TCU baseball head coach Kirk Saarloos has ‘a lot of options’ for weekend rotation spots

TCU relief pitcher Luke Savage tossed two scoreless innings in a 3-2 loss to West Virginia on April 1, 2022. (Photo courtesy of

By Charles Baggarly

The No. 15 TCU Horned Frogs are set to begin their season at Globe Life Field against Vanderbilt, Arkansas and Missouri in the College Baseball Showdown on Feb. 17. With the event rapidly approaching, a question must be raised: which pitchers will earn a weekend rotation or midweek starting spot to start the season?

Head coach Kirk Saarloos, a seven year MLB veteran and the 2022 Big 12 Coach of the Year, said the team has “seven or eight guys for four [starting] spots” and plans on stretching them all out.

“You can always pair them down into the bullpen, but you can’t bring a guy out of the bullpen and try and make him start, so we’re going to have those guys built up for the first weekend,” Saarloos said.

The Frogs’ coaching staff has a tough decision on their hands, as there are plenty of pitchers with the talent, skill and experience to produce a quality start. Although Saarloos did not reveal a rotation, he said there are “a lot of options” and mentioned six players when discussing starting roles: junior right-hander Cam Brown, junior right-hander Luke Savage, junior right-hander Ryan Vanderhei, freshman right-hander Louis Rodriguez, freshman left-hander Chase Hoover and graduate student right-hander Sam Stoutenborough.

Nothing is set in stone, but here are some of the Frogs’ options heading into the first weekend series of the year starting Feb. 17. 

Cam Brown

Cam Brown started the season as a weekend starter in 2022 but was plagued by inconsistency and a lack of control. There’s no question the right-hander has elite stuff with a fastball in the high 90s, but Brown often lacked confidence in his abilities. At times, this affected his control on the mound. As a result, results were inconsistent.

Throughout the season, Brown flashed signs of elite potential, finishing the year with a 4.42 ERA in 53 innings pitched, striking out 49 batters. He also walked 31 and plunked seven.

At the College Station Regional, Brown capped off a shaky season with a legendary performance in an elimination game against Louisiana. In 95 degree heat, Brown threw 114 pitches, giving up zero runs in eight innings to keep the Horned Frogs’ season alive.

Clearly, Brown’s potential is through the roof, and he has the talent to be the Frogs’ top pitcher and even one of the best in the Big 12 Conference. The key has always been confidence, and Saarloos said Brown is “walking around a little bit differently” which is a promising sign. 

“[Brown has] always been [confident] in the weight room,” Saarloos said. “But I’ve seen [confidence] … over here on the baseball field, just the way he carries himself at practice, the way he interacts with his teammates, and then on the mound too. So I’m excited for [Brown]. He’s put a lot of hard work into it, and ultimately, it comes down to putting it in play when we’re playing somebody. But he’s prepared himself in a way where I think that’s going to come out this year for sure.”

Luke Savage

Luke Savage dominated as a relief pitcher in 2022, tallying a 2.72 ERA in 39.2 innings pitched and throwing 19 consecutive innings without giving up an earned run. Savage, a trustworthy arm with the ability to shut down opposing offenses late in ballgames, was the most consistent reliever in the Frogs’ bullpen last season.

Entering his junior year, Savage, a veteran leader, has the opportunity to compete for a starting spot. Since he became a Horned Frog, earning a starting role has been one of Savage’s goals. 

“I feel like a dream as a kid is to always be a starting pitcher,” Savage said. “… To have that opportunity this year, I’m really excited. … I just wanted to lock in to help the team win and put us in a position to make Omaha and win a national championship.”

Saarloos mentioned that a factor in his decision will be the level of experience a player has navigating a college baseball season.  Savage certainly has the experience necessary, pitching 59 innings in his collegiate career. He made 25 appearances in 2022, second on the Frogs’ roster.

Can Savage, one of the conference’s best bullpen arms, transition into being a starter? The Preseason All-Big 12 First Team relief pitcher usually throws in one or two inning stretches, but as a starter, he’d have to endure much longer stints while maintaining results.

Savage threw three innings twice last year, giving up zero earned runs to Army and West Virginia and allowing only three hits in the process. Regardless of Savage’s role, he just wants to “help the team win.” 

“We’re excited to get out there that first weekend and … show the world this is what we’re about,” Savage said. 

Ryan Vanderhei

Ryan Vanderhei, a junior right-hander, transferred to TCU from Kansas, where he pitched 78 innings in 2022. He started 14 ball games, accumulating a 6.46 ERA and giving up 56 earned runs.

Vanderhei tallied 83 strikeouts last season, more than any player on the 2022 TCU roster, and ranked 10th in the Big 12 Conference. He held opposing batters to a .262 average, but struggled in the later half of the year, allowing 5.5 runs per game in his final six starts.

Although Vanderhei had an inconsistent season, he has the potential to make huge strides in 2023 under the guidance of Saarloos. With a fastball reaching the 99 mph mark, his talent and potential is undeniable.

Louis Rodriguez

Although Louis Rodriguez lacks collegiate experience, he has the tools to make an immediate impact for the Horned Frogs. Rodriguez, in 53.6 innings for Orange Lutheran High School in 2022, struck out 70 batters and walked six, acquiring a 1.17 ERA and an 8-1 record in the process.

Rodriguez, the Orange County Pitcher of the Year, showcased his talents in the Purple and White Scrimmage Series, tossing five perfect innings against his Frog teammates. It’s uncertain whether the freshman right-hander will earn a starting spot initially, but keep an eye on him to be productive in any role.

Chase Hoover

Hoover played for San Marcos High School in 2022, leading his squad to back to back league championships. He was named league MVP and Pitcher of the League in back-to-back years while being listed as a first team all-league member.

Hoover finished his high school career with an impressive O.99 ERA and has outstanding potential to succeed at the collegiate level. Out of the six players mentioned, Hoover is the only left-hander, so keep an eye on the Frogs to call his number based on batting matchups.

Sam Stoutenborough

On the first day of practice, Saarloos was sporting a 49ers jersey due to a lost bet with graduate transfer Sam Stoutenborough, an experienced veteran with over 200 innings thrown at California. Stoutenborough, a 6-3 right-hander, finished his time at Cal with a 4.71 ERA, 11 wins and 13 losses.

If experience is what Saarloos is looking for, he won’t find a player with more than Stoutenborough, who has tallied 11 wins and 134 strikeouts in his career.