate basepaths. This is true at TCU, who returned all eight seniors from 2020 and gets a free year of fourth-year juniors like Rodgers, Sacco, Johnny Ray, Phillip Sikes, and Drew Hill, all players who were juco transfers in their first season with the Frogs last year. Three of them, along with super duper senior Gene Wood, could start on the field this season.

The additional chance to play also gave them an additional chance to prepare, and according to Schloss, many of those athletes got bigger, stronger, and changed their swings, and the at the plate results should be fantastic. That’s high praise, if you consider — that when the 2020 season ended — four players were hitting over .300 and Zach Humphreys wasn’t far behind at .295. Schloss spoke of Rodgers specifically, who was off to a torrid .373//.464/.559 start last year, “he’s been pushed and he’s gotten better”, as well as Gene Wood, who hit .353 with five home runs in 15 games and of whom he said “just in terms of pure swing mechanics, I have had two players at TCU with what I would call perfect swings: right handed it’s Chad Huffman, left handed is Gene Wood. It doesn’t mean that he won’t have bad days, but when he gets a good pitch to hit, his swing is so repeatable, it’s hard not for him to have success.”

With Wood expected to start at first base again, Rodgers at second, Sacco at short, and Conner Shepherd at third, the Frogs’ infield is a veteran group of talented defenders — guys that can play multiple positions, hit the seams off the ball, and will be excellent leaders on the field and in the clubhouse. Also pretty crazy to consider that those four guys could be hitting 2-5 in the lineup of what is expected to be an explosive offense this spring.

Coupling the “new” vets with those that have been around the block in Fort Worth — Zach Humphreys, Shepherd, Austin Henry, and Hunter Wolfe — is the best case scenario for Schloss this season. This is a deep team that can play multiple styles, and can afford to ride the hot hand when needed while having options if a guy needs a day off. It’s another reason that the ceiling is high and so is the floor for the Horned Frogs, and at the heart of their “Omaha or Bust” mentality.