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Baylor Baseball Final Month Check-In: Push to Big 12 Tournament, Offseason Needs, Etc.

April 23, 2024

Heading into last weekend’s series against Kansas, head coach Mitch Thompson’s Bears had won nine of their last ten games and were carrying a four-game winning streak and a five-game conference winning streak into their battle against the Jayhawks.

After a resounding 14-5 win on Friday night, where everything was clicking on all cylinders, Baylor came out flat in the final two games of the series and lost back-to-back contests, dropping back to .500 in conference play (9-9) and under .500 overall (18-20). 

The Bears had a big opportunity this past weekend at home to make a statement but squandered it. With a month left in the season, what’s next? Will Baylor make the Big 12 Tournament? Where is this team currently, and what do I expect going into the offseason? I’ll answer those below.

Will Baylor make the Big 12 Tournament?

Big 12 Conference
The 6-through-11 spots will be a race until the final weekend between Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Cincinnati, UCF and TCU.

The middle of the conference is a jumbled mess this year, and as of right now, it appears that the Bears will be fighting for one of the last bids in the Big 12 Tournament. Ten of the 13 teams in the conference will go to Arlington, and it’s pretty clear that Houston (6-15) and BYU (6-15) are separating themselves as the bottom two teams.

As I see it, the 6-through-11 spots will be a race until the final weekend between Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Cincinnati, UCF and TCU. I’ve listed each school’s schedule over the final month below:

  • Baylor (9-9): @ West Virginia, TCU, @ Oklahoma, UCF
  • Kansas (9-9): Texas Tech, @ Kansas State, Houston, @ Texas
  • Kansas State (9-9): @ TCU, Kansas, @ West Virginia, BYU
  • Cincinnati (9-9): @ UCF, West Virginia, @ BYU, Oklahoma
  • UCF (8-10): Cincinnati, @ Houston, Texas, @ Baylor
  • TCU (8-13): Kansas State, @ Baylor, West Virginia

Hindsight is 20/20 but the sweep to Houston felt ugly at the moment and looks even more gross looking back. Had the Bears left Houston with at least one win, I’d feel pretty good about their chances right now.

But we can’t alter the past, so let’s look forward. Over the final month, Baylor will take trips to Morgantown and Norman to face two of the top dogs in the conference – West Virginia (11-7) and Oklahoma (14-4).

Expecting the Bears to win either one of those series is probably a pipe dream, but realistically, they can’t get swept in either three-game set. In the two home series against TCU (8-13) and UCF (8-10), Baylor has to win at least one of those – preferably both.

Baylor Athletics
Baylor’s final month of the season includes series against TCU and UCF and road trips to Morgantown and Norman.

The Knights were ranked nationally for a decent chunk of the season and the Horned Frogs were ranked as high No. 3 this spring. TCU is running out of time, but Kirk Saarloos’ squad is extremely talented, and it would be naive not to expect them to figure things out at some point.

If Baylor can go 2-4 on the road against West Virginia and Oklahoma and 3-3 at home against TCU and UCF, they would finish the regular season at 14-16 in conference play, which would probably be enough for them to sneak into the Big 12 Tournament with one of the final bids.

While far from accurate and should be taken with a grain of salt, this is how Warren Nolan projects the bottom of the conference to finish with the lowest three teams missing the Big 12 Tournament entirely:

  • Kansas State (15-15)
  • Baylor (14-16)
  • Cincinnati (14-16)
  • TCU (14-16)
  • Kansas (13-17)
  • UCF (13-17)*
  • Houston (10-20)*
  • BYU (7-23)*

What do I want to see over the final month?

The main things I’d like to see over the final month would be to make the conference tournament, continue playing good baseball and see signs of a strong nucleus of returning talent.

Baylor Athletics
LF/DH Wesley Jordan (Jr.) leads the Bears in home runs this season with seven.

