2015 Fort Worth Super Regional Preview
HOW TEXAS A&M GOT HERE: No team in college baseball got off to a better start than the Aggies, who won 24 straight games to begin the season before dropping the series finale to Alabama. The Aggies didn’t finish the regular season on a very high note, but still put together a strong campaign and won the College Station Regional in thrilling fashion last weekend.
HOW TCU GOT HERE: The Horned Frogs, much like the Aggies, were very consistent this season. They made a statement early in the season by heading to the West Coast and capturing wins over Vanderbilt and UCLA before storming through Big 12 play in impressive fashion. The Horned Frogs won the Fort Worth Regional last weekend with one of the crazier comebacks in postseason history over NC State, and look forward to hosting the Aggies this weekend.
WHO HAS THE EDGE?
Starting pitching: The Horned Frogs, with pitching coach Kirk Saarloos leading the charge, have developed one of the nation’s elite pitching staffs and in particular, starting rotations. The Frogs have a studly three-man rotation of lefthanders Tyler Alexander (2.68, 87.1) and Alex Young (2.39, 83), while veteran righthander Preston Morrison (2.60, 103.2), the righthanded Michael Roth, is one of the more interesting pitchers in college baseball with very good command of the strike zone and sheer dominance despite his oftentimes mid-80s fastball, though, Morrison has touched 88 on the radar gun at times this spring. Alexander is another 89-92 type of arm for the Frogs with good secondary stuff and peppers the zone, while Alex Young has a huge arm and big-time potential. A&M will counter with the three-man rotation of righthander Grayson Long (2.53, 92.2) and lefties Matt Kent (2.99, 90.1) and Tyler Stubblefield (5.14, 7). Long will sit anywhere from 89-92 mph with his fastball and possesses a quality slider, while Kent has a strong fastball/curveball/changeup combination and Stubblefield flashed a good changeup in a tough test against California last weekend.
THE EDGE: TCU
Bullpen: The Frogs have one of the nation’s deepest pitching staffs, so they get the advantage in this category, too, but A&M is starting to find its way from a relief pitching standpoint. The Frogs have gotten some terrific innings from Trey Teakell (1.49, 42.1) this season, while Brian Trieglaff (2.81, 25.2), Preston Guilllory (0.00, 23) and Riley Ferrell (2.22, 14 saves, 28.1) are solid arms, too. Ferrell has a mid-90s fastball to go with a mid-80s slider, but Ferrell hopes to rebound from a poor showing against NC State last weekend. When Ferrell is on, however, he’s been outstanding with clearly explosive stuff. The Aggies have had some tumultuous moments in the bullpen this spring, but normalcy finally looks to be back after a great showing in the College Station Regional. Righthanders Andrew Vinson and Ryan Hendrix are quality arms, while Kyle Simonds and Mark Ecker are other good options. Vinson has an impressive fastball/slider combination, while Hendrix has a 90-95 mph fastball to go with a nasty low-80s curveball.
THE EDGE: TCU
Offense: The most distinct advantage in this series is the A&M offense vs. TCU’s offense. The Horned Frogs are an opportunistic unit that is much better than people give them credit for, but A&M has the potential to put up big numbers in a hurry. Hitting over .300 even with last weekend’s iffy performance in regional action, the Aggies have one of the more underrated hitters in the country in Mitchell Nau (.377/4/46), while Nick Banks (.366/7/47) is an elite hitter and Logan Taylor (.344/10/50) is a significant power threat. Though first baseman Hunter Melton has plenty of swing and miss action, he also has 10 homers on the year, while most would agree this offense goes the way of one and two-hole hitters Blake Allemand (.338/7/38) and Ryne Birk (.289/10/35). For the Frogs, leading hitter Cody Jones (.378/5/32) is a good athlete and is very exciting to watch, especially once he gets on the bases with his stealing abilities, while Nolan Brown (.325/1/28) and Connor Wanhanen (.321/0/34) are both quality hitters and Derek Odell, who has just a .288 batting average, is very capable of having a huge weekend against the Aggies. Also watch for freshman catcher Evan Skoug (.282/7/43). He reminds me of a younger Bryan Holaday from a physical standpoint and has some real pop in his bat.
THE EDGE: Texas A&M
Defense: It’s difficult to get a strong read on teams from a defensive standpoint this time of year, but the Horned Frogs get the edge in this department, thanks to their infield defense. Shortstop Keaton Jones is very smooth at his position, and he and second baseman Garrett Crain make a very good tandem. Evan Skoug is hard-nosed behind the plate and Derek Odell is a quality defender over at third base. And then there’s speedy Cody Jones, who occupied center field for the Frogs. This is overall a very impressive unit. For the Aggies, it’s hard to know which team shows up this weekend. A&M has struggled defensively much of the year, but had just three errors in five games last weekend. The big key for A&M is shortstop Blake Allemand and second baseman Ryne Birk having good weekends in the field, while outfielders Nick Banks and Logan Taylor each possess huge arms in the outfield.
