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Baylor Baseball: 2024 Review, Plus End-of-Season Survey Results

May 21, 2024

Mitch Thompson’s second season as head coach of the Baylor baseball program has come to an end. The Bears (22-31, 10-20) will miss the Big 12 Tournament for the second consecutive year and the second time in program history.

Many factors played a role in Thompson’s disappointing second year at the helm, such as injuries to key lineup contributors and an underachieving pitching staff. Last week, I sent out an end-of-season survey to gauge how the fanbase feels about the program's future.

Over 100 responses were gathered, and the survey consisted of 11 questions – seven multi-choice and four free-response questions. I’ll break down the answers and reflect on this year while looking forward to a critical offseason as well. As a caveat, I only included answers that got at least 5% of the vote.

What was the biggest bright spot from this season?

  • Enzo Apodaca (21%), Winning Stretch in April (16%), Wesley Jordan & Ty Johnson (13%), Ethan Calder (8%), Young Arms (7%), Team’s Fight despite Injuries (7%), Cole Posey (6%)

Baylor’s trio of outfielders – Enzo Apodaca (RJr.), Wesley Jordan (Jr.) and Ty Johnson (Jr.) – were all major bright spots throughout the 2024 season. Each is a cornerstone to build around moving forward and finished in the Top 50 in the Big 12 in batting average and on-base percentage.

Apodaca, a transfer from Gonzaga, was a revelation for the Bears at the top of the batting order and in right field this spring. He led Baylor in batting average (.333), runs (46), hits (70), extra-base hits (23) and RBIs (42).

Baylor’s trio of outfielders – Enzo Apodaca (RJr.), Wesley Jordan (Jr.) and Ty Johnson (Jr.) – each finished in the Top 50 in the Big 12 in batting average and on-base percentage.

While Apodaca was snubbed from all-conference honors, Jordan earned Second Team All-Big 12 recognition. Jordan holds a team-long 34-game on-base steak and is the first Baylor player since Davis Wendzel (37) in 2018 to reach safely in 30 consecutive contests. Had he not missed 10 games with a concussion, he likely would have reached double-digit home runs instead of finishing with nine.

From March 29 to April 19, Thompson’s squad was on fire, winning 10 of 11 games and reaching 9-7 at the halfway mark of conference play. For that three-week period, the Bears finally seemed to turn a corner and had reached .500 (18-18) for the first time in the Thompson Era.

In that span, the offense was clicking on all cylinders, the defense was solid and the pitching was holding up to the best of its ability. That brief glimpse was both spectacular and sad because it showed what this team was capable of at its best, but it also made the grueling final month during which Baylor lost 12 consecutive conference games even tougher to swallow.

Over 10 players dealt with injuries that kept them out for significant amounts of time, so for the team to have played such great baseball in the month of April, despite the losses to key contributors is rather remarkable. No one embodied taking advantage of their opportunity more than infielder Cole Posey (Sr.).

Posey, who was a major contributor on last year’s team, played sparingly across the first half of this season due to various injury struggles of his own. When Thompson couldn’t find adequate first-base play, the coaching staff held an impromptu tryout in early April, and Posey won the job despite never playing first base.

The Georgetown native rounded out his college career with All-Big 12 honors and was second on the Bears in batting average (.342), slugging percentage (.534) and on-base percentage (.422) during conference play.  

Most disappointing thing from this season?

  • Pitching (35%), End of Season Woes (17%), Injuries (15%), Coaching (11%), Missing Big 12 Tournament (7%), Defense (7%)

Entering the spring, Baylor’s pitching staff was a major question mark. For the first month and a half of the season, the Bears held up better than anticipated with an improved weekend rotation and a strong nucleus of young arms. 

Once the year waned and mid-April hit, Thompson began to get less consistency from his starting pitchers, the veteran relievers struggled mightily and the talented but inexperienced young arms began to hit a wall. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
LHP Ethan Calder (So.) was Baylor’s most reliable arm this season; he had the fourth-lowest ERA (3.23) among qualified pitchers in the Big 12. 

Baylor finished the season last in the conference in earned run average (6.51) and free passes issued (340) and second-to-last in batting average against (.284). The Bears had the fourth-highest ERA in the Power Five and had just two pitchers with sub-five ERAs – Gabe Craig (RJr.) and Ethan Calder (So.).

On a positive note, Calder had a phenomenal spring and earned All-Big 12 honors. The sophomore southpaw had the fourth-lowest ERA (3.23) among qualified pitchers in the conference and led the Bears' pitching staff in WHIP (1.11), wins (5) and saves (2).

Other young arms such as RJ Ruais (Fr.), Mason Green (Fr.), Stephen Sepulveda (Fr.) and Tanner Duke (RFr.) all had their moments and will continue to improve as time goes on.

Right-handed pitcher Mason Marriott (Jr.) had a rather impressive season that probably won’t get as much shine because he struggled in three of his last four outings, but he led the team with eight starts where he went at least five innings while surrendering three or less earned runs. Marriott is expected to test the MLB Draft waters this summer; if he returns, however, that would be a huge boost to Thompson’s 2025 roster.

The second most disappointing thing was how Baylor finished the season, according to the voters (17%). Last year, the Bears faltered down the stretch, and one of the main goals I wanted to see this spring was that Baylor would play its best baseball in April and May.

