By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
It’s been a busy offseason for the new Baylor baseball team and head coach Mitch Thompson. The Bears are coming off a disappointing 2022 season that saw the end of the Steve Rodriguez era.
The team found its guy to turn the team around when Thompson was hired to man the ship in June 2022. Now, eight months later, he’s ready to field a team that will prove critics wrong this spring.
After being ranked last in the Big 12 preseason poll, the Bears are motivated to outperform expectations.
“I do care what people [think of] us; it puts a chip on my shoulder,” Thompson said. “I don’t like being picked where we’re picked [9th in the nine-team Big 12] and I don’t ever want to be picked there again. I’m taking it as a challenge. We’re at least going to meet expectations, probably going to exceed, that’s the idea here. When you start where they picked us, they don’t expect a whole lot from us. So, we’re going to try and give them all we have.”
When Thompson took over, he was challenged with filling the roster with his own recruits and new talent. While there are several returning players like sophomore first baseman Casen Neumann and junior right-handed pitcher Cole Stasio, the new team will have more new faces than familiar ones.
“We have a lot of underdogs, a couple [of] freshmen that have definitely proved to be here,” Neumann said. “We have a lot of transfers from JUCOs [junior colleges] that have really stepped it up too and we only have a couple guys from last year that are still in the lineup. Overall, everybody’s doing a pretty good job with the offense.”
The Bears feel confident with their pitching staff going into the season, but questions have popped up about the level of play on offense. Only two home runs have carried over from last year’s roster and all eyes will be on the power potential of incoming or returning athletes.
“There’s going to be growing pains, there’s no question, but I like where our guys are,” Thompson said. “We’re better today than we were in the fall and hopefully we’re gonna be better in three weeks than we are today. We’re young, inexperienced and there’s going to be some ups and downs as we learn and get going, but I like where they’re at and I like our guys’ competitive nature.”
The green and gold have focused on improving both offensively and defensively through the fall. The group believes that the competitive nature and culture that Thompson preaches is starting to take shape.
“I tend to have a chip on my shoulder and just go out there and say, ‘Alright that’s funny but we’re going to go out there and compete and prove people wrong,’” Neumann said.
One of Baylor’s many new additions, JUCO transfer freshman Gavin Brzozowski, will compete as a two-way pitcher and outfielder for the Bears. Brzozowski said throughout the training process he has already created great bonds with his teammates and is confident in the young talent on the team.
“I think we’re going to have a great impression on the Big 12 and everything we do,” Brzozowski said. “We have a lot of studs and not a lot of people know about us, about our pitching staff, about our new recruits we have. So, I’m super excited to shock the college baseball world.”
Unexpected teams have shocked the college baseball world before and the Bears are trying to be this year’s Cinderella story. With only a couple of weeks until opening day, final roster cut downs and everyday roles are still to be determined.
With more questions than answers, the Bears will be ready to go when they start the season against Central Michigan University on Feb. 17 at Baylor Ballpark. The first game of the three-game series is set for 3 p.m.