By Foster Nicholas | Sports Writer
Baylor baseball took the field on Monday for the first day of practice as the Bears ramp up for a fall filled with competition and development at Baylor Ballpark.
In his second year at the helm, head coach Mitch Thompson had no time to kick his feet up in his office over the offseason. Instead, he went back to work, soaked up the experiences from the year prior and said he is now preparing for what’s ahead.
“I’m excited to get back out here again,” Thompson said. “It was great last year. Everything was brand-new again. This year, we have a little more feel for it. Last year, it [was] almost a whole unknown, and this year, there’s a lot more known, so that’s comforting.”
Despite a 2022 campaign that saw the Bears go 20-35, Thompson said his group has found a rhythm and routine that will suit it for success as training begins. Senior right-handed pitcher Jared Matheson said the athletes continue to buy into what Thompson is preaching as well.
“I feel really confident in what he’s doing,” Matheson said. “There are not a lot of questions about how the fall is going to go or what we’re doing day to day. It’s get here, get to work and we’re going to win games. No more feeling our way through it.”
The fall opens with 51 men fighting for a spot on the 40-man roster come spring. Familiar faces like junior catcher Cortlan Castle, senior infielder Cole Posey and junior third baseman Hunter Teplanszky add a sense of continuity, but there are 25 brand-new ballplayers on the diamond alongside them.
“The leadership roles, those things are all going to really start developing right now,” Thompson said. “We have 26 newcomers on the ball club, and we feel like those guys are talented guys that can really add something to us. [They’re] going to help us get right up where we want to be and start competing for championship-type things.”
Baylor ushered several transfers like junior infielder Tyriq Kemp from Western Oklahoma Community College and redshirt junior outfielder Enzo Apodaca from Gonzaga. Thompson said big-time additions like Kemp and Apodaca have raised the expectations in the lineup and put pressure on returning talent. The team also added 13 true freshmen as part of the recruiting class, with eight competing for starts on the mound.
“The guys are excited. They look around, they can see the additional talent that’s next to them,” Thompson said. “Their work ethic has picked up a notch too, because they look around and they go, ‘Oh, baby, I have to keep going if I’m going to be out there on the field.’ That’s good. All those things are good. The best part about this is now we can really get serious.”
An emphasis was placed on throwing strikes throughout the 2023 season, and the team focused on training and recruiting to improve, according to Thompson. Adding more depth and stamina to the bullpen, Baylor baseball hopes to find potential from both sides of the mound.
“I like what I’m seeing from our arms,” Thompson said. “I think our depth is better. Our arm strength is better. And I think we’ll perform better. We’re going to have huge competition this year. There’s definitely competition at every position on the field, for sure on the mound as well.”
Even though fewer men are competing for a roster spot this year than last, the energy is back and baseball is getting rolling once again.
“It’s less guys, but I think there’s a ton of talent and a lot of new guys from a lot of different places,” Castle said. “You can learn from one another, but I think it’s going to be a super competitive fall. It’s already been that way so far. That’s why we’re all looking forward to intrasquad starting, because it’s going to be so competitive.”