No. 15 TCU baseball has tools to increase power, hit more home runs

David Bishop drives in five runs off three hits, including the first home run of the season for the Frogs, as they beat SFA 11-1. (Photo courtesy of go

By Charles Baggarly

TCU hit 62 home runs in 2022, less than half of Texas ’ Big 12 Conference leading home run total of 128. The Frogs have ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 home run rankings since 2019, but there’s reason to believe that could change.

With new additions and experienced returners in a fresh starting lineup, TCU will have a drastically different look offensively, especially considering the addition of associate head coach TJ Bruce. According to TCU head coach Kirk Saarloos, the new lineup will have “a little bit of everything.”

“I think one swing and a couple runs is a lot easier than having to see a bunch of bases and collecting a bunch of base hits,” Saarloos said. “So I think that’s the fun part about our lineup.”

The Horned Frogs’ leading home run hitter in 2022, Tommy Sacco, was drafted by the Houston Astros. Although losing Sacco’s bat is a tough loss, there are plenty of players with the tools to launch baseballs over the outfield fence at Lupton Baseball Stadium.

The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, third baseman Brayden Taylor, hit 13 home runs in 2022, one away from Sacco’s team high of 14. At this point, it’s clear what Taylor brings to the table: an elite mix of power, patience and base hitting ability.

“Obviously, Brayden is Brayden,” Saarloos said when discussing players set to hit for power.

Another player Saarloos mentioned was catcher Kurtis Byrne,  who hit five home runs in 2022. He mentioned that Byrne may increase his power, given he’s a year older and has more experience.

“I think [Byrne is] going to tap into [the power] a little bit more,” Saarloos said.

Byrne, known around Lupton Baseball Stadium as Nails due to toughness behind the plate, has a 6-2, 220 pound frame. In a weeklong stretch playing for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod Baseball League, a premier collegiate summer league, Byrne hit three home runs, tallied nine RBIs and hit .529; the hot streak earned Byrne a Player of the Week Award.

Sophomore first baseman David Bishop also has the talent to be the Frogs’ leading home run hitter. To end 2022, however, Bishop struggled, tallying six base hits in his last 40 at bats.

To Saarloos, Bishop’s power and success as a hitter revolves around his pitch selection. The Frog first baseman struck out 45 times last season, often looking at called third strikes.

“If [Bishop] swings at strikes and takes the balls he’s going to have a successful season,” Saarloos said. “I think that’s the main thing within him.”

Selection at the plate tends to improve with experience and Bishop has more than the average sophomore with 56 games under his belt. If he can implement further improved pitch selection, he’ll be a valuable big bat.

Saarloos said Bishop has gotten “more physical” and has added 20 pounds of mass, which is especially impressive considering he gained significant weight before his freshman season.

“The wind was blowing out … and [Bishop is] hitting balls pretty much onto Bellaire to the opposite field.,” Saarloos said. “With right-handers, you don’t really see a ton of that.”

A possible new addition to the lineup is infielder Cole Fontenelle, who has a massive swing. The switch hitter showcased power at McLennan Community College in 2022, hitting 15 home runs.

“We recruited Cole Fontanelle as a switch hitter that, in my opinion, can really change the dynamic of this lineup because he can run into baseball’s from both sides of the plate,” Saarloos said.

Even though the Frogs have increased power, don’t underestimate their ability to score by extending innings. Outfielders Elijah Nunez and Austin Davis finished the 2022 season with a .435 and a .402 on base percentage, respectively. Of course, there’s also Taylor, who notched a .454 on base percentage, fifth in the Big 12 Conference.

Certainly, the top of the lineup will include Horned Frogs who are effective at contact hitting. If the middle of the order can take pressure off Taylor by contributing more in the power department, TCU’s lineup will be more dangerous than it has been the last few seasons.

Of course, the Frogs need to execute. On Friday, head coach Kirk Saarloos and Co. will debut a new look lineup at Globe Life Field against No. 10 Vanderbilt. The first pitch is slated for 3 p.m. CT.