Monday, June 6, 2011

Damn you, Giants

First they beat the Rangers in the World Series, now this. With the 49th overall pick in this year's MLB Draft, the San Francisco Giants used their supplemental 1st Round pick on TCU signee Kyle Crick, the 6'4", 220lb right-handed pitcher from Sherman. Yes, TCU was able to get Matt Purke to turn down 1st round money two years ago- but I wouldn't bet on lightning striking twice. Speaking of Purke, though, he and Winkler both slipped out of Day 1 of the draft- so stay tuned...

MLB Draft starts tonight

It seems like we had to wait forever between the end of the football season to see where our favorite TCU players would be drafted. In baseball? One day. The 2011 MLB Draft starts tonight with the 1st Round and continues rounds 2-30 on Tuesday and 31-50 on Wednesday. That may sound like way too many rounds, but be honest- if they had that many in football, you know you'd still watch.

While our focus on the NFL Draft is generally on the TCU seniors in the draft pool, in baseball it's all about the juniors, the incoming freshmen and JUCO transfers. We'll still be excited to see if & when the five seniors on the TCU roster (Steven Maxwell, Jerome Pena, Trent Appleby, Jimmie Pharr and Joe Weik) are drafted, but we'll be more interested in the draft status of the guys who could potentially suit up for the Frogs in 2012.

First and foremost on the minds of all TCU fans ought to be the two guys that, going into the season, we figured there was about a 0% of retaining after this year. Kyle Winkler and Matt Purke (due to his birthdate, Purke is a draft-eligible sophomore) were both projected as first-round picks at some point before and/or during this season. Purke missed a few starts with an arm injury and at times did not have the same velocity he had as a freshman. Winkler pitched brilliantly most of the year but missed a few starts late in the season for "rest" and then pulled himself from Saturday night's game early with an arm injury and was seen in the dugout in a sling and ice on his arm. Needless to say, this isn't rocketing either of them up any draft boards. It's impossible to say how far they'll fall in the draft and how much money they'll end up being offered, but I'd say they've both moved from zero chance of returning to very, very slim chances of returning.

Beyond those two, also keep an eye on some of the other juniors. Most likely to be picked high enough to leave are Jason Coats and Taylor Featherston. Both have some things to improve on if they want to succeed in pro baseball (Coats: hitting the curve, Featherston: throwing to first), but they might choose to work on those while getting paid. Brance Rivera is the only other guy I can see leaving, but you never know- there are a lot of rounds in the draft and you never know these players' personal and family financial situations.

Then there are the guys who have signed letters of intent to play at TCU, who the coaching staff will just have to hope can resist the signing bonus money offered by the teams that draft them. One of the top names to watch in this category is Kevin Cron, a 6'4", 225lb power-hitting catcher from Arizona who is expected to be drafted somewhere in the early rounds. But he is reportedly a good student (3.96 GPA) and his older brother C.J. just finished a solid career at Utah, so perhaps he has a strong desire to play in college? It's also worth nothing that his Dad is the manager of the Tigers' AA affiliate in Erie, Pennyslvania- where he coaches former Horned Frog catcher Bryan Holaday. The other main incoming player to watch in this draft is Kyle Crick, a 6'3" right-handed pitcher from Sherman who is also expected to be taken off the board early. I assume we can count on Waymon James to help sway him to stick with TCU?

A few other incoming freshmen to keep an eye on are Travis Evans, a left-handed pitcher from Round Rock, Braden Mattson, a catcher-first baseman from San Antonio, Harris Rome, an outfielder from Houston and Jerrick Suiter, a right-handed pitcher from Indiana.

Of course, simply seeing where some of these players are drafted won't cement their status as stay-or-go guys. As I mentioned earlier, all of them have different financial situations, different outlooks on education and might be more or less aggressively pursued by the management of the clubs that draft them. We won't know until August which ones will be Horned Frogs next spring, but the "re-recruitment" process in the summer will without a doubt have a major impact on next season.

