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TCU Baseball’s freshmen won’t get to act like first-year guys for long

With two, and possibly three, freshmen looking to crack the starting lineup, the young guys will be asked to step up early.

Melissa Triebwasser

The problem with annually being a top 25 program and recruiting at a high level to maintain that status is, well, it’s really hard to keep your best recruits in the fold through the MLB Draft. With 40+ rounds, Major League Baseball’s amateur talent grab throws money at anyone that can throw 90+ mph or has the word “potential” attached to their resume, making it difficult for collegiate programs — especially private ones at schools that cost $50,000+ annually to attend — to get guys to turn down a quick payday and make a three year commitment to college life instead.

One of the silver linings of the giant dumpster fire of a year that was 2020 was a shortened draft: Jim Schlossnagle and TCU Baseball had to sit with baited breath for a scant five rounds last summer, and not many players were looking to turn tail for $20K and the UDFA life.

That meant that guys like pitchers Cam Brown (#50 rated prospect) and Storm Hierholzer (#84) and Elijah Nunez (top 200 outfielder) and Brayden Taylor (top 200 infielder) made their way to the cushy confines of Lupton Stadium instead of a decrepit bus on the backroads of some no name town in middle America.

This is good news for TCU Baseball, who now faces the problem of mixing a bunch of very much been around the block experienced baseball guys with a bunch of uber-talented upstarts that have never played a collegiate inning — but aren’t willing to let them stop that from busting into the Opening Day lineup.

Schlossnagle has been highlighting two impressive freshmen since fall ball; Nunez and Luke Boyers — the latter a hard-charging former high school football player, of whom, Schloss has said “is going to force his way in there.” Both are elite athletically, running with plus potential, and have preternatural commands of the strike zone despite their youth. Schloss compared Nunez to a “young Matt Carpenter”, saying he has “some Carp-esque feel for the strike zone” and is going to be “tough to pitch to” once he gets comfortable. Boyers is a compact switch hitter at 5’11” and nearly 200 pounds, who runs like a football player in the outfield and on the basepaths. You don’t see many baseball players that seek out contact, but the former safety — who Schlossnagle said could have played in college — seems to do just that, and will be a problem for opponents when he gets on base. “He’s a physical runner, and athlete that hits from both sides of the plate. He’s not as polished as you would normally see, but he’s going to force his way in there.” You can all but pencil in Nunez as the Opening Day left fielder, and don’t be surprised if Boyers is starting at the opposite outfield spot game one as well.

The ball coach has also raved about Taylor, a player that has a chance to be “really good” and can play multiple positions in the infield. He is currently battling with Conner Shepherd for the hot corner, and should get plenty of run in relief of the fifth year senior. Shep is a streaky hitter, and Schlossnagle loves to ride the hot hand, but I have a feel it’s going to be tough to keep Taylor out of the lineup. “He’s something special,” Schlossnagle said. “Braden has a chance to be a really good. He had more walks than strikeouts against our pitching staff in the fall, which is very unusual for a freshman.”

The on the field impact of first year players will be significant, but a few pitchers are also looking to eat up innings despite a plethora of talented arms ahead of them in the experience department. Most notable are the aforementioned Brown and the intriguing Garrett Wright, both of whom certainly look the part.

Keeping Brown through the draft was an utter and absolute victory for TCU; the top 50 prospect was absolutely on pro teams radars throughout his high school career. An All American, Brown committed to the Horned Frogs as a high school freshman and never wavered, even after his name heated up following a junior season in which he went 11-1 with a 1.90 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 84 innings. With four pitches including a fastball that rides up towards the mid-90s, Brown has the makeup to be an inning-eater from day one. Expect to see him out of the bullpen immediately and as a midweek starter as the season wears on.

Wright is a lesser known name but no less talented; the College Station native spurned his local team to don the purple, bringing a power pitcher mentality and stuff that’s good enough to be an elite closer down the line for a program that has a penchant for producing them.

With a loaded roster full of experienced, talented guys, it’s going to be hard for young players to break through. But Schlossnagle is, and has always been, committed to playing the best players, and with COVID and contact tracing, et all, the opportunities will be there for the young guys to shine.