THE EDGE: TCU
Experience/Intangibles: This is a very interesting series from an experience and intangibles standpoint, as both teams have some veterans in some very key roles entering the weekend. While TCU showed all of us a lot last weekend by, even with NC State’s help, coming back to beat the Wolfpack to win the Fort Worth Regional, the Aggies are the more battle-tested team having gone through a rigorous SEC schedule, while TCU had to navigate a surprisingly weak Big 12 Conference slate this spring. This category is a push, but give the slightest of edges to the Aggies.
THE EDGE: Texas A&M
What coaches think about Texas A&M
“I think they’e very similar to LSU in a lot of ways, and I know offensively, they didn’t do what they’ve been doing last weekend, but at the same time, one through nine, everyone can really swing the bat and Allemand is the key guy there that makes them go. I really like what Mitchell Nau has done in that lineup. He has a real professional approach. If that offense gets back on track this weekend, the Aggies are going to be real, real tough to beat.”
“If you want to watch a team stand in there and just hit, A&M is your team. You don’t want to get into a doubles match with those guys. And I’ve now got a lot more respect for California after seeing them hold A&M down for three games, that’s not easy to do. I know TCU’s arms really well, but that lineup will be a tough challenge for TCU because as a former Big 12 coach, I know how different it is than the SEC. TCU is going to have to win games 4-3 and 3-2, and I’m not real sure A&M is going to get into that type of game. I can’t really envision that this weekend.”
“I think for the Aggies, it’s all about Allemand. He’s an older guy and he’s had a ton of at bats. He’s not scared of anything and he’s the type of kid you love on your team, and hate if he’s an opponent. He thinks he’s the best player on the field. Mitchell Nau has a short swing and uses the whole field, and guys like Nick Banks, Ryne Birk and Logan Taylor can all change games with one swing. That includes Hunter Melton. I think that lineup is just really scary to deal with.”
“I think Ryan Hendrix is way better out of the bullpen than he is as a starting pitcher. He has shutdown dominant stuff out of the pen. He was 90-95 against us with that 83 mph curveball, and once we got through a second time through the order, he was more hittable. So, it makes sense that he’s back in the bullpen. But his stuff is pretty electric.”
“My take on A&M’s staff, is you have to give Rob Childress a lot of credit for keeping that pitching staff together with the injuries they’ve had. You lose arguably your two best arms, and you don’t skip a beat. That’s hard to do. Long reminds me a lot of Ole Miss RHP Chris Ellis last year. You look at him in total, and nothing is going to wow you. But he has good fastball command, will sit 88-91, touching 92-93, and you think you can get to him, but he has a heavy ball with a good spin rate. You’re not going to score a lot of runs off him, and that 90-91 from Long feels like 93-95 to hitters.”
“Matt Kent, a lot like Grayson Long, is just a really good competitor. He will throw every pitch for a strike, and he can go a whole game for them. He has a good changeup and he can change arm angles. He’s kind of a magician out there, and he’s the type of guy that will have hitters going a quiet 0-for-4 and you go back to the dugout wondering why you didn’t get three hits.”
What coaches think about TCU
“TCU is going to attack the strike zone and try to get ahead of you on the mound. They’ll come after you and you better be ready to attack back. They’re going to have some good put-away pitches. For instance, Alex Young has good secondary stuff, particularly a slider, and Preston Morrison will get you out by moving pitches all around the strike zone and taking a little off here and there and being aggressive. Tyler Alexander will throw a lot of strikes, and the one thing about TCU is it will play very good defense behind the pitchers.”
“What’s really interesting about Preston Morrison is you always feel like he’s better when his velocity isn’t in the upper-80s, and is more mid-80s. I’m not sure if him throwing a little harder makes the ball flatten out a bit or what, but he was up in the zone a bit more when he was throwing harder. The main thing against TCU is just staying aggressive as an offense, because you know you’re going to get some good pitches to hit. Just don’t look for it right down the middle, however, because they’ll spot things up.”
“I thought Trey Teakell was really good. He had a good sinker and he kept the ball down in the zone. He got a lot of ground balls against us. Ferrell is pretty electric with his fastball. The one thing I noticed when we played them, and I’m not sure if this is still the case, but Evan Skoug had trouble catching Ferrell when we played them.”
“The thing about TCU’s pitching staff, is when they’re getting you out, you’re usually not hitting the ball right on the good spot of the barrel. Morrison, for instance, is the type of guy that when you get to the seventh and eighth innings, you’re trying to figure out how you haven’t scored many runs. Alexander is pretty much the same way, he’s not overpowering, but misses the bad part of the barrel and he attacks the strike zone with enough command and movement.”
“I actually thought TCU was very good offensively when we played them. They don’t intimidate you at all with their guys, but Evan Skoug has some real power potential in the lineup, and Connor Wanhanen is a really good hitter even though he won’t bring a lot of extra-base hits to the table this weekend. They’re a really solid offensive team, and they execute things pretty well. They will move runners over and they can put a lot of pressure on you once they get guys on base. I thought they were very good.”
“I think TCU’s style of play makes them really tough to defend. TCU has a lot of scrappers, and it doesn’t a matter how good your stuff is sometimes, guys like Cody Jones will still find ways to get good swings off you. They put pressure on you and they won’t give away outs. They don’t have to bunt to take second base on you.”