Well, bummer...

It all looked like it was finally all coming together for TCU on Saturday afternoon. Oklahoma, the teamed labeled as the one to fear at the Fort Worth Regional, had inexplicably gone 0-2 and was the first team eliminated. Freshman Andrew Mitchell had given one of his best pitching performances of the season in the Frogs' victory the night before, meaning Jim Schlossnagle still had nearly his full stable of pitchers available to take down Oral Roberts and Dallas Baptist.

But then DBU's Jared Stafford out-pitched Matt Purke on Saturday night and the Patriots escaped with a 3-2 win, sending the Frogs into the loser's bracket. The original pitching strategy for the potential double-header on Sunday was for Kyle Winkler to pitch the afternoon game against ORU and then Erik Miller the nightcap against DBU. That plan was torpedoed, though, when Winkler left the game with an apparent arm injury in the 1st inning and Miller was put on the mound hours before he or the coaching staffed were mentally prepared for him to be. An innefective "start" by Miller led to Schlossnagle having to rely on his bullpen to hold ORU at-bay while the Horned Frog bats attempted to mount a comeback. It wasn't to be, though, as the 2011 TCU baseball season ended with an 8-3 loss on their home field.

So what happened? A year after the program's magical first trip to Omaha, they were ranked #1 in some preseason polls and returned three ace pitchers and a solid batting order. This was supposed to be the year that the Frogs would return to the College World Series and, shedding the Cinderella label they wore there last year, win the whole thing. Instead, their season is over- leaving TCU fans with an 88-day wait until football season.

For one thing, the bats just never quite showed up like they did a year ago. The team's batting average dropped from .334 in 2010 to .306 in 2011, and last year's squad had six regulars that had a higher average than this year's leader (Taylor Featherston at .335). The power numbers dropped off from 101 home runs last year to just 50 this year, and the team scored almost 2 entire runs less per game in 2011 than they did a year ago. But with the new bats this year, an offensive drop-off was to be expected with any team in the country.

The big difference this year was, like you've heard Ron Washington stress time after time, pitching and defense. This year's schedule was littered with losses to inferior teams in which TCU committed multiple errors that led directly to runs for the opposition. As a team, the Frogs committed 84 total errors (in 62 games) this year- after committing 78 (in 68 games) last year. I hate to point fingers, so I won't name names- but more than 30% of those 84 errors came from the same pivotal defensive position.

Pitching-wise, this year's team was actually a little better than last year's, statistically speaking. The team ERA fell from 3.55 in '10 to 3.20 this year, and the opponent's batting average from .252 to .240. The problem, though, was keeping the staff healthy. Kaleb Merck was sidelined for the year before the season even started, leaving closer duties to Erik Miller, who struggled in that role early in the year. All three of the premiere starting pitchers- Kyle Winkler, Matt Purke and Steven Maxwell- missed time late in the season, and Maxwell and Winkler (aside from the 2/3 inning he pitched Saturday) were absent for the Regionals.

So was this season a disappointment? Yes, and I think those within the program would be the first to tell you that. This team simply did not live up to it's potential. But if you're the type of fan who reacts angrily to a team not meeting your expectations (I know you're out there), I think you do have to consider the severe degree to which the injury bug bit this year's squad. I'm not sure there's a team out there that could survive going into the postseason with essentially three and a half of your top four pitchers out (Purke was on a very limited pitch count) as well as one of your top defenders and most clutch hitters (Aaron Schultz). I hate to make excuses for them, because they still had opportunities to win that they didn't come up with, but they did face pretty tall odds to replicate last year's success.

Morning Dump

Pitching woes doom TCU Star-Telegram

TCU pitching trio face draft uncertainty

Elder grand slam moves Oral Roberts past TCU

Cal eliminates Rice
-Just a little salt for the wound, we would have hosted the Super