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Baylor Baseball

One-on-One with Baylor Baseball Assistant Coach Zach Dillon

June 6, 2023

While 64 other college baseball teams across the country have embarked on a journey to reach Omaha, Baylor head coach Mitch Thompson and hitting coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Dillon find themselves in unfamiliar positions – not in the dugout in early June.

In Thompson’s 33 years across the collegiate baseball landscape, he’s reached the postseason 25 times, including seven combined trips to the NJCAA and College World Series in his stints at Mississippi State, Auburn, Baylor and McLennan.

Dillon, a first-year assistant under Thompson and a player at BU from 2003-to-2006, was a two-time All-Big 12 selection and helped power the Bears to three NCAA Tournament appearances and a College World Series berth in 2005.

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The Baylor baseball program has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since the 2019 season.

Not playing postseason baseball doesn’t sit right with Dillon or any coach for that matter, but the former BU backstop doesn’t expect this to become the norm for the program moving forward.

“I think there’s a story with every era of Baylor baseball,” Dillon said.

“And the story right now is we’re in chapter one. It’s the beginning, and I think we’re about to start chapter two, which is our response to what we’ve learned over the last 12 months. The vision is to [eventually] play for a National Championship and to win a National Championship.” 

While there’s understandably plenty of optimism for the next chapter, it’s also appropriate to reflect on the 2023 season, a year that featured missing out on the Big 12 Tournament for the first time ever and a program-record 35 losses.

The sheer number of losses wasn’t something anyone envisioned, but Dillon felt the coaching staff was successful in implementing a culture.

“[We wanted to] bring back the family atmosphere to the ballpark and bring back the family atmosphere amongst our players and our teams, and certainly, that starts with us as coaches. I thought for priority No. 1 and goal one, we achieved that. We executed that… We want to be hard-nosed, blue-collar, tough baseball players. We want to be together. We want to embody team.”

And despite a tough start to the Thompson era, Dillon never felt like the clubhouse went off the rails.

“Winning and losing is always going to create an emotion amongst a group of guys. ‘Hey, we’re putting our heart and soul into this thing, and we’re not getting any results.’ It’s tough on everybody… I think as a staff, we did a really nice job of not letting what’s already happened affect what’s going on today.”

That was evident when the coaching staff managed to inspire a team that looked mentally checked out to end the season on a good note with a victory on the road over Tarleton and a sweep of CSU Bakersfield.

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Freshman SS Kolby Branch and sophomore 3B Hunter Teplanszky are players to build around, according to assistant coach Zach Dillon.

“Being 4-0 that last week carrying us into the summertime and next fell was a big deal. It showed some resiliency. It showed some fight. There wasn’t any quit. It’s a testament to our guys and sticking together and having that bond in the clubhouse that we’re trying to create at ground level.”

Moving forward, infielders Kolby Branch (Fr.) and Hunter Teplanszky (So.) are players to build around at the top of the lineup.

As stated in the offseason notebook, Baylor’s offense should be solid next year, while the pitching staff is somewhat of a different story.

Dillon, like Thompson, noted the importance of welcoming Andrew Petrowski (Jr.), Blake Rogers (Fr.), Collin McKinney (Fr.) and Tanner Duke (Fr.) back from injuries next season but recognizes the need to make three-to-five upgrades this summer in the transfer portal.

“In a broad picture, we’re looking for guys who can impact the game and help us win games. It’s not an exact target always in this; sometimes you get what you are able to get, but I think if we target enough impact guys, we’re going to end up a better club… We certainly need arms and another position guy or two that can come in and play for us right away.”

There’s also optimism for the incoming recruiting class, which features seven JUCO players and 12 freshmen.

“We feel really, really good about what we’ve got coming in. It’ll be young for the most part. But we’ve also added some junior college pieces that we feel like are going to step in and play right away. If we do a good job over the next month and a half, two months with what we’re adding, I feel like we go into the fall with a much more loaded deck and a much better understanding of where we are at.”

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The transfer portal has been open for a week and four Baylor players from the 2023 roster have entered.

Dillon also said he doesn’t like timelines but thinks that in order to be competitive in 2024, there will need to be around 47-50 guys competing for 40 spots in the fall, but that’s not necessarily the model Baylor wants moving forward.

“Loyalty is a huge factor for us as a program. I think we can’t be the people who are running guys out of here year after year. For us to build any kind of stability, people have to believe in who we are, what we’re all about and that’s bringing guys in that we believe in and sticking with them and developing them… I believe there’s value in continuity. I believe there’s value in player development. And I believe there’s value in loyalty. I think our staff tends to lean heavily on those three things with bringing in the right pieces every summer that can help elevate us to be at the level we want to be at.”

But when you want to build a program around loyalty, it’s difficult to divide 11.7 scholarships amongst a roster, especially at a school like Baylor.

“It’s hard at a place where the school is not the cheapest,” Dillon said. “Most people come to Baylor because they love Baylor or they really trust and believe in the coaching staff that’s in their sport… Us being a non-equivalency sport, we’re asking guys to pay quite a bit of money to come play in a lot of circumstances, so there’s a niche-type player that we’re looking for.”

Others have voiced concerns over BU being disadvantaged in the modern college landscape with NIL, but Dillon doesn’t seem to think so.

“I think there’s a lot of hype and hysteria around the country over what some other programs are doing. I believe in our administration. I believe in us being on the front edge of anything that’s going on in competitive athletics. We’ve seen it over the last decade in football and basketball … But like I said before, we want guys who want Baylor, but they have to be on the level that gets us to the top part of the Big 12 year in and year out and gives us a chance to play for national championships.”

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
Baylor baseball finished the season on a four-game winning streak to enter the offseason on a positive note.

As June rolls in and the transfer portal rages on, and teams compete for a chance to make it to Omaha, the Baylor baseball program will close out chapter one of the Thompson era and look forward to a much more successful chapter next season.

“I’m excited about Year Two,” Dillon said. “We definitely started from the bottom, and we’re working up from that. But we’re excited about the challenge and the opportunity that presents to us. At the end of the day, it’s about building and growing these young men and winning baseball games. We know what’s in front of us, and we know how to do it. We’ve had a lot of guys with a lot of experience that have done it before. Baylor baseball is going to take a huge jump forward next year in a lot of ways.”

Discussion from...

One-on-One with Baylor Baseball Assistant Coach Zach Dillon

2,307 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 1 yr ago by CTbruin
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Baylor's press release in November listed 14 players. 11 freshmen and 3 jucos.

Where do we find the full list of 19 mentioned here?
Levi Caraway
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CTbruin said:

Baylor's press release in November listed 14 players. 11 freshmen and 3 jucos.

Where do we find the full list of 19 mentioned here?

I am including the four JUCO guys (Glatch, Crain, Jordan, Nail) and one freshman (Surdey) who have since signed.
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