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Baylor Baseball

Baylor Baseball: Fan Survey Responses, Plus 2023 Season in Review

May 22, 2023

Mitch Thompson’s first season as head coach of the Baylor baseball program has finally come to an end. The Bears (20-35, 6-18) broke the program record for most losses in a single season and missed the Big 12 Tournament for the first time ever.

It wasn’t the year that anyone had envisioned and as a measure to see how the fans feel about the program's future, I sent out a Baylor baseball survey last week.

Over 60 responses were gathered, and the survey consisted of 10 questions that are individually listed below.

I’ll break down each question and reflect on this past season while also looking forward to next year.

-What would you consider this season? You could check multiple answers to this question.

  • N/A. It was always going to be a rebuilding year (32), Disappointment (31), Failure (8), Success (1)
Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
While most fans considered this season disappointing, they understood it would be a rebuilding year to set up the program's future.

I’ll start by saying I don’t think this season was a complete failure. Was it a disappointment like the majority of you said? Absolutely, but with what Thompson inherited from the former staff, it was always going to be an up-and-down year.

Did I expect this team to win just 20 games and miss the Big 12 Tournament? Not at all.

The pitching staff, mostly inherited from Steve Rodriguez, was a major weakness for much of the season. The defense was not good either, and the hitting was inconsistent. That’s not a recipe for success.

On a positive note, a culture seemed to be put in place as fifth-year senior Blake Helton elegantly said after the sweep of Cal State Bakersfield, “[Record-wise], you can’t really tell, but the culture that we have going here is night and day from the past. Moving forward, I think the program is in great hands, and you’ll see a lot more Baylor baseball at the top of the standings.”

-What was the biggest bright spot from this season?

  • Kolby Branch (25), UT series (9), Competitive Attitude (8), Mitch Thompson (6), Nothing (6)

Over a third of the respondents chose freshman phenom Kolby Branch as the biggest bright spot this season. I’d have to agree with that sentiment. Branch led the Bears in virtually every offensive category, and he’s a cornerstone type of player to build around moving forward.

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One of the top highlights of the season was overcoming a four-run deficit to walk off No. 19 Texas, 10-9.

The emergence of 3B Hunter Teplanszky (So.) was also a positive sign. I view him on the same tier as Branch as First Team All-Big 12 type guys.

Other players who impressed this season were OF Hunter Simmons (Jr.), UTL Cole Posey (Jr.), C Cortlan Castle (So.) and OF Gavin Brzozowski (R-Fr.).

Some other common answers included the “never say die attitude,” the series against No. 19 Texas and the new coaching staff.

For a good stretch of the season, despite not being as talented as opposing teams, Baylor fought until the end in every single game and appeared to be playing its best ball of the season in mid-April. 

That rang true against the Longhorns when BU overcame a four-run deficit for a 10-9 walk-off win on Saturday and fell by three combined runs in Friday and Sunday’s losses. It was by far the most thrilling series of the season, and it felt for the first time as if Baylor truly belonged.

After the UT series, OF Caleb Bergman (Fr.) said, “For the first time this year, I feel like we came to the field expecting to win.”

-What was the most disappointing thing from this season?

  • Pitching (28), Defense (12), Lack of Competitiveness (7), Hitting (4)
Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
After losing a series to No. 16 Texas Tech in Lubbock in late April, Baylor lost 10 of 11 games before finishing the season on a four-game winning streak.

The top two answers for the “most disappointing thing this season?” was the pitching and the defense, which I’ll get into a little more with the next two questions.

I figured most people would say “breaking the program record in losses” or “missing the Big 12 Tournament for the first time in program history” as the most disappointing thing.

Two people said something along the lines of “Baylor played its worst baseball of the season in May,” which I’d personally say was the most disappointing thing.

After salvaging the series against No. 16 Texas Tech on April 22, Baylor returned home and looked the worst they had all season in a 4-2 loss to Tarleton.

