No. 15 TCU baseball preview: returning upperclassmen bring leadership, valuable experience

TCU third baseman Brayden Taylor goes 2-4 with three RBIS in a 5-4 win over West Virginia on April 2, 2022. (Photo courtesy of

By Charles Baggarly

No. 15 TCU baseball has its sights set on the College World Series and will need leadership and experience from veteran players to put the team in a position to succeed. The Frogs have an influx of young talent but also a group of experienced returners that played pivotal roles in the Big 12 Regular Season Championship run in 2022.

Headlining the group of veterans is junior Brayden Taylor, a third baseman recently named to the Golden Spikes watch list. On top of being in high consideration for the most prestigious individual award in college baseball, Taylor was named a member of D1Baseball’s Preseason All-American First Team and honored as the Big 12 Conference’s Preseason Player of the Year.

“I think [individual accolades are] pretty cool, but nothing is done yet,” Taylor said. “Nothing has been proven yet. We still got to go out there and get to work and get better each day.”

In 2022, Taylor hit .314 and tallied a .454 on base percentage while noticing 13 home runs and driving home 50 runs. Taylor doesn’t have any holes in his game, but he’s still “working on everything.”

“That’s what’s crazy about this game,” Taylor said. “You’re never going to be perfect at any aspect of [baseball].”

Entering his third year as a starter for TCU, Taylor will be looked at as a locker room leader, which he said is a “great opportunity.”

“I can take what I’ve learned as a young guy on the team and take what all those older guys like Zach Humphries, Tommy Sacco and Connor Shephard [taught me],” Taylor said. “Those guys … helped shape me. I’m trying to do what they did and really take some young guys under my wing.”

Right handed pitcher Luke Savage, a Preseason All-Big 12 First Team Member, agreed with Taylor,  adding the Frogs’ coaching staff provides the players with another good example to follow.

“I think it’s been really helpful having people like coach [Kirk] Saarloos [and coach Kyle] Winkler just … showing us the ropes,” Savage said. “… Obviously having guys in the past, you know, Chuck King, Zach Humphries. … It’s been super helpful. … They’ve kind of shown us what it looks like to do it the right way.

Savage said fostering strong relationships on and off the field will take the Frogs “a long way” and that camaraderie makes a noticeable impact.

“I think a big thing we learned last year is [the importance of] getting as close as we can as a team,” Savage said. “I think we did that this fall.”

Even though the Horned Frogs are competing with each other for playing time, Savage said it doesn’t get in the way of the team’s ability to bond.

“Honestly, I don’t think [bonding while competing is] that hard,” Savage said. “I think we all love each other off the field. And so we all want the team to do as well as we can and win a national championship. So being out there and just competing, we’ll make each other better, but there’s no hard feelings or anything like that.”

Breaking down the upperclassmen returners

Taylor and Savage won’t bear the leadership responsibility alone, as the Frogs are returning a handful of upperclassmen with loads of experience: centerfielder Elijah Nunez, catcher Kurtis Byrne, right fielder Luke Boyers and pitchers River Ridings, Cam Brown, Garrett Wright and Savage.

Nunez, returning for his junior year, was named a Preseason All-Big 12 First Team Member. In 2022, the speedy Frog centerfielder ranked 10th in the Big 12 Conference with a .435 on base percentage and third in stolen bases with 31.

Byrne, on the other hand, isn’t known for stealing bases but preventing them from being stolen. Known around Lupton Stadium as “Nails” for his toughness and endurance behind the plate, Byrne has an opportunity to build on a solid sophomore season. With a .291 batting average, Byrne was consistent for the Frogs in 2022, becoming a staple in the starting lineup after multiple injuries at the catcher position.

Another familiar face is Boyers, who started all 60 games in right field last season. He was inconsistent at the plate in 2022, stringing together a five and seven game stretch without a hit. 

Still, Boyers has the ability to turn his offensive production around and is well familiar with navigating a college baseball season. He’ll likely have to compete for playing time with Austin Davis, a transfer right fielder from West Virginia.

On the pitching side of things, Ridings, Brown and Savage finished with a 6.95, 4.42 and 2.72 ERA, respectively. Besides Savage’s endurance as a starter, there aren’t many question marks surrounding his well rounded game.

For Brown and Ridings, however, controlling pitches and pounding the strike zone will be key. In 2022, Ridings walked 17 and plunked five batters in 22 innings while Cam Brown walked 31 and plunked seven in 53 innings. 

Wright, another Big 12 Conference First Team Member, finished the 2022 season as a closer. He dominated in short stints, holding batters to a .174 average in 18.2 innings.

Wright gave up three of his six runs allowed on the year in one bad outing against UTSA on March 30, 2022. He picked up five saves and 27 strikeouts en route to being named an honorable mention for an All-Big 12 team.

Although Ridings and Wright will likely stay in the bullpen, Brown and Savage are competing for weekend rotation spots. Head coach Kirk Saarloos has “a lot of options” to consider before the season starts on Friday at Globe Life Field when the Frogs take on No. 10 Vanderbilt.

Taylor said he’s “pumped up” to get back on the field with his teammates, new and old.

“We’ve grown really close on the field and off the field as a team,” Taylor said. “So now I’m just really excited … [to] get out there and start getting after it with everybody.”