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TCU Baseball vs Kentucky: Preview

Russell Smith’s return to the rotation is huge for the Horned Frogs in 2020. | Melissa Triebwasser

The lights are coming on at Lupton tonight as Frog Ball USA kicks off its 2020 campaign.

The expectations in Fort Worth — at least from a national prospective — are as low as they’ve been in a decade, with DI Baseball predicting a fifth place finish.

After missing the postseason altogether in 2018, and barely scraping into the field a season ago, the Frogs should be a postseason team behind a stacked rotation and a much-improved defense in 2020.

Jim Schlossnagle has said that this might be his deepest pitching staff since arriving in Fort Worth — and that would really be something for a program that has churned out draft picks at an impressive rate. It’s even more impactful when not a single member of the expected weekend rotation has ever started a game in TCU purple.

While its a lineup that doesn’t boast a ton of power, its rife with contact hitters and speed on the bases. This is a group that reminds us, on paper, of the earliest College World Series teams — those blessed with exceptional starting pitching, bullpen depth, a lockdown defense in the infield, and timely hitting. What those teams had though, was experience — something sorely lacking in this version of TCU Baseball. Two of the three opening weekend starters did not play Division I baseball last season; Friday night will see Johnny Ray on the mound, a highly-touted juco transfer who has battled injuries throughout his career, and Sunday will mark Russell Smith’s return from injury after missing all of last season. The Frogs will also roll out a new shortstop and center fielder, neither of whom have played at this level but who are expected to be stalwarts at the position.

The lineup is littered with first time Frogs, but welcomes back some notable young players that ooze potential. How will it all come together? We will find out starting tonight, when the Frogs open their season against the Kentucky Wildcats.

FEBRUARY 14-16 • 7:30 PM ET / 3 PM / 1:30 PM LUPTON STADIUM • FORT WORTH, TEXAS

GAME INFORMATION

Friday, Feb. 14 • 6:30 p.m. Johnny Ray vs. Jimmy Ramsey

Saturday, Feb. 15 • 2 p.m. Charles King vs. Mason Hazelwood

Sunday, Feb. 16 • 12:30 p.m. Russell Smith vs. Dillon Marsh

TCU NOTABLES

  • For the 11th straight season, TCU finds itself in a top-25 poll, ranked as high as No. 20 in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Fab 40.
  • TCU is also ranked No. 28 in the NCBWA poll and receiving votes in the Perfect Game and USA Today Coaches poll.
  • TCU was picked to finish third in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll.
  • The 2019 recruiting class was a consensus Top-5 group that featured four drafted players.
  • TCU welcomes 20 newcomers this season.
  • TCU’s six returning batters combined to hit .289 with 23 home runs and 143 RBIs.
  • TCU returns six pitchers on the mound. They combined to post a 4.07 ERA with 179 strikeouts in 199 2/3 innings pitched with a 17-7 record.
  • Zach Humphreys elected to return to school after getting drafted in the 26th round of the 2019 MLB draft by Milwaukee.
  • Humphreys is four RBIs away from 150 in his career.
  • Conner Shepherd needs just seven hits to reach 100 for his career.
  • HOME NOTABLES
  • TCU will play 29 home games during the 2020 season.
  • TCU is 400-135 all-time at Lupton Stadium.
  • TCU is 379-126 at Lupton Stadium under the guidance of Jim Schlossnagle.
  • TCU has won 20 or more games in 14 of the 17 seasons Lupton Stadium has been in existence.
  • TCU has averaged over 4,000 fans per game in each of the last five seasons.
  • TCU ranked 10th nationally in average attendance in 2019 (4,378).

SEASON OPENER NOTABLES

  • TCU is opening the season at home for the first time since the 2017 campaign.
  • TCU is opening a season at home for the 10th time under the guidance of Jim Schlossnagle.
  • TCU is 10-6 in season-openers under his guidance.
  • TCU is 10-7 all-time in season-openers at Lupton Stadium.

KENTUCKY NOTABLES

  • Kentucky is opening away from home for the 13th consecutive year.
  • The Wildcats are averaging 34 wins per year under 4th-year head coach Nick Mingione.
  • Senior first baseman/designated hitter T.J. Collett was named a preseason All-American by Perfect Game.
  • Collett led the team with 40 RBIs and is the leading home run hitter with 10 a year ago.
  • 2019 leading hitter Coltyn Kessler returns for his junior campaign. He led the squad with a .297 average.
  • Senior Breydon Daniel, the Wildcats top base-stealer with 17, returns in 2020.
  • Junior Mason Hazelwood is the top returning pitcher. He posted a 3.92 ERA in 13 appearances, including nine starts.

SERIES NOTABLES

  • TCU and Kentucky will be meeting for the first time on the diamond.
  • The Wildcats are one of two SEC teams on the 2020 schedule – Vanderbilt (March 8).
  • Kentucky is also one of two new opponents the Horned Frogs will face this season.
  • TCU will take on Stetson in DeLand, Fla. April 17-19.

Source: Frogs of War