With the college baseball season right around the corner, we start previewing every team in the Big 12. Here’s a closer look at the Baylor Bears.
2017 Record: 34-23 (12-12 in Big 12 play), lost in NCAA Regionals
Head Coach: Steve Rodriguez (3rd season, 58-52, .527 winning percentage)
Last NCAA Regional appearance: 2017 (L to Texas A&M and Houston)
Big 12 Coaches Prediction: 8th place (22 points)
In The Box
After earning its first NCAA Regional appearance since 2012, and first one under third year head coach Steve Rodriguez, the Bears are looking to build on that momentum. But it’s not going to be easy. Last season, Baylor had the second-best batting average (.295) in the Big 12 conference and second-best on-base percentage and slugging percentage. But Aaron Dodson is gone from this line up. He finished his senior season third in the Big 12 in batting (.344) and fifth with 11 home runs. C Matt Menard also graduated after a productive season that saw him hit .313 with 3 homers and 28 RBI.
The lineup will now be based around preseason All-American catcher Shea Langeliers, who earned All-American honors as a freshman last season. Langeliers finished in the top 10 in the Big 12 with 10 home runs and was also in the top 10 in total bases and slugging percentage. Other pieces around Langeliers include 3B Davis Wendzel (8 HR, 30 RBI), IF/OF Tucker Johnson (.333 BA, 2nd on team in 2017) and OF Richard Cunningham (5 HR, 29 RBI). The Bears do return 58% of their offense from last season, so there is a chance, with a lot of young production returning, that the offense can stay close to last season’s numbers.
On the Rubber
This is where the Bears could use some help, specifically in the rotation. Baylor finished the 2017 season with the third-worst team ERA in the Big 12 conference. Their 4.56 BB/9 was the second worst in the conference and their SO/9 was third worst. On top of that, the team’s ace, Montana Parsons, was selected in the 24th round of the MLB Draft and is now playing in the Marlins organization. Parsons had the fifth-best ERA in the Big 12 (3.06), while going 5-4 with 71 K’s in 88 IP. Cody Bradford is one of the returning starters, but he struggled as a freshman with a 5.52 ERA. Alex Phillips could get a weekend starter spot after starting eight games last season to mixed results with a 5.82 ERA. Also, Kyle Hill started eight games as a freshman in 2016, but moved to a reliever role last season, where he dominated to a 2.98 ERA with 54 K’s in 42.1 IP. He could find himself back in the rotation.
But the goal for coach Rodriguez will be to get to his bullpen as quickly as possible. It’s anchored by senior closer Troy Montemayor, who was an All-American last season after locking down 12 saves with a 2.10 ERA and 29 K’s in 25.2 IP. Hayden Kettler had a great freshman season with a 3.37 ERA in 19 appearances, including four games started, while Joe Heineman did a solid job in relief as well (3.68 ERA in 23 appearances).
And don’t forget about the freshman. Weston Smith is a lefty who was drafted in the 34th round by the Angels, but will play for the Bears and could provide an immediate spark.
The Bears open up with a Purdue team that had a mediocre season in 2017 (29-27), but should have more depth to work with this season, especially the pitching staff. But it gets tougher from there, with a mid-week game against No. 18 Dallas Baptist and then a three-game series at No. 11 UCLA, where we get a close look at the highest-ranked recruit to attend a Pac-12 school in OF Garrett Mitchell. Then it’s a trip up I-35 to Frisco for the Frisco College Classic, with a solid field of Cal, No. 10 Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech. The schedule then eases up before conference play with a series against George Washington, book ended by UT Arlington and a tricky game against Sam Houston State.