This is a monumental week for the entire TCU baseball team.
And especially for pitcher Brandon Finnegan.
Finnegan will try to help the Horned Frogs reach their second College World Series this weekend against Pepperdine two days after a life-altering moment. He’s expected to be selected in the first round of Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft on Thursday evening.
The left-handed hurler, who was drafted in the 45th round by the Texas Rangers out of Fort Worth Southwest High School in June 2011, is likely to go in the top 20 after a dazzling junior season. He leads the country with an average of 12.02 strikeouts per nine innings.
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A top-20 selection would be worth at least a $2 million signing bonus, according to the sliding scale used by the major leagues.
It’s a heady sum that could distract most 21-year-old college kids. But Finnegan, like his teammates expected to get drafted in later rounds, is keeping the NCAA super regional in his focus.
“There’s a bunch of us who could have that problem, but right now the task at hand is to win the super regional and get to the World Series,” said Finnegan, who is 8-3 with a 2.07 ERA.
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle addressed the draft with his team and reminded the potential draftees that it’s out of their hands at this point.
“I don’t worry about that kind of stuff with Brandon. If he had not been pitching the way he’s been pitching then it might worry me that he feels like he has to legitimize himself,” Schlossnagle said.
“Those kinds of guys, at that level, considering where he’s probably going to be drafted, he’s probably going to be more confident and glad it’s over with.”
Indeed, Finnegan has handled the season well despite the stress of having scouts monitoring every pitch. When he left his April 25 start early with soreness in his throwing shoulder it caught him off guard because he’d never suffered arm pain before.
But it turned out to only be mild inflammation most likely caused, Finnegan said, from sleeping on it wrong. He missed a start out of extreme caution but has shown his familiar overpowering stuff his last two starts.
“If there’s any question after last Friday then honestly, that’s just dumb,” Finnegan said of his 12-strikeout performance in TCU’s 2-1, 11-inning win over Siena in the Fort Worth Regional.
“I wouldn’t be pitching if I was hurt. I’ve told scouts. They should know that. I haven’t had surgery. I’ve shown them that I’m healthy. I’ve done my work.”
Finnegan started the Frogs’ last super regional opener at UCLA in 2012, but he had only a 4-13 career record entering this season after going 0-8 in 2013 despite a respectable 3.14 ERA.
The lack of run support sabotaged his record. Finnegan, however, showed how dominant he can be with a phenomenal run with the USA Collegiate national team last summer.
“I don’t know what more the kid would have to do,” Schlossnagle said. “He was still touching 95 [mph] in the eighth inning [last Friday] and threw all three pitches for strikes and he looked good doing it.”
TCU pitching coach Kirk Saarloos knows what Finnegan is dealing with. He was drafted in the third round by the Houston Astros as a college senior while he was smack in the middle of leading Cal State Fullerton to the 2001 CWS.
Saarloos said Finnegan has handled the situation brilliantly, especially his return to the mound after missing nearly two weeks as a precaution when his shoulder was inflamed.
“He’s been dealing with that kind of pressure the whole year and he’s done an unbelievable job with it,” Saarloos said. “Every single time he went back out on the mound he got better and better. I think that’s a sign that it was basically rust. It was nothing else. When you miss 10 or 12 days from throwing off the mound you’re going to be rusty.”
The rust is gone for Finnegan, who remains locked in with his teammates on earning a trip to Omaha.
“I just need to stay focused on what matters most and what matters most to me right now is going to the World Series,” he said. “Once it’s over I’ll have a lot of stress taken off my shoulders and then I’ll come out and play all the games I have left with all these guys and hopefully win a national championship.”
FINNEGAN BY THE NUMBERS
TCU and former Fort Worth Southwest High School pitcher Brandon Finnegan, 21, is expected to be selected in the first round of Thursday’s major league draft. Here’s a look at his career:
0-8 Record in 2013, despite a 3.14 ERA when he held opponents to three or fewer runs in 12 of his 16 appearances, including nine times when he held opponents to two or fewer runs.
7 Games with 10 or more strikeouts in 2014.
12.02 Strikeouts per 9-inning average this season, which leads the nation.
22 Times in 41 career starts he has held opponents to one run or less.
122 Strikeouts in 2014, eighth most in the nation, despite missing a start.