Tue Sep 21 02:52pm EDT
There was a time when TCU was considered just a good program that made its season by reaching an NCAA regional.
Times have changed thanks to coach Jim Schlossnagle.
The Horned Frogs made a statement two seasons ago with a trip to the Austin Super Regional, but they took their biggest step forward last season.
The Frogs won the Mountain West regular season and tournament titles, the Fort Worth Regional and knocked off national seed Texas in the Austin Super Regional rematch to advance to the College World Series for the first time.
In Omaha, the Horned Frogs played like a veteran CWS program, reaching the semifinals and falling just short of the national title series with a loss to UCLA.
The Frogs again are expected to compete for the national title in 2011.
They have the tough chore of replacing position players Bryan Holaday and Matt Curry, but welcome back the bulk of their pitching staff and enough key offensive cogs to have another productive lineup.
TCU has few concerns entering fall workouts.
Replace catcher Bryan Holaday
Easily the biggest question mark entering fall workouts, the Horned Frogs must find a way to adequately replace Holaday's leadership and production behind and at the plate. Besides his leadership skills, Holaday batted .355 with 17 homers and 53 RBIs last season. Josh Elander and Jimmie Pharr are the main candidates to replace Holaday. Elander is a solid athlete and can play catcher or in the outfield. He batted .356 in 194 at bats last season. Pharr, meanwhile, batted .363 in 91 at bats. Everyone is paying attention to this position battle.
Create more swagger
There weren't many who thought the Horned Frogs could get past Texas and get to Omaha last season, but they silenced the doubters. Now the Frogs are in a much different situation. Instead of being a team not expected to get to Omaha, expectations have increased and the Frogs are expected to compete for the national title next season. The Frogs must be able to deal with the incredibly high expectations. Creating more swagger allows that to happen. Watching the Frogs grow between now and the spring will be interesting.
Weekend rotation can't skip a beat
There's no question the Frogs will enter next season with one of the nation's best weekend rotations, perhaps even the best. Still, this unit has at least one concern – Steven Maxwell. The Frogs received a boost when Maxwell decided to return for another campaign after getting drafted. However, he must be on a mission next season after failing to impress during the most important part of last season. The Frogs also welcome back sophomore Matt Purke and veteran Kyle Winkler. Purke could be the top pitcher in the 2011 MLB draft after going 16-0 with a 3.02 ERA in 116 1/3 innings last season. Winkler, meanwhile, was fantastic in clutch situations and had a 3.39 ERA in 116 2/3 innings. The Frogs will be back in Omaha if the weekend rotation doesn't take a step back.
Figure out the bullpen roles
The Horned Frogs knew reliever Tyler Lockwood would be gone after last season, but received horrible news earlier this week when Schlossnagle announced Kaleb Merck would miss next season because of Tommy John surgery. Merck had become a special arm for the Frogs, tallying an impressive 1.47 ERA in 22 appearances last season. He also limited teams to a .210 batting average. Without Merck, the Frogs will put a bulk of the late-inning workload on Trent Appleby, who tallied a 4.39 ERA in 23 appearances last season. The Frogs also welcome back Erik Miller, but otherwise have much work to do.
Meet expectations at the plate
The Frogs have a stellar weekend rotation and plenty experience, but their offense could put them over the top next season. The Frogs have a wealth of potential at the plate. They batted .334 last season and are in excellent shape outside of having to replace Holaday and Curry. They welcome back eight hitters that earned significant playing time last season. The list includes Jason Coats, Josh Elander, Brance Rivera, Taylor Featherston, Jerome Pena, Aaron Schultz, Jantzen Witte and Joe Weik. This unit again is expected to hit around .330.