Obviously, not making the Big 12 Tournament would be disappointing for Thompson’s squad in his second year at the head of the program. However, the fact that the Bears are sitting at 18-20 overall and 9-9 in conference play after opening the year 1-7 and losing four starting position players with injuries is a major testament to the fight of this team.

It’s been encouraging to see Baylor play its best ball of the Thompson Era in recent weeks, and hopefully, the team can continue that for the final month and take momentum into the offseason.

As for the roster, although limited because of injuries, I’m extremely pleased with what I’ve seen over the course of this spring. Outfielders Enzo Apodaca (RJr.), Ty Johnson (Jr.) and Wesley Jordan (Jr.) have all been as good as advertised. Third baseman Hunter Teplanszky (Jr.) has had an up-and-down year, but at his best, is an all-conference type of player.

On paper, if nobody is lost to the transfer portal and outfielder Hunter Simmons (Sr.) takes a medical redshirt and elects to return, I see at least seven clear returning position-player starters. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
OF Hunter Simmons (Sr.) will have the option to elect a medical redshirt and return next season.

On the mound, Mason Marriott (Jr.) and Ethan Calder (So.) have been outstanding. While inconsistent at times, there’s been a strong core of young pitchers who have, by in large, performed well this season and have shown promise – Collin McKinney (RFr.), RJ Ruais (Fr.), Mason Green (Fr.) and Stephen Sepulveda (Fr.).

The coaching staff will need to do everything it can to retain the current talent on the roster this offseason, particularly the young arms who will have potential suitors. Still, I think the bones are there for a regional-caliber team next year with some additions from the transfer portal.

What should Baylor do in the offseason?

One of the most encouraging things in recent weeks has been the emergence of shortstop Tyriq Kemp (Jr.). Throughout the fall, Kemp was on a similar level offensively to Apodaca and Johnson, but that wasn’t the least bit evident over the first month and a half of the season.

In his last seven games, The Netherlands native is 14-for-23 at the plate with six extra-base hits. As of April 7, Kemp was sitting below the Mendoza line with a .168 batting average. Since then, he has raised his average to .262 and is getting on base at a .391 clip, good for fifth on the team.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
In his last seven games, SS Tyriq Kemp (Jr.) is 14-for-23 at the plate with six extra-base hits.

My point is that Kemp turning into a viable Big 12 shortstop has huge implications for the coaching staff this offseason. A premier position like shortstop can command a ton of scholarship or NIL money in the transfer portal. Now that you can pencil Kemp in as “the guy” next spring, you can turn your attention elsewhere.

For the batting order, I’d look to add a slugging first baseman who could also potentially play catcher. Cortlan Castle (Jr.) has proven he can be a solid backstop at this level but will never possess the power to hit 10-plus home runs a season; adding a first baseman with some pop can offset that.

Elsewhere, I’d try to get a versatile utility player, similar to Daniel Altman (Sr.), who can play multiple positions and fill in for anybody who gets injured. Prior to the spring, infielder Jack Little (So.) was somebody the coaching staff expected to be the starting second baseman before he was lost for the year with an injury. Little should return ready to go next season, but I’d consider adding another infielder for depth purposes.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
RHP Mason Marriott (Jr.) has had an outstanding season for Baylor but will warrant some draft interest later this summer.

Most importantly, the coaching staff needs to add as many arms as possible this offseason. My main quibble last summer was that Thompson didn’t add enough quality pitchers, and I think that’s rearing its ugly head as the season has waned on and the younger guys are starting to hit a wall. I don’t think it’s crazy to think this team could be closer to the bubble than people realize had they added a quality veteran starter and another reliable arm or two for the bullpen.

I anticipate Marriott will warrant some draft interest later this summer. After two up-and-down years, Marriott has flourished in his third season in the green and gold and has become a legitimate Friday night arm in the Big 12. While I think it’s far from a sure thing that he’s gone, I would go into the offseason anticipating his departure. And if Marriott returns to Waco for his senior year, that would be a humongous plus.

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Baylor Baseball Final Month Check-In: Push to Big 12 Tournament, Offseason Needs, Etc.

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