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Baylor Baseball

Baylor Baseball: Rebuilds Take Time

March 13, 2023

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Sixteen games into Mitch Thompson’s first year as head coach, the Bears have a disappointing record of 5-11.

Rebuilds take time, and unequivocally, Mitch Thompson was the right hire as the next Baylor head baseball coach.

Whether the program is up and running by Year Two or Year Four comes down to a multitude of factors that can’t be answered at this current moment.

However, 16 games into the Thompson era, things couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. The Bears are 5-11 and are currently the worst team in the Big 12 and are making a case as the worst Power Five team in the country.

As of March 11, Baylor is last in the Big 12 in team batting average (.232), runs scored (80), slugging percentage (.367) and earned run average (7.36). And first in the conference in runs allowed (144) and hits allowed (169).

For comparison, Texas has the next-lowest batting average (.260), and Kansas State has the next-highest earned run average (4.77). The difference between Baylor and the next closest team is significant, to say the least.

The cold reality of the situation is rebuilds take time, whether people like that answer or not. In the era of the transfer portal, it’s easy to look through green and gold glasses at former Baylor men’s basketball lead assistant Jerome Tang and see the miracles he’s working in his first year at Kansas State.

After being picked preseason last in the conference, Tang led the Wildcats to a 23-9 record and finished tied for third in the Big 12. Tang had to replace all but two players on the roster after taking the job last spring. So to have his KSU squad as a three-seed entering the NCAA Tournament is a miracle in and of itself.

Heading into 2023, I knew this Baylor team would not be great and that an NCAA Tournament appearance was likely a long shot.

However, deep down, I had a small belief that Thompson, because of his gravitas and deep ties to Baylor, as well as what appeared to be an easy schedule on paper, would be able to have Tang-esque success in Year 1.

Unfortunately, that has just not been the case. Thompson inherited a mess and not to throw a shot at former head coach Steve Rodriguez, but from a talent perspective, the program wasn’t where it should be.

Arguably, Baylor has fallen to the seventh-best baseball program in the state behind Texas, Texas A&M, TCU, Texas Tech, DBU and Texas State in recent years.

Baylor Athletics
Steve Rodriguez signed 38 freshmen and 13 transfers from 2019-2021.

In retrospect, I feel pretty strongly that the top-end talent of Jared McKenzie, Kyle Nevin, Jack Pineda and Tre Richardson, and a combination of above-average starters in Tyler Thomas and Will Rigney, masked the lack of depth and deep roster flaws Rodriguez faced in his final season.

For reference, the combination of McKenzie, Nevin, Pineda and Richardson at the top of the lineup combined for 53% of Baylor’s total hits, 57% of total runs and 59% of total bases last season.

And to Rodriguez’s credit, he brought those players in.

But this begs the question: “How did Thompson inherit such a mess?” I’ll discuss Rodriguez’s last three recruiting classes and talk about where Thompson and his staff can go from here.

*Key: Player (Current School/Team)

  • 2019 freshman class: Hambleton Oliver (Baylor) and Will Rigney (Baylor). Jared McKenzie (2022 MLB Draft) and Kyle Nevin (2022 MLB Draft). Ben Greer (Abilene Christian), Rance Rosas (Angelo State). Nicolas Balsano, Cade Currington, Evan Godwin, Jack Hatrup, Caleb Hollis, Nolan Rodriguez, Kyle Storemski.
  • 2019 transfer class: Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo (Out of Eligibility) and Jonathan Pierce (Out of Eligibility).
  • 2020 freshman class: Cam Caley (Baylor), Grant Golomb (Baylor), Adam Muirhead (Baylor), Cole Stasio (Baylor). Alex Gonzales (Texas State), JD Gregson (Texas A&M), Jacob Schoenvogel (Houston), Tre Richardson (TCU). Zac Childers, Ty Fontenot, Drew Leach, Ryan Patterson, Luke Thompson, Joey Schott, Ben Kesler.
  • 2020 transfer class: Jack Pineda (2022 MLB Draft), Antonio Valdez (UTSA). Chandler Freeman, Travis Hester, Beau Wimpee.
  • 2021 freshman class: Cortlan Castle (Baylor), Mason Marriott (Baylor), Casen Neumann (Baylor), Jack Johnson (Baylor). Cody Grebeck (Midland College) and Cody Howard (Texas). Henry Cone and Max Miller.
  • 2021 transfer class: Kobe Andrade (Baylor), Harrison Caley (Baylor), Brett Garcia (Baylor). Ian Groves (Out of Eligibility), Jake Jackson (Out of Eligibility), Matt Voelker (Out of Eligibility).

Out of the 38 freshmen, Steve Rodriguez and his staff signed from 2019-2021, two players were drafted into the MLB, ten players are currently at Baylor, eight players transferred out and 16 are no longer on a college baseball roster.

Baylor Athletics
Tre Richardson is now the starting 2B at TCU and has a team-leading batting average of .389 for the rival Horned Frogs.

