TCU catcher 'mature beyond his years' anchors CWS push

OMAHA, Neb. – To ask TCU's Evan Skoug, this week he's been stuck between feeling like a kid and feeling like a pro ball player at his first College World Series.

"I'm having a blast, I feel like a big leaguer and a 5-year-old at the same time," Skoug said. "From the big leaguer standpoint, people asking for autographs and pictures, and you get treated like royalty. From the aspect of a 5-year-old, the game has never been so much fun. It's just an amazing experience with my teammates."

But if you ask Skoug's coach, Jim Schlossnagle, or Horned Frog ace Preston Morrison, the 19-year-old freshman catcher is far closer to a pro than a kid in his performance for TCU this year.

"He does a good job of really [staying] even-keel, I think is the best way to describe it," Morrison said. "He's able to come out to the mound and get in [our pitchers'] faces when they need it, or give them a little pat on the butt when they need it. He's mature beyond his years, both offensively and defensively, I think."

In his first season with the Frogs, Skoug leads the team in home runs (7), RBI (44), and is tied for the team lead in doubles (14). Schlossnagle made note of his clean-up hitter's offensive capabilities Sunday after TCU's 10-3 win over LSU in their opening game of the CWS.

"Other than maybe Skoug, there's no guy [in the TCU lineup] you're just flat built around," the coach said.

But Skoug, who was ranked as a top-100 player in the country by Baseball America in his senior year at Libertyville High School in Illinois, has also been a difference maker behind the plate for the Frogs. He has started all 64 of TCU's games so far this year and Morrison said the freshman has been impressive in his work with the pitching staff.

"He's gotten a lot better at managing everybody, because we have such a wide variety of lefties and righties - guys that throw hard, guys that throw their splitters or sliders in the dirt - and he's done a great job of just managing everybody," he said.

That was apparent in TCU's loss to Vanderbilt Tuesday, when Frogs starter Alex Young struck out 12 Commodores. Young frequently went with his power slider for his strike-three pitch and many of those wound up in the dirt as batters swung at air. Skoug allowed one passed ball in the game -- just his 11th in his 64 starts.

Offensively, Skoug's game has grown throughout the year, Schlossnagle said. The freshman saw a lot of strikeouts early in the season, but has cleaned up his plate discipline nicely.

"He's done a lot better job. His strikeouts-to-walks [ratio] is around 2-to-1 now, which is much better than it was in the beginning of the season, so it's just a maturation process of him doing a better job of getting pitches to hit."

Skoug has yet to strike out in TCU's two College World Series games against stellar left-handed starters in Omaha. He's had two hits, two walks, and scored a run thus far.

The 19-year-old said, despite being a left-handed batter (which often struggle against left-handed pitching), at this point in the year, he doesn't see a big difference between facing a left- or right-handed starter. Nearly every team TCU has faced in the 2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament has leaned on lefties against the Frogs.

"At this point in the season, we've seen so many lefties so many times in a row, I really have no [preference,]" he said. "In high school, I had a left-handed hitting instructor, so all my batting practice was left handed. I'm getting pretty used to left handers."

They'll see more of the same Thursday when they face LSU in an elimination game. Tigers coach Paul Mainieri plans to start lefty Zac Person in the game.

"Same thing, different day," Schlossnagle said. "We'll be ready to go."

Skoug has actually hit better against left-handed pitchers than his overall average this season.

"We have really good left-handed pitchers on our team, so they got to see all fall - a guy like [freshman Conner] Wanhanen or Skoug - get to see Alex Young and Tyler Alexander and [relievers Drew] Gooch and Travis Evans -- those are similar to what we're gonna see all year," Schlossnagle said.

The freshman took over catching duties for Kyle Bacak, who graduated in 2011. Bacak was a two-year starter who continued a long line of productive catchers for the Horned Frogs.

Morrison compared Skoug to Josh Elander, a catcher who batted .314 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI for TCU in 2012. Schlossnagle reached back even further, comparing Skoug to Andrew Walker, who hit .310 with 11 home runs and 38 RBI as a catcher for TCU in 2005.

So far this year, Skoug has hit .286 for the Frogs with 7 home runs and 44 RBI.

"I think [Skoug] has the potential to be as good or better than all of [TCU's recent catchers,]" Schlossnagle said.

But just because his future is bright doesn't mean he's anything special to his teammates.

"I have to do all the freshman duties and I'm rooming with [TCU] senior [first baseman Jeremie Fagnan] right now, so I am doing laundry and all that stuff," he said. "So, I'm still a young kid, but on the field, I feel like I'm equal with everybody."

For now, Skoug is enjoying the ride in Omaha, regardless of how old he looks or feels.

"He's always been mature beyond his years. If anything, you've got to get him to lighten up a little bit," Schlossnagle said. "[...] I said something to him the other day. I said, 'You're not always gonna get to be the freshman, and get to, kind of, hide a little bit in the locker room.' And he goes, 'I know, and I know what I'm gonna have to do... but I don't want to grow up just yet.'"


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