No. 1 TCU asking more than ever of its hard-hitting catcher

In two years at TCU that include two trips to the College World Series and a summer with the collegiate national team, there’s very little Evan Skoug has not done.

His coach can only think of one thing.

“He greets me with a big smile and handshake every single day. He’s never done that until this year,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said.

It’s not a complaint. In fact, for Schlossnagle, it’s another sign in the development of the junior catcher from Libertyville, Ill., who has started 114 of 131 games behind the plate since arriving at TCU and now appears poised for his best season yet, but under his most pressure yet.

The hard-hitting catcher is now one of the team’s most experienced players, playing the most active position in the infield, charged with guiding a pitching staff with elite front-end experience but also eight freshmen, among them top prospect Nick Lodolo, for the nation’s No. 1 team.

All while hitting third in the order.

And with a decision about pro baseball looming just as the college postseason arrives.

Skoug has a lot on his plate.

“It is, but that’s what I signed up for,” he said. “That’s what I love to do.”

Skoug has known nothing else at TCU.

“He’s been the core of our team ever since his freshman year, hitting in the middle of the lineup every day,” Schlossnagle said. “The biggest thing for Evan this year is just play — enjoy it. Whatever happens beyond this year, most of it he can’t control. That’s the biggest challenge for all our players in their junior year, to deal with the draft, agents and all the different expectations outside of baseball.”

That’s why Schlossnagle noticed the handshake. He gave Skoug some advice before the catcher left for his stint with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, which took him to Taiwan, Japan and Cuba for games.

“I challenged him before he left,” Schlossnagle said. “When you come back, smile. You’re so serious all the time, which is great. But some people don’t know if they can approach you or not. Smile. Enjoy each day. He’s really done a great job of that.”

Skoug has handled veteran staffs before. In 2015, he was a freshman catching the likes of now-professionals Preston Morrison, Alex Young and Tyler Alexander.

“When I was with him, when I was a senior, he took it all in, from the coaches to other players to past players,” Morrison said. “He took every opportunity that he could to learn and to get better. If there’s a freshman out there that doesn’t know what to do, just look at him, because he’s doing everything the right way.”

Oddly, Skoug has never had anyone at his own position to look up to at TCU. He was the starting catcher for the Frogs from his first day, replacing Kyle Bacak. The only other catcher on the 2015 and 2016 rosters was Zack Plunkett, who also came in with Skoug’s class.

So Skoug has an added duty this year. He will also mentor his possible replacement, freshman Zach Humphreys. Schlossnagle wants to play the second catcher more this year to keep Skoug fresher.

“That doesn’t mean Evan has to come out of the lineup. But he may not catch every single game,” Schlossnagle said. “He has a responsibility to the program to help Zach and help speed up his process to help next year, if Evan is gone.”

Every starting catcher for TCU since Schlossnagle arrived in 2004 has played professional baseball.

Skoug will be next.

“Hopefully, if that opportunity presents itself,” he said.

But he can’t tell you whether it will be in a year or two years.

“If June comes around and my name isn’t called or the situation isn’t right, I’m more than happy to come back here,” he said. “It’s not a do-or-die for me this year. I’m really just focused on having a successful year with my team and soaking in all the memories I can. I try to keep my mind off professional baseball because it’s not the present. It’s the future.”

It appears to be a nice future. Skoug ranks 22nd on Baseball America’s list of top 100 college draft prospects. He hit .263 with two home runs and was second on the team with 11 RBIs in over 15 games as Team USA went 11-7-1 against the teams from Taiwan, Japan and Cuba last summer.

“It was a completely different experience — 11-hour flights, getting up the next day, your body still adjusting, just learning how different cultures play baseball,” he said. “It was kind of a culture shock for five days, then you move on to the next place. I had a blast. It was an awesome experience to play with some of those world-class athletes on my team and from other teams.”

TCU stands to benefit as Skoug applies the lessons to the team’s national championship hopes.

But first things first. As he has learned, and as his coach reminded him last summer, sometimes it’s better just to slow down.

Enjoy each day.

“I don’t want to over-pressure myself,” Skoug said. “We talk all the time about just enjoying the moment, being present for it. And of course, the goal is to win a national championship — that’s what it is every year. But I realize how fast the first two seasons have gone by. So even if I did stay, there’s only two seasons left. So I really just want to enjoy the time I have left. Because you look back on the first two years, there are some great moments that I won’t ever forget.”

And perhaps more to come. And to be enjoyed.

Carlos Mendez: 817-390-7760, @calexmendez

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