The Bears went on to get swept at home against No. 18 West Virginia, split a pair of midweek games before taking a break for final exams and returned to the diamond a week later and reeled off five straight lifeless losses.

However, Thompson seemed to inspire the group enough that the Bears ended on a positive note and finished the season with four-straight wins over inferior opponents, but nonetheless, a nice ending to a disappointing season.

-What was your confidence in this year's pitching staff? 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest.

  • Total Average: 1.74 – 5 (0), 4 (4), 3 (3), 2 (30), 1 (21)

The pitching staff was last in the Big 12 in every category and the sixth-worst in ERA (6.36) among all Power 5 schools.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Junior RHP Will Rigney finished with the second-lowest ERA on the team (4.18).

Baylor’s weekend rotation combination of Blake Helton (Sr.), Mason Marriott (So.), Will Rigney (Jr.) and Cam Caley (Jr.) didn’t work out.

Rigney was the best of the bunch and arguably the Bears’ best pitcher this season, but was rarely, if ever, at 100% health-wise.

While the bullpen wasn’t particularly great either, Grant Golomb (Jr.), Hambleton Oliver (Jr.), Anderson Needham (Jr.) and Ethan Calder (Fr.) all had impressive seasons and were better than their stats indicate.

In Thompson’s first year, the pitching staff was hit particularly hard by the injury bug as well. Freshmen Tanner Duke and Collin McKinney were out for the year. Blake Rogers (Fr.) and Andrew Petrowski (Jr.) were lost for the season early and Cole Stasio (Jr.) got hurt late.

-What was your confidence in this year's defense? 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest.

  • Total Average: 2.80 – 5 (1), 4 (7), 3 (18), 2 (19), 1 (16)

The overall average of answers was 2.80, which I believe is a little high. To the surprise of no one, Baylor was last in the conference in fielding percentage (.963).

I went into further detail in this article, but I can’t begin to quantify how often this season a play that could or should have been made wasn’t and it wasn’t ruled an error. Defense is something that is underappreciated and will definitely have to be of more importance next season.

-What was your confidence in this year's offense? 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest.

  • Total Average: 2.46 – 5 (1), 4 (4), 3 (25), 2 (23), 1 (8)
Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Freshman SS Kolby Branch finished the season as the team leader in virtually every offense category.

There could be some recency bias here due to the offensive struggles over the last month of the season.

Coming off of the Texas Tech series in late April, the offense was the strength of the team; Baylor was toward the middle of the pack in the conference in most offensive categories.

Since then, the Bears fell to the bottom of the Big 12 in every statistic: batting average (.254), runs (299), hits (472), home runs (41), RBI (271), total bases (711) and walks (230). 

In 12 games between April 25 to May 16, Baylor was outscored 85-to-44 and outhit 114-to-93. Excluding an 18-hit, 12-run outlier to Texas A&M Corpus Christi, those numbers drop to 32 runs and 75 hits in 11 games.

Branch, who was hitting .365 on April 25, finished the season on a skid and dropped to .325. Posey, who was hitting .306, dropped to .279. Baylor’s other two best hitters, Simmons and Teplanszky, battled injuries during that stretch.

Castle and Brzozowski were the only two guys who were “hot” at the plate to end the season.

-Confidence in Mitch Thompson moving forward? 5 being the highest, 1 being the lowest.

  • Total Average: 4.02 – 5 (27), 4 (17), 3 (10), 2 (5), 1 (2)

This year was essentially a freebie for Thompson. I don’t think you can make any massive judgments because he did not inherit a loaded roster from Rodriguez. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
“Nobody is happy with how the season went … We're excited about what the future holds,” Thompson said after Saturday’s final game.

If this team is really bad and doesn’t improve again next year, then maybe it would be time to raise some questions.

I was somewhat discouraged that the squad seemed to regress defensively over the course of the season and that they played the worst ball of the season the last month. But I admire that the clubhouse appeared not to go completely off the rails despite losing a lot of games.

