‘It’s time to get back there’: No. 15 TCU baseball’s sights set on College World Series


TCU third baseman Brayden Taylor doubles in a 8-4 loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament on May 27, 2022. (Photo courtesy of GoFrogs.com)

By Charles Baggarly

TCU baseball hasn’t made it to Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College World Series, since 2017. Reaching the grandest stage of college baseball is the goal of every program, and it’s incredibly hard to accomplish, even with an abundance of elite prospects.

The Frogs made four straight College World Series appearances from 2014 to 2017, establishing themselves as a blue-blood program. After two subpar years in 2018 and 2019, and following a season cut short due to COVID-19 in 2020, the Horned Frogs dominated the Big 12 Conference, winning back-to-back Big 12 Regular Season Championships. 

Although the Frogs found recent success in the Big 12 Conference, they failed to make it past the regional stage of the NCAA Baseball Championship. 

On the opening day of Spring practice, second-year head coach Kirk Saarloos, the 2022 Big 12 Coach of the Year, looked over towards the College World Series banners hanging on the left field fence of Lupton Stadium.

“[The banners] stare at us every day,” Saarloos said. “It’s time to get back there.”

High expectations and ambitious goals

The Frogs were eliminated from the College Station Regional in 2022 by Texas A&M and former head coach Jim Schlossnagle, who led the Aggies to the semi-final of the College World Series. Seven months later, the Frogs are set to begin the 2023 campaign, and expectations are high.

Although talented players such as shortstop Tommy Sacco and starting pitcher Riley Cornelio left for the MLB draft, the Frogs reloaded and brought in D1Baseball’s No. 8 transfer class and No. 6 Freshman class. The Frogs also have an experienced group of veterans including centerfielder Elijah Nunez, a 2023 Big 12 Preseason First Team member, and third baseman Brayden Taylor, the 2023 Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year.

The preseason rankings reflected the offseason success, as the Horned Frogs are ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 Preseason poll and No. 15 in D1Baseball’s Preseason top 25. Taylor, entering his junior season, said “rankings are just numbers”, adding that every team needs to prove its worth on the field.

“I mean, you can be ranked number one, and you can finish last,” Taylor said. “You can be ranked last and finish number one.”

Taylor, a Preseason All-American First Team member, was straightforward with his goals for the season.

“Win a national championship,” said Taylor. “That simple. It’s the goal of the team. I think we have the stuff to do it.”

Righthanded pitcher Luke Savage, also on the Preseason All-Big 12 First Team, shared the same sentiment with Taylor, saying the team “doesn’t listen to the outside noise” and is playing to win championships.

“I mean, our goal is obviously to win the Big 12, but that’s just a stepping stone in what we want to do,” Savage said. “We want to go to Omaha and we want to win a national championship.”

A grueling non-conference schedule

To be the best, you have to beat the best, especially considering how facing quality opponents affects RPI, a metric that ranks teams based on record and strength of schedule. Saarloos ensured the Frogs would face elite programs, booking games against No. 10 Vanderbilt, No. 8 Arkansas and Missouri at Globe Life Field to start the season.

“Yeah, sometimes I question myself in terms of the scheduling,” Saarloos said. “But I think there’s two schools of thought: do you get ready for a tough conference by playing games that you feel like you should win? Or do you get ready for your tough conference by playing really good opponents? And I think the best way to do that is … to play good opponents.”

Saarloos said the team will find out what they are capable of “real quick” and that achieving long-term goals will come down to taking “care of what’s in front of you today.” He mentioned wanting to take on a challenge rather than playing games the team is expected to win without an issue.

“I think ultimately it comes down to being ready for [the Big 12 Conference],” Saarloos said. “You know, it’s gonna be another good year in terms of the teams in our conference.”

Before Big 12 Conference play, TCU will have weekend series against Florida State, a three-seed in the 2022 Austin Regional, and San Diego, a three-seed in the 2022 Corvallis Regional. The Frogs will also head to Minute Maid Park in Houston to face Michigan, Louisville and Rice.

Taylor said he’s “very excited” to face challenging, out-of-conference opponents throughout the season.

“Every team we’re going to be playing, they’re going to throw their best at us,” said Taylor. “And so we have to be on every game we play. So it’s going to be fun.”

The path to Omaha: What has to happen?

Even with the talent needed to reach the College World Series, making it there is far easier said than done. What needs to happen for the Frogs to reach their hefty goals?

“Score more runs than the other team,” Saarloos joked. “No, … [we’ve] got to worry about ourselves.”

Saarloos shared a metaphor representing the team’s mentality, saying you can use a telescope to see long-term goals and a microscope to focus on the present. To attempt to build a championship-caliber team, the Frogs will use a microscope to improve on all aspects of the game on a day-to-day basis. 

“[We’ve] got to think about today, and then the next day,” Saarloos said. “And then just keep stacking those good days on top of good days.”

The Horned Frogs’ season starts on Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. in a top-15 matchup against No. 10 Vanderbilt at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. Right out of the gates, the Frogs will test their ability to compete with top teams and fight to build a strong resume for the NCAA Championship Tournament.