TCU has a veteran presence almost everywhere on its baseball team except catcher, but that position is going to get a crash course in experience on Saturday in the alumni game.
Freshman Evan Skoug and Jake Plunkett will get a chance to catch the majority of the game for both sides when the 2015 Horned Frogs take on a team of former players at 1 p.m. Saturday at Lupton Stadium. Admission is free, and batting practice begins at 10:30 a.m. for TCU.
“Catchers play such a big role on your team,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “To me, if I had to pick one thing that everybody’s got to keep an eye on, it’s keeping those guys positive. I’m sure there are going to be days where it’s tough.”
But if Skowg and Plunkett are as advertised, there are going to be days where it’s very good.
Skoug, a powerful right-handed hitter, was the Illinois state player of the year as a high school senior and would have been a first-round pick in the major league draft if he had not convinced teams he was sticking with TCU.
Plunkett, the Star-Telegram high school player of the year last season at Hurst L.D. Bell, was rated the No. 57 catcher nationally last season by rating service Perfect Game.
“Both of those guys are going to play,” Schlossnagle said. “But Skoug’s going to play a big role. If the season started today, he’d catch, hit cleanup or close to it — he’s going to be a huge part of this team. He’s got work to do, like most young catchers, but he’s good enough. Especially if he hits.”
One of the two will likely catch the whole game for the Horned Frogs. The other will catch half or more of the game for the alumni, who are expected to have only Detroit Tigers catcher Bryan Holaday available.
All the innings the freshmen catchers can cram in is fine with Schlossnagle.
“There are days when their talent really shows through, and there are days when their inexperience shows through,” he said. “They’re just going to have to get out there and play.”
But catcher is only one position out of nine. Why does it matter so much to a seemingly well-stocked team like TCU?
“It’s an important position at every level, but it’s really important for us because our pitching staff is so good,” Schlossnagle said. “Some guys are tough to catch. If Riley Ferrell comes in the game in the eighth inning with one out and a runner on third base and we’re up a run, he’s got to be able to throw that 87 mph slider in the dirt, and you’ve got to be able to block it to get a strikeout and keep the guy from being able to score. You have to be able to handle those guys, keep them comfortable. They’re all different.”
Mitchell Traver will start for TCU against the alumni. Next week, when the season opens against Southern Illinois, the Horned Frogs will go with Preston Morrison in Game 1 and Tyler Alexander in Game 2.
But early in the season, one of the storylines will be the catcher position. Kyle Bacak left big shoes to fill for anyone, let alone a couple of freshmen.
But they will get the chance.
“I want both of them to be able to play, because Zack’s real important to us, too,” Schlossnagle said. “We need to develop both of them, because we want both of them to be around. They’re going to play a big role in the success of this team this year.”
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407
TCU baseball alumni game
1 p.m. Saturday, Lupton Stadium