By Dennis Garcia
Texas Christian University has been to the College World Series five times since 2010 and the Horned Frogs were set to make a strong run for their sixth trip to Omaha this year before the coronavirus cancelled the majority of the season.
Now three of those hurlers who were expected to contribute to TCU's charge to the World Series will be among those pitchers spearheading the Asheboro Copperheads' bid for a Coastal Plain League championship.
"We are highly anticipating these three guys making a strong impact on our team this summer," Copperheads Head Coach and General Manager Keith Ritsche said. "TCU is a well-respected baseball program and one of the top in the country. We have had a few players from TCU in the past, but well before my time began as head coach back in 2014. It was nice to reconnect with them and get a relationship going again. Hopefully, it will be ongoing in the future as I know these guys will enjoy their time here in Asheboro."
A freshman, the 6-3, 195-pound right-handed throwing Cornelio mad e an instant impact with the Horned Frogs this shortened season. Cornelio made four appearances, including three starts, and was dominant, tossing 10.1 innings and allowing one earned run on just three hits. He finished the season with a 0.87 ERA while posting six strikeouts and winning his only decision.
Like most, Cornelio has been spending time in his home, located in Monument, Colorado, waiting for the start of the season.
"It has been really tough for every kid across the nation who is missing out on the thing they love to do and that's playing baseball," Cornelio said. "This will be an opportunity to get better."
Cornelio said he is hoping to take another step in his development process.
"There's a difference between summer and spring," Cornelio said. "In spring, it's performing at a high level. The summer is for developing some things and working on things. I am really grateful for the opportunity to play this summer."
Cornelio said he wasn't planning on playing summer ball, but when the NCAA season was cut short, he knew he didn't get enough innings in and in order to progress, he needed to see live action.
"I was talking to our pitching coach and trying to revamp some things and he thought, and I agreed, the best thing to do was get live reps," Cornelio said.
In his senior season at Pine Creek High School, he was tabbed as the top player in Colorado by Baseball America and was named the Colorado Perfect Game and Gatorade Player of the Year that season.
"It's important to do the best you can every day," Cornelio said. "It's still important to get a little bit better every day."
Meador is a 5-11, 170-pound right-handed hurler from Burleson, Texas. After an incredible prep career at Burleson Centennial High School, he was drafted in the 31st round of the 2019 MLB First Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners. But the opportunity to play at TCU under the guidance of the Horned Frog coaches was too strong an opportunity to ignore. So he headed to TCU.
"The last couple of months have been interesting, but it's a good test to see who will be willing to put in the work," Meador said. "You can sit down or you can keep working. I have been keeping up with my workouts and throwing and making a push toward getting back to playing baseball."
Like Cornelio, Meador said his original plans for the summer included working out at his home and getting ready for the 2021 season. But when 2020 was cut short, he said he knew he needed to play somewhere in the summer.
"My original plan was to work out and get stronger and be ready for the fall and maybe play for a collegiate league in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," Meador said. "I didn't throw that many innings and my coach asked if I would be interested in going to the Coastal Plain League and playing for Asheboro. It took me about two minutes to decide. This was an opportunity to see some great competition. I plan on getting a lot of innings, working out any kinks and just getting back in the groove when we got shut down."
In high school, Meador was tabbed an all-district performer four times. He was selected as the district MVP as a senior with a 14-1 record and he led the state of Texas with 179 strikeouts. He won a gold medal with USA Baseball at the COPABE U-18 Pan American championships and he was named a Perfect Game Underclassmen All-American as a sophomore and junior.
He holds the high school records for wins in a season (14), strikeouts (179), ERA (. 061), shutouts (9) and strikeouts in a game (19).
Perez is a 5-10, 180-pound right-hander from Laredo, Texas. The sophomore had a stellar first year with the Horned Frogs as he was an All-BIG 12 conference honorable mention in 2019 as well as being named to the All-Rookie team. In 17 appearances, he posted a 3-2 record with five saves while pitching in some big-game situations. He allowed just one of seven inherited base runners to score. In 23 innings pitched, he walked eight and fanned 28. He picked up two wins against the University of Texas.
In this shortened season, Perez appeared in six of TCU's contests before the season was halted. He tossed 6.1 innings in six appearances, posting a 1-0 record, a 2.84 ERA with nine strikeouts to just two walks.
"I have been trying to handle it by living day to day," said Perez, who was slated to go to the Cape Cod League this summer before that league was cancelled. "I'm living in the present. It's been difficult finding somewhere to play. All I want to do is play baseball."
Although he enjoyed incredible success as a freshman at TCU, Perez said he needed to make adjustments.
"It's such a big difference from high school to college," Perez said. "In high school, you can get away with throwing fastballs. In college, hitters are better. When I first started playing scrimmages in the fall, I was trying to strike everyone out and I started getting hit a little. I went home for the winter break and started throwing some sim games and started concentrating on hitting spots. I took the strikeout mentality out of my head and I started striking out more people."
Perez said he is working toward a spot in the Horned Frogs' starting rotation.
"When you come out of the bullpen to close, you know you will be going out for one inning and you have to have that dog mentality to just go out there and shove it," he said. "As a starter, you have to pace yourself because you can't gas out. You can't show the hitters all your pitches early."
Perez was a four year letterwinner at John B. Alexander High School, where he earned first-team all-district honors as a senior. A two-year member of the National Honor Society, he participated in the Perfect Game Underclass All-American Games in the summer of 2016. He played in the Texas Scouts Associate game in the summer of 2017 and was a member of Mexico's 2012 Little League World Series team.
"Riley and Jacob had astounding success in high school and came into TCU as freshmen, making an impact right away," Ritsche said. "Marcelo had an impressive freshman season in the back end of their bullpen last year and was having another strong start in 2020. Two of these three guys will likely be at the top of our rotation this summer."
All three will be counted on heavily as the Copperheads battle for a CPL title.