By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
It only took 347 days and an ice storm, but Baylor baseball is back in action. The Bears opened the 2021 season with a three-game series against UT Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, splitting a double header on Sunday and dropping the series finale on Monday 7-4.
Baylor took the opener 12-7 and was up 8-0 in game two before the Vaqueros completed a 9-8 comeback win. Although it’s not the result the Bears would’ve liked, there were a lot of positives to come out of the series. Here are three takeaways from Baylor’s first three games of the season:
Jared McKenzie is GOOD at baseball
If hitting .406 during the 2020 shortened season and being tagged a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball as well as making the Big 12 All-Rookie Team didn’t give it away that the Bears’ center fielder is a talented kid, then maybe going 7-for-15 with two home runs and five RBI’s as well as keeping a perfect fielding percentage in the opening series sure will.
The Round Rock native was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week and is currently hitting .467. Although he’s a second-year freshman, McKenzie qualified for the award because he had yet to complete a full collegiate season and did not have the opportunity to earn it last year due to the cancellation of spring sports as a result of the pandemic.
McKenzie has proved to be consistent both at the plate and in the outfield. He also has the potential to be one of Baylor’s leading players. There’s no doubt he’ll be a high draft pick whenever he becomes eligible.
Power Packed Lineup
The state of Texas might have been without power, but the Bears certainly were not. Baylor blasted five homers on Sunday: two by McKenzie, one by fifth-year catcher Andy Thomas, one by senior third baseman Esteban Cardoza-Oquendo and one by redshirt sophomore first baseman Chase Wehsener.
Honestly, this lineup is stacked. You’ve got McKenzie in the leadoff spot and a proven and consistent veteran in Thomas batting clean up. And just because Wehsener hits at the bottom of the lineup doesn’t mean he can’t pack a punch when the team needs him. Then you have guys like Cardoza-Oquendo and right fielder Davion Downey who have already proven themselves to be clutch at the plate.
Sprinkle in a series of freshmen young guns in shortstop Tre Richardson, utility player Kyle Nevin, as well as a couple of JUCO transfers in second baseman Jack Pineda and designated hitter Antonio Valdez, who totaled multiple hits and RBI against the Vaqueros, and you’ve got a pick-your-poison offense going.
Shaking off the rust on the mound
For the most part, Baylor’s pitchers gave solid performances to open up the season. Fourth-year Tyler Thomas probably had the best outing of Baylor’s starters this week with a career-high six innings pitched. He only gave up two runs on four hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
Redshirt reliever Jacob Ashkinos also earned his first career save with three scoreless innings and second-year freshman Hambleton Oliver earned his first win of the season with 1.1 innings in relief of redshirt sophomore Blake Helton.
Freshman reliever Grant Golomb impressed with a scoreless two innings Monday with only two hits and a strikeout.
All in all, the spring is still young and there’s a long way to go, but Baylor baseball has all the tools necessary to be successful in 2021 and beyond.
The Bears will next hit the field against Texas A&M Friday in Round Rock to open the Round Rock Classic.