Of the eight players who transferred out, only Richardson, Howard and Gregson went on to larger programs. Richardson is the starting second baseman for TCU, Howard has pitched two innings at Texas and Gregson is a backup catcher for Texas A&M.

Rojas, Greer, Gonzales and Schoenvogel have combined for 18 at-bats at their respective universities. Grebeck and Valdez have found success at their new schools and are starting at Midland College and UTSA.

Of the 13 players who transferred to Baylor between 2019-2021, Pineda was the only one who received all-conference honors. Five of the 13 players who transferred are out of eligibility, one player transferred elsewhere, three players remain at Baylor and three are no longer on a college baseball roster.

Pineda was Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2021 and 2022 and went on to be drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the twelfth round of the 2022 MLB Draft.

Including Pineda, only five players from Rodriguez’s 2019-2021 freshman and transfer classes received all-conference honors. Richardson earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2021 and 2022 before transferring to rival TCU this past summer. 

Kyle Nevin earned Big 12 Honorable Mention in 2022 and was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the eleventh round of the 2022 MLB Draft. Cam Caley earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors as a utility player in 2022.

Baylor Athletics
In three seasons at Baylor, Jared McKenzie earned all-conference honors in 2021 and 2022.

Jared McKenzie was First Team All-Big 12 in 2021 and Second Team All-Big 12 in 2022 before getting selected by the Washington Nationals in the fifth round of the 2022 MLB Draft.

While all-conference teams are not necessarily a barometer of a player’s value as a whole, it’s still an interesting way to interpret the condition in which Rodriguez had left the program. There’s still time for former Rodriguez recruits to do great things at Baylor. And some players have made solid additions to the program without making all-conference teams.

However, the numbers do not lie, and overwhelmingly, the former staff was missing on a lot of recruits over the last three years.

Rodriguez’s 2017 recruiting class alone produced: 2017 Newcomer of the Year Montana Parsons; 2018 Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Cody Bradford; 2019 Big 12 Co-Player of the Year Davis Wendzel; two-time Big 12 First Team catcher Shea Langeliers; 2021 Big 12 First Team catcher Andy Thomas; two-time Big 12 Honorable Mention pitcher Hayden Kettler; 2021 Big 12 Honorable Mention pitcher Jimmy Winston.

So where does Baylor go from here?

*Key: All players listed below are currently at Baylor

  • 2022 freshman class (Rodriguez): Caleb Bergman, Kolby Branch, Ethan Calder, Tanner Duke, Zach Mazoch, Collin McKinney, Jojo Medellin, Walker Polk, Blake Rogers, Danny Valadez
  • 2022 transfer class (Rodriguez): Hunter Simmons, Casey Sunseri, Cole Tremian, Andrew Petrowski, Jared Matheson.
  • 2022 transfer class (Thompson): Cole Posey, John Ceccoli, Gavin Brzozowski, Austin Stracener, Hunter Teplanszky, Daniel Altman, Gabe Craig.

Thompson and his staff inherited a roster mostly full of inexperience and unproven talent. Less than 15 of the 38 guys on the roster had significant Division I experience heading into 2023.

Naively, you might have anticipated Thompson to immediately bring in top-end JUCO talent to Baylor because of his connections from being the head coach at MCC for nine years. However, with Thompson taking the job in mid-June, most top-end players had already signed with other schools.

Instead, the staff had to work with what was available. Thompson doesn’t want to create a program where year after year, he’s bringing in dozens of players in the off-season and cutting dozens of players before the season starts.

Freshman Kolby Branch leads the team in average (.344), hits (22), runs (17), total bases (37) and RBIs (17).

However, I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that reality after seeing the state of the roster even with the NCAA announcing that baseball rosters would be expanded to 40 in 2024.

On the bright side, a month into the 2023 season, freshman infielder Kolby Branch has asserted himself as a player to build around moving forward.

Transfers Gavin Brzozowski (R-Fr.), John Ceccoli (So.), Will Pendergrass (Jr.), Hunter Simmons (Jr.) and Hunter Teplanszky (So.) have all had good moments at the plate, but none have been consistent enough yet. Junior outfielder Kobe Andrade has turned into an extra-base hit machine but is struggling to hit for average.

Sophomore Mason Marriott has looked like Baylor’s best pitcher so far. Veterans Grant Golomb (Jr.), Jared Matheson (Jr.), Hambleton Oliver (Jr.), Andrew Petrowski (Jr.) and Cole Stasio (Jr.) have flashed at times that they can be reliable pieces in the backend of the bullpen moving forward.

However, there just isn’t enough experience and consistency to win a ton of games this season. Nor is the defense where it should be for a Division I program.

Among the 14 players in Thompson’s 2023 recruiting class, MCC outfielder Ty Johnson and Austin Vandergrift catcher Brayden Buchanan are a couple of the headliners.

It’s going to be a longer rebuild than most fans probably anticipated. And right now, there are far more questions than answers. Over the course of the next 40 games, it will be interesting to see who emerges as a vital piece for the program moving forward.

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