TCU Baseball’s rotation could look a lot different year, as both their Friday and Saturday starters have a good chance to be picked in the first several rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft, held July 11-13th.
Last year, professional baseball held an abbreviated draft due to the COVID-19 pandemic, selecting players across a scant five rounds. This enabled the Frogs to bring in all but one of their high school recruits and keep eight super seniors who came back for one last run at a conference title — something they accomplished — and a College World Series — which they unfortunately fell short of. Though this year’s will not be the full 40+ rounds of years past, professional teams will still have 20 rounds to pluck the most talented prospects from both the high school and collegiate ranks.
Two Horned Frogs can expect to hear their names called in the first 250 selections — fourth year junior Russell Smith and third year freshman (technically!) Austin Krob.
Smith, a 6’9”, left hander, overcame an injury plagued start to his career to become a true ace for TCU, going 7-3 in 15 appearances with a 3.83 ERA and 101 strikeouts against just 20 walks. With a mid-90s fastball, a solid changeup, and a devastating slider, Smith befuddled hitters in 2021 in leading the Frogs to both the regular season and tournament championships. Professional teams are intrigued by his low mileage — though he dealt with injuries again some this season — and his frame: he certainly looks the part of a big league pitcher and has the mental makeup to be successful as a starter or out of the bullpen. D1 Baseball has Smith as their 59th best collegiate prospect, while MLB.com ranks his as the 102nd best available player overall.
Krob was a bit of a surprise in 2021; an All-State performer as both a pitcher and hitter, Krob began his career at Kirkwood Community College with 32 appearances in 2019, but was still treated as a freshman in 2020, making him... still a freshman... due to 2021’s “free” year. But, he has also been — technically — in college for three seasons, making his draft-eligible.
At times TCU’s most unhittable pitcher, Krob went 8-1 across 16 appearances this season, striking out 96 players and posting a 3.81 ERA. He struggled with control at times — as young-ish pitchers do — walking 37 batters, and gave up 13 doubles. But when he was on, he was ON, something we saw as he rose to the occasion in big games against Baylor (one hit allowed across 7.0 innings with nine Ks), Texas (where he all but saved the Frogs’ regular season title), and in the Regional opener against McNeese State, when he set his team up for the weekend with 8.0 innings and 13 strikeouts.
Krob has the juice, and is a very intriguing prospect who throws hard and can hit spots with his changeup and slider. He’s still young when it comes to perfecting his craft as a pitcher, and there’s plenty of room for him to grow at the next level. D1 Baseball has him as the 84th best prospect in college baseball, and MLB has him rounding out the top 250 as #250 amongst draft-eligible players.
Whether one or both of these players will take what is offered remains to be seen; with the abbreviated drafts the last two years, teams are looking to restock their farm systems with talent, but also face financial shortcomings due to shortened schedules, empty ballparks, and the cancellation of last season’s MiLB seasons. I don’t get the impression that either Smith or Krob are in a hurry to leave, but if the price is right — especially for pitcher’s — you have to go get your money while there’s still tread on the tire.
The 2021 MLB First-Year Player Draft will take place over three days from July 11-13 on MLB Network.