Recruits carry team closer to World Series

Last season ended on a sour note as a walk-off home run by the then-No. 5 Oklahoma State Cowboys sailed over the left field wall and sent the Horned Frogs back home to Fort Worth.

Now, the baseball team has reloaded with the No. 9-ranked recruiting class in the nation, according to Baseball America, and head coach Jim Schlossnagle said this year’s recruiting class speaks to the team’s past success.

“TCU is becoming a more viable choice for the best players in the state and this region,” Schlossnagle said. “Certainly we have a long way to go to get where we want to be in terms of the College World Series and competing for a national championship. Every year we feel like we are taking steps to get closer to that.”

Schlossnagle said he expects some of those players to have major contributions this season.

“From a hitting standpoint, we really think Taylor Featherston will be our starting shortstop,” Schlossnagle said. “(Utility man) Davy Wright and (outfielder) Jason Coats should get pretty significant playing time.”

Featherston, of Katy, was the No. 28-ranked prospect in Texas, according to Baseball America.

Freshmen will also have an impact on the mound, according to Schlossnagle.

“Kyle Winkler, Kaleb Merck, Erik Miller and Walker Kelly, those are four freshman pitchers that will get the ball a lot,” Schlossnagle said.

Winkler, of Sugar Land, is the No. 19-ranked recruit in Texas, according to Baseball America and Inside Prep Baseball. Winkler was also drafted in the 37th round by the Milwaukee Brewers in last season’s MLB draft.

Kelly, of Fort Worth, is the No. 4-ranked recruit in Texas, according to Inside Prep Baseball and was drafted in the 50th round of last season’s MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Both players chose college instead.

Overall, Schlossnagle said he is excited about the team he gets to put on the field this season.

“We got the majority of our offense back from last year,” Schlossnagle said. “I think this team is going to hit for more power, significantly more power than we did last season.”

That experience at the plate will be coupled with a group of young, gifted hurlers, he said.

“We have a lot of freshman, sophomore, junior pitchers with only one senior (Taylor Cragin) on the pitching staff, but we are pretty talented.”

Junior catcher Bryan Holaday said he is excited that the Horned Frogs get to play some stiff non-conference competition.

“I love that we have the opportunity to play some of the top teams in the nation,” Holaday said. “As of right now, we aren’t ranked in the top 25, so I think some of those non-conference schools are going to overlook us and that will definitely give us a chance to boost our standing.”

The No. 30 Horned Frogs will open the season on the road against No. 8 Cal St. Fullerton and they will also travel to face No. 5 Texas A&M University, No. 11 Ole Miss and No. 17 Baylor University. The Horned Frogs will host No. 33 University of Oklahoma and play at home and on the road against No. 46 San Diego State University and No. 51 Dallas Baptist University. All rankings are according to the USA Today poll released Jan. 18.

That tough non-conference schedule is paired with a vastly improved Mountain West Conference schedule, Schlossnagle said.

“It was a tie for first place going into the last weekend at New Mexico (last season),” Schlossnagle said. “San Diego State has a really good team, they have the best pitcher in the country rolling out there on Friday nights with Stephen Strasburg. Their No. 2 lefty (Nate) Solow, he’d be a No. 1 for pretty much every other team in the league.”

Brigham Young University will have the best offense and the Univesity of Nevada, Las Vegas will be improved, he said.

The coach said the MWC is getting closer to being a league that gets two or three bids to the NCAA tournament.

“I like winning conference championships, but I want the league to get to the point where if we don’t win we still have a great chance to get an at-large bid and I think we are moving that way,” Schlossnagle said.

Holaday said he thinks this is the year the team gets to Omaha, the site of the NCAA tournament.

“I think we got a great shot of going to Omaha,” Holaday said. “I think everybody on the team is on board and ready to start the road trip.”