“It was great to be back,” Thompson said after the final game of the season. “I'm excited about that. Nobody is happy with how the season has ended. Nobody is happy with how the season went … We learned a lot. We're much better prepared. We're excited about what the future holds. I'm excited about our recruiting classes that we have coming in over the next couple of years. We're not done. We're just going to hit the ground and go. We're moving forward. While I hate to see this season end for these kids, and I hate to see that this is it for the first year, but it's time to move, and it's time to get ready for better days."

-Most important thing Mitch Thompson should do this offseason?

  • Roster Improvements (52), Coaching Staff Adjustments (2)

This past offseason, Thompson didn’t have time on his side. He was hired in June and had to re-recruit the roster to stay, keep the 2022 recruits on board and reenergize a fanbase that had been lulled to sleep over the past couple of seasons, amongst many, many other things.

He brought in only seven guys, but Thompson personally told me earlier this spring that he wanted as many of the guys from the 2022 roster to return. 

Unfortunately, as far as on-the-field results, it just really didn’t work out for the majority of the returners from last year’s team. 

For this roster to be competitive next season, Thompson will have to hit the transfer portal hard for pitching, as well as tapping deep into his JUCO connections from his time at MCC.

If Thompson is able to get three-to-five serviceable arms from the portal, I’ll feel a lot better about next year’s pitching staff. The most important thing is finding reliable starting pitching, and I think the bullpen will fall together nicely if that happens.

It’s not as simple as it sounds, however. There are scholarships to honor. There’s the human aspect of it all. Sure, it sounds nice to bring in over 50 players in the fall and dwindle that number down to 40, but that’s not the precedent Thompson wants for his program moving forward, but I don’t think he has the choice if he wants to win next year.

-What are your expectations for next season?

  • NCAA Tournament (17), Bubble Team (17), .500 Team (24), Under .500 Team (3)

Currently, I’m leaning more toward a .500 team. This team needs starting pitching, and I’m unsure if that can be entirely fixed in one offseason without heavy additions through the portal.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Redshirt freshman OF Gavin Brzozowski finished the season on a good note and picked up nine base knocks in his final 17 plate appearances.

However, I truly believe next year's offense will be good enough to reach a regional. Branch, Teplanszky, Simmons, Posey, Brzozowski and Castle have all proven to be solid players.

Bergman, Daniel Altman (Jr.), Will Pendergrass (Jr.) and Cole Tremain (Jr.) also had nice moments.

The JUCO additions of Wesley Jordan (Navarro), Luke Nail (San Jacinto), Tyriq Kemp (Western Oklahoma State College) and Ty Johnson (McLennan), as well as incoming freshman Brayden Buchanon from Austin Vandergrift, should help bolster the lineup.

I think it’ll ultimately come down to how far pitching takes the team next season, and I think it’s dangerous to expect or rely upon the incoming freshmen or the returning guys to be in the starting rotation next spring.

-Any other comments or thoughts?

Most write-in answers said something along the lines of “patience” and “I believe that Mitch Thompson is the right guy, but it will take time.”

It was a tough year, but I agree with the majority of the responses; there’s no reason to make massive judgments just yet. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
“The fans are hungry for winners too, and we are going to be doing everything we can to give them that as fast as we can,” Thompson said after Saturday’s game.

On the bright side, the only way to go is up.

If Thompson can keep the current talent in Waco and do well in the transfer portal this summer by bringing in some quality arms, I think this team’s ceiling for next season will be raised significantly.

On a finishing note, I think there are so many intricacies and difficulties that come with being the head baseball coach of Baylor University, and I think Mitch Thompson has the best chance to bring this program back to where it should be.

Thompson’s a grinder. He understands that in order to win, you have to recruit, recruit, recruit. He’s not complacent with how this season turned out, and you can tell it truly bothered him. He will do everything in his power this summer and in the future to turn things around.

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Baylor Baseball: Fan Survey Responses, Plus 2023 Season in Review

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