Fall Report: Texas A&MFall Report
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — It’s a new era in College Station and everyone on the roster is fighting for a starting job this fall.
The Aggies had put together one of the nation’s longest postseason streaks — 13-straight NCAA tournament appearances — entering the 2021 campaign. But after scuffling much of the season and not reaching the tourney this past spring, athletic director Ross Bjork made a change. He parted ways with long-time head coach Rob Childress and hired Jim Schlossnagle, who was a nemesis for the Maroon and White during his lengthy tenure at TCU.
There’s no doubt you make a change because you feel the program is headed the wrong direction from a personnel standpoint. So, anyone expecting an immediate trip to the College World Series is likely going to end 2022 disappointed. With that said, this A&M team does have some intriguing pieces as fall workouts continue, particularly because of the addition of several talented transfers, including Micah Dallas (Texas Tech), Jack Moss (Arizona State), Troy Claunch (Oregon State), Kole Kaler (Hawaii), Jacob Palisch (Stanford) and Trey Dillard (Missouri).
“The players in this program have definitely been very receptive to our coaching,” Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “The effort and willingness to learn from these guys has been amazing. I like to say whether it’s for better or worse, it’s just different. The structure is a little different than what they’re used to, and we have pretty high standards. but they’ve been awesome.
“Anytime there is this much new, there’s a huge learning curve involved,” he added. “We’re starting to see some guys play better than what they played the first couple of weeks of fall workouts. Guys are just getting used to what they need to do to be successful.
“There are pieces in the lineup that I certainly like right now … and the pitching, really, outside of a few guys, we haven’t had a lot of guys emerge, so we’re waiting to see that happen. The big thing for us from a pitching standpoint is that we want 8-to-10 guys to emerge that we can throw out there and feel like there’s a pretty good chance for them to compete and help us win. Then, we have to hope they can stay healthy so we can ride with that.”
Without further ado, let’s take a deep dive into the Aggies this fall.
It’s a good thing the Aggies have one of the best in the business in pitching coach Nate Yeskie, because the pitching staff, particularly the weekend rotation, has their work cut out as spring nears.
The Aggies had a pair of solid starting pitchers last season in lefthander Dustin Saenz and righthanded Bryce Miller. Both are now in pro ball. With that, new head coach Jim Schlossnagle went on the prowl for some arms in the offseason and found a gem in the transfer portal in Texas Tech righthanded Micah Dallas. Dallas had been a mainstay in the Tech rotation and bullpen over the last few seasons but saw an opportunity to be a front-line starter at A&M and in the SEC and seized the opportunity. He will certainly be in the mix for a weekend rotation spot.
Last week against Houston, Dallas didn’t have a great start, allowing a couple of home runs and sitting 90-92 mph with his fastball (spin: 2073-2200). His success is dependent on the slider, and particularly command of the offering, and he threw it in the 81-84 mph range with spin rates around 2250-2300. Dallas also threw a few mid-80s changeups. Though he had a rough showing against UH, he will continue to be heavily in the rotation mix.
Other arms we expect to be in the rotation discussion include righthanded Nathan Dettmer, lefthander Will Johnston and freshman lefty Ryan Prager. Dettmer is a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder, who looks the part, but will need to continue refining his secondary stuff. He was 90-91 mph with his fastball against UH, along with a slider. Johnston is coming off a good summer showing and has been solid this fall, sitting 89-91 and up to 92 mph with his fastball, along with high spin rates on both the fastball and curveball. As for Prager, he’s a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, who Yeskie and Schlossnagle are high on this fall. Prager was 89-91 and up to 92 mph with his fastball — the fastball has been harder at times this fall. He also showed a curveball in the 78-81 mph range that had some quality depth.
“Micah Dallas is working on a lot of new things right now, and I’ve seen what he can do up close and personal — I’ve seen what’s he capable of,” Schlossnagle said. “He is good in any role that he pitches. Prager is a talented young arm, and he will be in the mix for a starting role, Dettmer has gotten better, and Johnston has made a turn for the better. We’ll see if he can be consistent and show that kind of effectiveness as the fall progresses, but he has been really intriguing thus far.
The Aggies have plenty of other arms to watch.
One of the more intriguing arms in the scrimmage against Houston was talented freshman and former Arizona commitments Chris Cortez. Cortez, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound, Las Vegas native, showed an electric arm against UH, sitting 94-96 and up to 97 mph with his fastball with spin rates in the 2154-2267 range. Cortez struggled with command of the fastball to his glove side, but the pure electricity of his stuff was undeniable, and he was much better in his second inning of work. Cortez also showed some serious sinking action with the fastball, and got off a couple of 89-91 mph cutters, along with a breaking ball in the upper-70s, low-80s. It will be interesting to see what role the Aggies prefer him in come spring.
