The No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys will look to begin its 2014 Big 12 championship defense this weekend with a series against TCU, who has lived up to its preseason hype. I sat down with Marshall Weber of Frogs O'War to find out what the Horned Frogs have done this season, what OSU fans should look for and a little preview of what to expect in Fort Worth this weekend.
GT: TCU has started off hot, how has the team got to its current record? What are the toughest teams TCU has faced and has there been anything surprising?
MW: It's been surprising how well the team came back from personnel losses. TCU lost five really good hitters from last year, and being that the offense was a weakness last year--that was super worrisome. They've gotten to be 15-2 from a really well balanced lineup, more balanced and effective than last year. But more than anything, the pitching. Preston Morrison and Riley Ferrell were the only non-question marks going into the season: so for Alex Young and Mitchell Traver to absolutely dominate on their respective weekend days has been the not-so-secret of TCU's success. Replacing Brandon Finnegan was never an easy task, but TCU has found a pretty great Friday guy in Mitchell Traver--who moved from Tuesday starter to Friday night starter once sophomore Tyler Alexander hit a slide. Traver is arguably throwing better than anyone in college baseball right now.
GT: Have any guys surprised you with how well they have played so far?
MW: Still going on the Traver train. I would've felt lucky just having a reliable Tuesday arm. But now having a power pitcher with an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio, and ERA, is really exciting. Also, Keaton Jones' offense has been a pleasant surprise for everyone, probably including Keaton. He's one of the best and most consistent fielders I've ever seen in college, but he's always been far from an offensive asset. This year--all stats considered--he's been TCU's second best asset.
Lastly, all the freshmen and transfers. Evan Skoug, the highly touted prospect out of Illinois, has done a brilliant as a catcher and a DH. The former was another big concern coming into the season for TCU, as the Frogs have had a really strong lineage at catcher since Schloss has been a coach. You can't even tell Skoug is a freshman anymore. His backup, Zack Plunkett, and who you'll see start once this weekend--most likely Saturday--has also done a really great job filling in for Skoug when Skoug DHs.
GT: Who are the starters this weekend? Which one does OSU have the best chance against? Worst chance?
MW: You'll see it go Mitchell Traver--Preston Morrison--and Alex Young. What makes the next part of the question so hard is that they all give OSU the worst chance, but they're all also really different. Traver is a power pitcher, Morrison is a Maddux-type ground ball pitcher with superb accuracy and has the lowest velocity of three, and Alex Young is the only left in the bunch. Baylor uncharacteristically--for Morrison and the Bears--jumped out early last Saturday, but Morrison brushed it off rather quickly and was dominant the rest of the game. No matter who it is, the key is to jump out early and hope that you suppress TCU's offense--and thus possibly take advantage of their bullpen. Oklahoma State has the best chance when they throw their best arm.
GT: Who should OSU fans watch for this weekend?
MW: I'm talking about pitching so much, that I'll give it a bit of a break. But, I will give a quick note for Riley Ferrell--he's already a First Rounder, but depending on how the rest of his season goes, and if it keeps going as is, he could be a Top 10 pick. One of the most frustrating aspects of TCU baseball if you're facing them, is that even if you're close going into the 9th; Ferrell always suffocates the other team and rarely gives any hope for a comeback.
Offensively, Cody Jones has been superb; both at the plate and on the field. He has terrific range as a centerfielder, and collected 11 hits last weekend in the Baylor series--not to mention he's a very dangerous threat on the basepath. As a senior, C. Jones has really adjusted and taken upon a leadership role and that's translated to a stellar season thus far; both for him and the team.
GT: OSU has had to deal with some young players adjusting to their roles, has TCU had this problem?
MW: As said above, this has been a lucky strength. The young guys and the transfers have bought into the system. Because of that, TCU's been able to pick up right where they left off last season; pissed off and ready to get a National Title.
GT: From your view, who do you think wins the series? How do you think it happens?
MW:I'll make my final prediction tomorrow. But TCU wins the series; whether in 2 or 3, the Frogs have just been so good on the mound on weekends, it's really hard for anyone not to pick them to win every series from here on out until Traver, Morrison, or Young show otherwise. I still think Oklahoma State could easily take one away late in a game, and maybe win the series with two wins--but with the TCU's home crowd as good as its been plus the pitching, plus the hitting finally coming to life, it's going to be a very tough series for Oklahoma State, despite them playing really well as of late.
The first pitch for today's game is at 6:20 p.m. If you're in the Fort Worth area, it'd be a good game to stop by for and check out.