After reaching the middle of conference play with a 9-7 record, the Bears looked destined for a return to Arlington. Since a 14-5 victory over Kansas on April 19, Baylor closed the season losing 13 of 14 conference contests and was outscored 147-to-62 during that stretch.

Without injuries, would Baylor have made the Big 12 Tournament?

  • Yes (61%), No (16%), Not Sure (23%)

Without injuries, how many wins would Baylor have finished with?

  • 25-30 Wins (49%), 20-25 Wins (27%), Not Sure (15%)

What would you consider this season?

  • Disappointment (60%), Failure (38%), Success (5%)

I’m in agreeance with the majority on this question. Injuries limited the ceiling of what this team could have been. While the Bears were never going to be a legitimate NCAA Tournament squad because of the lack of pitching, they could have made some more noise in conference play and could have finished closer to .500 overall. 

Had that been the case, the sentiment surrounding the program would be more optimistic than pessimistic. It’s tough to gauge how many more wins Baylor would have had with a fully healthy roster. Personally, I’d suspect somewhere just south of 30 wins, and the majority of the voters agreed with 49% of the tally saying 25-30 wins as well.

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365
OF Hunter Simmons (Sr.) was poised for a breakout senior season before being lost for the year with a leg injury. 

Outfielder Hunter Simmons (Sr.) in particular, was a huge loss. Simmons hit .297 last spring and was poised for a breakout senior season. Through four games before being lost for the year, Simmons was 6-for-17 at the plate with four extra-base hits and six RBIs. Keep in mind, the competition he faced was Nebraska, Oregon, No. 5 Tennessee and Lamar – all four of which will likely make the NCAA Tournament.

Another key injury was when Jordan suffered a concussion on April 26 against No. 21 West Virginia, which put the Bears' conference tournament hopes even further on the rocks. The star slugger missed the following 10 games, and the Bears went 2-8 during that stretch.

Regardless, with or without injuries, missing the Big 12 Tournament for the second consecutive year and the second time in program history is extremely disappointing, considering that was arguably the only major goal for the 2024 Bears.

Most important thing Mitch Thompson should do this offseason?

  • Add Talent via Transfer Portal/Recruiting (40%), Add Pitchers (38%), Retain Talent on Roster (10%), Raise NIL (7%)

The first two options of acquiring more talent (40%) and adding pitchers (38%) go pretty much hand-in-hand, the only difference being that 38% of voters specified the need to add pitchers.

I’ll discuss my reasons for optimism surrounding next year’s batting order later, however, I completely agree with the need to add arms this summer. Whether fair or not, it’s going to be sink-or-swim for the coaching staff heading into Year Three. On a scale of 1-5 with five being the highest, Thompson’s confidence rating among the fan base was at 4.02 after 2023 and is currently at 2.66 coming off a disappointing second season.

RHP Mason Marriott (Jr.) is expected to test the MLB Draft waters this summer. If he returns, it would be a huge boost to Thompson’s 2025 roster.

I believe Thompson recognizes the sense of urgency to win and will do everything within his power this offseason to bolster the pitching staff. Now, the concern moves to whether the coaching staff can retain the talent already on the roster. 

As we’ve seen in the past with Freshman All-American Kolby Branch affirming his commitment to Baylor in late May and then deciding in mid-June to hit the portal, potential decisions on whether to stay or leave can be quite fluid.

However, there’s a sense of optimism that the core group of outfielders – Apodaca, Johnson and Jordan – will remain in Waco for their senior seasons. Obviously, things can change in the coming weeks, but all signs point in the right direction as of right now.

What are your expectations for next season?

  • .500 (34%), Bubble Team (34%), NCAA Tournament (21%), Under .500 (7%)

I tend to think that I’m pretty realistic in my views, but I genuinely believe, along with 21% of the voters, that this could be an NCAA Tournament team next year if the appropriate moves are made this offseason on the mound. At the very least, Thompson’s team must be on the bubble in 2025. Otherwise, I’d consider that a massive disappointment. As one survey responder eloquently stated, “No more baby steps; it’s time for substantial improvement.”

The reason for my optimism is because of the rising senior class of starting position players. Apodaca, Jordan and Johnson, along with catcher Cortlan Castle (Jr.), shortstop Tyriq Kemp (Jr.) and third baseman Hunter Teplanszky (Jr.) are a solid and experienced group.

Baylor Athletics
The rising senior class is full of talented position players: Apodaca, Jordan, Johnson, Simmons, Cortlan Castle, Tyriq Kemp, Hunter Teplanszky and Will Pendergrass.

The Bears will also be bringing back outfielders Simmons and Gavin Brzozowski (RSo.) and infielders Jack Little (So.) and Will Pendergrass (RJr.) from injuries. If the majority of those players return, that’s a pretty salty lineup and could be even better with a transfer portal addition or two.

However, my main questions stem, similar to last offseason, about what to expect on the mound. If the young pitchers continue their upward trajectory and Thompson gets at least five veteran arms from the portal, there should be legitimate reasons to be excited about next year’s team. But if enough isn’t done to bolster the pitching staff, it will be another long season and a waste of what could be a special senior class.

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Baylor Baseball: 2024 Review, Plus End-of-Season Survey Results

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