“What role Cortez has for us remains to be seen,” Schlossnagle said. “I know he’s going to pitch some significant innings for us … but in what role? We’ll find out. We’re not sure just yet.”
Two more freshmen to watch include righthanders Will Rizzo and Ty Sexton. Rizzo is a 6-foot, 205-pounder, who has a very good arm with a big-time fastball and solid slider. He has a closer mentality but could have a variety of roles for the Aggies in the spring. Meanwhile, Sexton is a 6-foot-6, 185-pounder, who has taken a big jump. Sexton was 85-88 mph with his fastball his senior year in high school but has been up to 91-94 mph with the offering from a tough angle. He still needs to establish consistency, but he reminds Schlossnagle of former TCU righthanded pitcher Brian Howard.
Sophomore righty Wyatt Tucker has taken a step forward with a fastball up to 96 mph with a good slider. But the Aggies are just cautiously optimistic at this point because he hasn’t pitched those innings during the season. In essence, he has SEC caliber stuff but needs to establish equal consistency. Hard-nosed lefthander Joseph Menefee is back for another season and has a fastball up to 92-93 mph with a solid breaking ball and changeup combo, Alex Magers is a funky righty who can get some big outs and righty Khristian Curtis continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. He has been up to 94 mph with his fastball this fall, but there has been a quick drop off in velocity thus far. Curtis just needs to build his arm back up before the Aggies are confident where he stands in the pecking order. Another interesting development is that lefthander Jonathan Childress is spending the fall reinventing himself physically and is diving head-first into some serious Driveline work. The Aggies hope that pays dividends. Lastly, Stanford lefthanded transfer Jacob Palisch will certainly have a big role in the spring, but he has been hampered a bit with some bicep tendinitis. He didn’t pitch in the scrimmage but did return to action in the last week with a fastball in the 91-93 mph range. Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see if Mississippi State transfer righty Xavier Lovett can make a move. Lovett is very raw, but does have an electric arm, while Robert Hogan and Rawley Hector both give the Aggies unique options.
There’s no doubt the Aggies have a lot to prove from an offensive standpoint. A&M finished last season with a .260 team batting average, and that was with one of the nation’s premier sluggers in the lineup in first baseman Will Frizzell. Frizzell is now gone, and that means some guys will need to step up.
The good news?
Several newcomers have impressed this fall with UTSA transfer Dylan Rock and Hawaii transfer Kole Kaler leading the charge, along with Arizona State’s Jack Moss. Rock, a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, had a successful career with the Roadrunners, and he now bring his old school approach to the SEC. Rock has an aggressive approach and mauls fastballs in the zone. Against Houston a couple of weeks ago, he hit a pair of doubles — one opposite field — and looked like a guy ready to make a significant, instant impact. As for Kaler, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder, surprised me more than anyone. If you look at his numbers in Hawaii, Kaler certainly found ways to get on base, but it’s safe to say he didn’t generate much power. Kaler not only showed a steady, strong offensive approach, but he also showed some relatively easy gap power as well. There’s more pop present than meets the eye. Moss, a 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, had a strong freshman season for Arizona State before transferring to A&M. In the recent scrimmage against Houston, he got off to a bit of a slow start but found his groove with a strong approach in two at bats that resulted in a pair of hits. There will be a transition to the SEC from a timing and bat speed standpoint, but the talent present is undeniable.
Behind the plate, the Aggies have a pair of solid options for different reasons in Oregon State transfer Troy Claunch and returning backstop Taylor Smith. Claunch, a former All-Pac 12 catcher, is certainly solid enough offensively and should hit in the .280-.300 range in the spring. However, defense is his calling card. Claunch continues to impress this fall with steady work behind the plate. Smith, a 6-foot-1, 220-pounder, definitely has some swing and miss in his swing, but when he connects, the ball tends to go a long way. Smith hit a two-run home run against Houston and is one of those guys who could be primed to take a big step forward if his zone awareness continues to improve.
Elsewhere from an offensive standpoint, middle infielder Kalae Harrison should take a step forward in the spring. Harrison struggled offensively for much of last season, but his plate approach got better as the season progressed and was a relatively seasoned hitter by the end of the 2021 campaign. Logan Britt has the length and tools to be a strong hitting prospect, but the production needs to show as well. Britt has improved this fall, but again, he needs to go out and prove it in the spring. Brett Minnich is another rangy slugger at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds who has upside, while Austin Bost is back after quietly having a .300 plus hitting 2021 campaign with double digit home runs. His power production could improve even more if he can get help around him in the offensive lineup. Ryan Targac has some power as well and could be a solid option off the bench in that department.
Austin Stracener and Ty Hodge are two young players making strong impressions this fall. Where they will fit into the equation lineup-wise is the question right now, however. Meanwhile, two-way talent Trevor Werner looks the part of a premier player — he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds — with a live arm and big-time power. However, he’s sidelined at the moment with a back issue and his return timetable is TBD.