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Used exclusively as a closer this season, Sam Demel sets TCU saves record.
Make no mistake: junior pitcher Sam Demel, a hard-throwing righty, has been one of the Horned Frogs’ top pitchers since his freshman year. But until this season, he’s been the Frogs’ do-it-all utility hurler, starting when handed the ball some nights and working the ninth inning as a closer the next.
It’s been a hectic, frustrating pattern, but the quiet, cerebral Demel hasn’t complained. While good, he admits trying to do both has kept him from being great.
“I didn’t know how to set up mentally because I didn’t know day to day,” he said. “I tried to take that same mentality for 110 pitches. It wore on me throughout the season, and it broke me down mentally a lot quicker than it does now.”
This season, however, a deeper pitching staff has allowed Demel to work strictly as a closer, and he’s excelled in the singular role. In May, he set the TCU record for saves, recording his 12th stop in a 4-2 victory over New Mexico, breaking Robbie Findlay’s 3-year-old mark. Demel ended the year with 13 saves to finish among the NCAA leaders this season.
His success also has likely made him a first-round prospect in the Major League Baseball Draft later this month.
“There’s a huge difference in getting those last three outs and getting those first 24,” Demel said. “I love that pressure. It’s a challenge an athlete yearns for.”
Demel learned how to be a closer last summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was an all-league performer for Falmouth, picking up 12 saves in only 26 innings of work.
Junior catcher Andrew Walker was Demel’s teammate at Falmouth, and has watched his evolution.
“It stunk for him hopping back and forth,” Walker said. “He closed all summer and locked down that position. The team has a good feeling when he’s out there.”
With six wins and one loss, Demel played a main role in the Frogs’ school-record 46 wins. He has three pitches in his arsenal — a fastball that has been clocked at 96 mph (up from the low 90s when he was alternating as a starter and closer), an effective slider and a “plus” changeup.
“I always felt like his best role, given his stuff and his makeup, was as a closer,” coach Jim Schlossnagle said. “I think he’s the best one in the country. He’s been our team MVP.”
Success this season is gratifying for Demel, who was drafted in the 35th round out of high school by the Rangers and offered a six-figure signing bonus. He turned down his “dream” to help the Frogs reach the College World Series.
“Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would have spent two or three years before realizing I’m going to be a back-of-the-bullpen guy. I had a lot more fun figuring it out here.” — JW
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