Gil LeBreton

TCU should be a tough opponent to the very last out

TCU closer Riley Ferrell, right, is expected to close many games for the Horned Frogs this season.
TCU closer Riley Ferrell, right, is expected to close many games for the Horned Frogs this season. Special to the S-T

Want to know how good the TCU baseball team is this season?

Riley Ferrell, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 18 prospect in this year’s major league draft, couldn’t crack the Horned Frogs’ starting rotation.

Didn’t need him.

Nothing against Riley, who’s likely going to again be as dominating as advertised. But as coach Jim Schlossnagle weighed his options, he decided that Ferrell can be more valuable to the Frogs if he remains in his closer role.

Preston Morrison, Tyler Alexander and Alex Young, in that order, will get the three starts this weekend when TCU opens its season against Southern Illinois.

The Frogs are ranked No. 3 in national preseason polls and return 10 of 12 pitchers from the staff that took them to the College World Series a year ago.

In his closer role Ferrell pitched only 45 1/3 innings last season. But they were a breathless 45 1/3. He struck out 70 and recorded 15 saves.

“I think when you have such an incredible talent like that, you have to at least look at it,” Schlossnagle said of the idea of moving Ferrell into the rotation. “So we wanted to look at it. I think professional baseball wanted to see it in some form. And Riley had earned the right to ask that question and look at it, and we did.

“There’s no doubt there are plenty of years, like next year, where he’d have been our Friday night starter.”

Schlossnagle knew, however, that with the talented arms he had returning, there was no need to push the issue. A deal, of sorts, was struck — Riley would have to win the Friday starting role by acclamation, or he would remain in the bullpen, snuffing out opponents’ ninth innings.

Schlossnagle eventually just went with his instincts. He has often contended that the toughest thing in sports are the last three outs of a college baseball game. Clearly, he didn’t want to surrender the peace of mind that Ferrell provides.

With ex-Frogs Brandon Finnegan, Sam Demel, Jake Arrieta, Andrew Cashner and Lance Broadway as big-league examples, it’s hard to argue that Schlossnagle doesn’t know what’s best for his pitching staff.

The Frogs’ schedule, in the meantime, is going to be ambitious. In addition to a tough Big 12 schedule that includes road trips to Texas Tech and Oklahoma, TCU will play a three-game series at Arizona State and pay an ambitious early March visit to Los Angeles to play UCLA, Southern Cal, Loyola-Marymount and reigning national champion Vanderbilt. The Vandy game will be at Dodger Stadium.

Schlossnagle scheduled the Arizona and LA trips two years ago, thinking that it wouldn’t hurt his team’s chances of earning a postseason national seeding. The Frogs cracked that barrier last season — a year early.

TCU has made two trips to the College World Series in Schlossnagle’s 11 seasons. He has noticed the impact that the Omaha berths have made on the Frogs’ recruiting. Newcomer Evan Skoug, who comes from Illinois, is a prime example.

“It’s given us more national exposure,” Schlossnagle said. “We have a commitment from a couple of 2017 graduates, for example, and they’re from the West Coast. I asked them, ‘Why TCU, with all the options that they have right down the street?’

“One of them said, ‘Coach, ever since I watched you guys play on TV in Omaha, all I ever wanted to do was go to TCU.”

The encore season to the Frogs’ latest Omaha trip begins Friday night.

As the preseason polls say, they are expected to be good — from the first out to the Riley Ferrell-secured last.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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