Gil LeBreton

TCU’s Evan Skoug has played mentor role well for Luken Baker

Evan Skoug of TCU, above, has served as the mentor this season for freshman sensation Luken Baker.
Evan Skoug of TCU, above, has served as the mentor this season for freshman sensation Luken Baker. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Sometimes, his roommate reports, TCU’s Luken Baker brings his 0-for-4 day back to the room with him.

Just imagine the plundering and the pillaging.

But scratch that visual, please. Baker, the Horned Frogs’ resident Viking, doesn’t go 0-for-4 all that often. And when he does, he handles it with rare poise for a 19-year-old college freshman.

That’s what his roommate claims, at least, and Evan Skoug should know. Coach Jim Schlossnagle handpicked the sophomore catcher to be Baker’s mentor, his traveling partner on the road, during Baker’s first season.

One guy batted in the clean-up spot for every single game last year, and the other has hit in the clean-up spot every single game this year. Evan knows what Luken is going through.

TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle on Evan Skoug and Luken Baker

“They’re roommates on the road and that was by design,” said Schlossnagle, who always seems to have a battle-tested plan for everything. “We talk about that a lot as a coaching staff before the regular season begins. I wanted those two guys to be around each other, so Evan can walk him through what it’s going to be like.

“One guy batted in the cleanup spot for every single game last year, and the other has hit in the cleanup spot every single game this year. Evan knows what Luken is going through.

“He has to be credited for a lot of Luken’s maturation.”

At 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, Baker is easy to hide behind. Skoug has seized the opportunity, however, and let the presence of college baseball’s Most Conspicuous Freshman turn him into a leader.

In the Schlossnagle system, Skoug went through the same thing himself last season.

I expected to be his roommate, because I was in similar shoes last year, a freshman in the front lines. I just wanted to help him as much as the seniors helped me last year.

Evan Skoug on Luken Baker

As a freshman and starting catcher in 2015, the Libertyville, Ill., native had similar help from Frogs upperclassmen Garrett Crain and Keaton and Cody Jones.

“I expected to be his roommate, because I was in similar shoes last year, a freshman in the front lines,” Skoug said Monday at the Frogs’ workout. “I just wanted to help him as much as the seniors helped me last year. So I took everything I learned from them — Keaton, Cody, Garrett, all those guys —and tried to pass it down to him.”

Star-Telegram columnist Gil Lebreton and staff writer Carlos Mendez give their thoughts on Luken Baker and wonder what they know about Coastal Carolina.

Skoug paused for a second and laughed, as if to realize the hitting beast that Baker has already become.

“It looks like he’s maturing pretty well,” Skoug said. “So I’m not going to take any of the credit for how great a ballplayer he is.”

TCU is blessed. Skoug and Baker, ages 20 and 19, respectively, bat third and fourth in the Frogs’ lineup.

As TCU prepares to play Coastal Carolina on Tuesday at the College World Series, Baker has a .380 batting average and a 1.056 OPS for the season, while Skoug is at .301 and .907. Together, they’ve hit 19 home runs and driven in 111 runs.

What’s fun is we have that whole group back next year. It’s going to be fun to watch that evolve.

Jim Schlossnagle

Both likely would have been selected in the earlier rounds of the MLB Draft after their senior seasons in high school, but elected to go to college.

“What’s fun is we have that whole group back next year,” Schlossnagle said. “It’s going to be fun to watch that evolve.”

As the returning catcher on a College World Series team, Skoug said he felt it was his role to help mature the TCU pitching staff.

“I think my defense has been a lot better than last year,” he said. “I spent a ton of time working on it, because I know that’s what it’s going to take to move on with my career — hopefully, professionally one day. But also it was important to just lead this team to places like this.

“If you have a young staff, I was the one expected to lead the staff. Guys last year like Preston Morrison, Trey Teakell, Riley Ferrell, the veterans, they really helped mold me.”

The results have been plain to see. The two roommates, the sophomore and the freshman, are the bedrock of the Horned Frogs’ lineup.

And those rare 0-for-4 days? (Baker has had three).

“He’s real even keel,” Skoug reported. “But he’s extremely competitive. Same for me. We just hate it and get frustrated.

“But we have the kind of relationship that we can just talk about it for 10 or 15 minutes, make fun of each other, and we move on.”

Just the way the head coach hoped it would be.

The Horned Frogs slugger said he knew someone would reach base ahead of him in the ninth inning Sunday at the College World Series to give him an at-bat. His three-run homer won the opener against Texas Tech.

Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle says Luken Baker, the hero of the College World Series win against Texas Tech, is a mature hitter after 60-plus games.

Jim Schlossnagle says Evan Skoug and Luken Baker are as good as any No. 3 and 4 hitters in the country. But, 'We still need to pitch.'

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