By Jamie Plunkett
Frogs Today staff writer
FORT WORTH — Two weekends into the season TCU baseball sits at 6-1. The Frogs are coming off a sweep of Nebraska at Globe Life Field, and are currently on a five game winning streak.
Seven games is a small sample size, and yet it seems as if we’re beginning to get some answers to the biggest questions surrounding the Diamond Frogs this offseason. In this edition of the Morning Manager (which will henceforth arrive on Mondays, but, you know, announcements and such …) we’ll take a look at the biggest questions surrounding the Frogs in the offseason and examine how close we are to an answer.
Question 1: Who plays first base?
Gene Wood made 40 starts at first base in 2021, while Austin Henry and Conner Shepherd started the other 20. With all three graduating, Saarloos had to find a new body to play next to Gray Rodgers on the left side of the infield.
Enter: David Bishop.
The true freshman leads the Frogs with 13 RBI in seven games started, good for 16th-most in the country. Bishop is a converted shortstop who moved to first base this fall, and it’s becoming clear why Kirk Saarloos was so intent on getting him in the lineup. He’s slashing .385/.455/.538 and is second on the team in hits (10) and total bases (14).
“Coming in as a freshman, you’re skeptical about playing time.” Bishop said after TCU’s win over Stephen F. Austin. “To be a freshman and really have an impact is a true blessing.”
He’s looked the part at first base, too, using the skills and footwork he learned as a shortstop to his advantage.
“I guess I’m a first baseman now.” He said, laughing. “Definitely a lot easier than shortstop I think, but as long as I’m in the batting order, I don’t care where I play.”
Question 2: Who plays left field?
Four faces have seen time in left field this season: Logan Maxwell, Porter Brown, Garrison Berkley, and Sam Thompson. Maxwell has seen the most time with Porter coming in second, but neither are hitting particularly well so far. Maxwell and Brown are a combined 3-25 from the plate. Both looked slightly better over the weekend against Nebraska, and there’s no doubt both are quality defenders.
For Maxwell, a freshman, Saarloos told me being more aggressive could make all the difference.
“You’re never going to get a hit unless you swing the bat.” Saarloos said after TCU’s win on Saturday, noting an earlier conversation he had with Maxwell. “So he got a little bit more aggressive. A lot of times when you’re on an o-fer to start a season you need that little Texas leaguer, that blooper to open the floodgates and I think that’s going to happen for him.”
Meanwhile Brown has improved as a defensive asset in left field, putting it on display Sunday afternoon against Nebraska. Saarloos was complimentary of the sophomore after his performance, noting a play in the eighth inning as an example of Porter’s improvement.
“The ball in the gap on the sacrifice fly,” Saarloos recalled, “Keeping that as a sac fly instead of a double was huge.”
For now, we should expect to see both Maxwell and Porter getting at bats, with Porter likely filling in as designated hitter, until one begins to separate themselves at the plate.
Question 3: Who steps up in the bullpen?
River Ridings has been penciled in as TCU’s 2022 closer since last season, according to Saarloos. “When Haylen [Green] left, for us it was a no-brainer,” Saarloos said of moving Ridings to the closer role. Ridings has three saves in three appearances, although his third save took the scenic route. Even in a bases-loaded situation with the game on the line, Ridings managed to get the final out.
“There’s nobody else we’d rather have pitching in the ninth inning than River,” Saarloos said, “because he can execute pitches when it matters.”
As for the rest of the bullpen, the TCU coaching staff is still working to determine clear roles and responsibilities. Marcelo Perez is being relied on as a late-inning reliever, while Arkansas transfer Caleb Bolden is filling the Charles King “do-it-all” role.
“Those guys are huge for a bullpen,” Saarloos said of pitchers like Bolden. “They can come in in a ton of different situations. I thought [Saturday] was his best stuff he’s shown as a Horned Frog.”
Outside of Ridings, Perez and Bolden, the Frogs are still working on finding consistent arms. Five others Horned Frogs pitchers have made multiple relief appearances this season, combining for 10 runs allowed on 14 hits, in 7 2/3 innings pitched.
Question 4: Can Austin Krob be a true ace?
Krob was a weekend starter in 2021, finishing the season with an 8-1 record in 16 starts as he bounced around in the rotation. Through two starts in 2022 Krob is showing signs of being a true ace. The junior from Lisbon, Iowa, hasn’t allowed a run in 10 innings pitched, while striking out 13 and scattering six hits.
Krob recorded his first win of the season after six strong innings against Nebraska on Friday, and he smiled as he talked about the strength of the starting rotation. “It’s very strong, and that’s what makes it hard,” Krob said.
“I like to say that I’m a good pitcher, but sometimes Riley [Cornelio] is better than me or Cam [Brown] is better than me.”
As good as all three are, along with Brett Walker, Krob is the one who walked out of the fall and early-spring competition with the Friday job.
As good as Krob has been through 2021 and now early 2022, providing consistency at the head of a strong rotation will be the final checkmark to answering this question, but it’s trending in the right direction.
Status: Closing in
Question 5: Who is going to catch?
Washington grad transfer Michael Petrie and sophomore Kurtis Byrne battled for the starting job behind the plate all fall and early spring. Prior to the season, Saarloos noted that they had challenged each other and made each other better, and that they would split things as evenly as 60/40 in favor of Petrie.
Those plans changed in the first game of the season once Petrie exited with a broken wrist. He’s still at least two months away from taking the field again, which has left the job almost completely to Byrne.
“It has been fun to see him settle in and know that that’s his position back there.” Saarloos said after Friday’s win.
Byrne had multiple defensive plays that protected leads for the Frogs, blocking pitches that could have gone to the backstop that instead thumped off his chest plate and landed softly in front of him.
Backing up Byrne now is Bobby Goodloe. In his three years on campus Goodloe has been as utility an infielder as they come, but he’s earned Saarloos’ respect for his willingness to do what the team needs him to do.
“In 2019 when we started the season in Arizona in that MLB4 Tournament, he was our starting third baseman as a freshman.” Saarloos said. “He can play third, he can play short, he can play second, and then we asked him ,’Can you catch?’ ”
“He’s really been putting the work in with John DiLaura and Bill Mosiello in terms of really working back there, and you saw it [Sunday].”
Bonus: Saarloos on base running
TCU had two runners picked off at second base during the weekend series against Nebraska, while several more Frogs ran into outs. TCU has always been aggressive on the bases under the tutelage of Mosiello, the associated head coach, and that comes with a general cost of doing business.
Saarloos said that TCU is still working on being aggressive and smart when it comes to base running.
“If you look at our stolen base numbers over the time that Coach Mo has been here, they’re really, really good and that’s a huge part of our offense.” Saarloos said. “They ran two really good pickoff plays at second base. Are we trying to get out? No, but they did a good job and we weren’t ready for it.
“It’s the cost of doing business sometimes. I think the two pickoff plays, one was alright, the other one I didn’t like, just right after a pitching change and kind of being asleep.
We’re always going to be aggressive. We’re not going to be reckless, but we’re going to be aggressive and sometimes it’s going to look pretty poor to the fans that are at the game, but it’s just part of doing business.”
Up next: TCU takes the field again tonight, when they host UTA at 6 p.m.