February 14, 2013

Tougher neighborhood isn't a worry for TCU baseball

No one probably appreciated the Big 12 preseason baseball rankings more than TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.

No one probably appreciated the Big 12 preseason baseball rankings more than TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle.

He was already on record questioning the legitimacy of many preseason rankings and predictions coming from the college baseball press, most of which had the Horned Frogs a favorite in the Big 12.

Oklahoma earned six of nine first-place votes from the league's coaches and was selected the preseason favorite Monday ahead of TCU (which earned the other three first-place votes), Texas and Baylor. The Frogs know all three programs well, either from consistent regular-season meetings or postseason duels in recent years.

Schlossnagle appreciates the reverence for his program, which he has helped build into a nationally respected power during his 10-year tenure. But moving into the Big 12 from the Mountain West is a daunting task. Just ask the other coaches of TCU's major sports.

And even if Schlossnagle brings a team that has won seven consecutive regular-season MWC titles and is one of only 10 nationally that has advanced to the Super Regionals three of the past four years, he knows winning the Big 12, one of the premier leagues in college baseball, is an altogether different challenge.

"I don't know how we measure up," Schlossnagle said. "I don't think, by any means, we deserve to be ranked ahead of some of those teams simply because we haven't played in the league. It's a little bit embarrassing, honestly, but we'll earn our keep on the field."

TCU, which is ranked No. 14 by Baseball America, finished 40-22 last season after a stunning turnaround in the College Station Regional. The Frogs won four consecutive elimination games after losing their opener to Ole Miss and advanced to play at UCLA in Super Regionals. The Frogs' season ended with a sweep in Los Angeles, but a core nucleus of freshmen, which helped pull off the comeback in College Station, makes up the bulk of 17 returners.

"It's obviously better competition, but it's not who we play, it's how we play," said pitcher Brandon Finnegan, the starter in today's 4 p.m. season opener at No. 13 Ole Miss. "We go at it as it's us versus the game, not us versus Ole Miss, or UT, or any of those guys."

The left-hander, who attended Fort Worth Southwest High School, is one of 10 sophomores, many of whom will step into leading roles. Preseason All-American and fellow sophomore Preston Morrison is due to start Saturday. Finnegan and Morrison started the two Super Regional games at UCLA.

Andrew Mitchell, a junior right-hander who started 16 games a year ago, will be the closer. Infielders Derek Odell, Kevin Cron, Keaton Jones and outfielder/designated hitter Jerrick Suiter -- all sophomores -- provided much of the offensive punch down the stretch last year and will be the team's backbone in 2013. The biggest holes to fill are at catcher, where Josh Elander drove in 43 runs last year, and in the outfield, which must replace long-time staples Jason Coats, Kyle Von Tungeln, and Brance Rivera. Several junior college transfers and freshman prospects will try to fill their shoes, including Cody Jones, a fleet-footed center fielder from Temple College.

Jantzen Witte and Davy Wright are two of the five seniors on the roster, and are the only players remaining from the 2010 College World Series team. Witte said the challenge of the new league changes little about the team's goals.

"The goal is still the same," said Witte, who attended Arlington Martin High School. "It's good for the program, overall, but for me personally, it's not a huge difference."

Stefan Stevenson


Twitter: @FollowtheFrogs

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