The Bears return a lot of experience in the lineup, with up to 8 possible starters being veterans who have seen significant experience over the last two years. Baylor has led the Big 12 in team batting average the last two years, and this group expects to keep the offensive prowess alive. Replacing Andy Thomas, who’s been in the middle of the lineup since 2004, will be the biggest adjustment during the beginning of this season. This is an athletic team that will be very good on defense, apply a lot of pressure on the offensive side of the ball, and has the experience in the lineup to compete for a Big 12 title, if the pitchers can hold up their end.
Baylor returns a lot of offensive experience, but three veteran names stand out the most.
Jared McKenzie - Center Field
2021 Freshman All-American, 1st Team All- Big 12
Jared is one of three choices for preseason player of the year in the Big 12. In 2021 he hit an astounding .383 with 10 home runs, 44 RBI, and 62 runs scored. He is a preseason 2nd team All-American choice (D1 Baseball). Jared is looking to be stronger, and even better for 2022. When you combine his great ground coverage in center-field with his proven offensive output, he has a legitimate chance to be the best player in the Big 12, and maybe the country. Enjoy this season from Baylor’s All-Time batting average leader, as it almost surely will be his last.
Tre Richardson - 2B
2021 All-Big 12 Honorable Mention
Tre will be a huge factor in the top of the order for the offense, coming off a great freshman year where he hit .308 and led the team in doubles. He is an on-base machine, with the speed to apply pressure on defenses on the base paths. Look for Tre to take a step forward and become a leader on this group, and one of the best players in the Big 12.
Kyle Nevin - OF
Third Year Sophomore
Kyle was a mainstay in the lineup last year, starting 45 games, starting mostly in left field, and a couple games at first base. He hit .275 in his first season seeing significant time, with one home run and 22 RBIs. Kyle chose to stay in Waco this past summer and get bigger and stronger, rather than going off to play in a summer league. Kyle will be an asset on defense in the outfield, with the best throwing arm on the team, and a lot of starting experience. If he has added the power the coaches are hoping for, Kyle could be a breakout star for the Bears.
I see no reason this won’t be an elite defensive unit. At least 6 starters in the lineup will have significant starting experience at the positions they will be playing. The infield is especially indicative of this, as we have true Shortstops starting at 3B (Cardoza-Oquendo), SS (Pineda), and 2B (Richardson). At first base, expect Chase Wehsener to continue to get most of the starts, especially to start the year, but this is a position we could see a young face from time to time. Cason Newman, a freshman, is expected to get a lot of chances to hit and will see some time at 1B and the designated hitter spot.
The outfield will be controlled by veterans McKenzie and Nevin but will probably see a rotation of faces at the third spot until someone earns an everyday starting spot. No matter who the third outfielder is, this will also be a solid group defensively, highlighted by McKenzie patrolling a lot of space in center field.
Question Mark - Catcher
Baylor has been blessed at this position for most of the last 10 years, with this being the first time in a while we enter the season not knowing who will see the most innings behind the plate. This would normally be a red-flag, but the coaching staff seems to be very confident in all FOUR, yes, four, options we have at catcher. Defense and handling the pitching staff will be most important in winning the starting spot for this position, with the expectation that the offense will be great again even if the catcher spot doesn’t produce a ton on offense.
Nick Balsono, Harrison Caley, Ian Groves, and Cade Currington will all get a fairly even chance to win the spot over the last few weeks of practice, and the first week of the season. If we can find another great defensive catcher to lead this team on a nightly basis, it will greatly help the inexperienced bullpen.
2022 Offensive Expectations
I expect the Bears to be at or near the top of the conference again in batting average. With the experience on this team, I expect to see the run total go up a little bit this year. If McKenzie gets significant protection in the lineup, we could very well be looking at the best offense in the Big 12….. again.
This 2022 Baylor team will go as the pitching goes. We have three weekend starters with experience, who are ready and expecting to win games. Other than that, we don’t really know what we have yet.
Tyler is coming off a year with a 2.49 ERA in 65 innings which earned him 2nd team All-Big12. He’s ready to build on that great season. The left-handed 5th year senior has as much experience as anyone in the country. He was our best and most steady pitcher last year, and I expect this year will not be any different. Tyler is and needs to be the example for the whole pitching staff, starting Opening Day against Maryland.
Blake put up a 3.44 ERA in 52 innings last year as a sophomore. He needs to refine himself a little bit going into this season but has the opportunity to be a huge asset on the weekends. He needs to eat up some more innings this year, as last year he led the team in starts, but still threw 13 innings less than Tyler Thomas. With the unknowns facing our bullpen this year, it is even more important that all three weekend starters regularly work into the 6th or 7th inning. Blake is also a Lake Travis High School Cavalier; this is a positive. Go Cavs Go.
Jake is a transfer from Nevada and may be the most important new piece to the team this year. He had a great fall, showing that he is a polished college starter. He throws three pitches with confidence and throws all three for strikes. Jake’s ERA numbers from Nevada wont wow you, but that is pitching in a notoriously offensive ballpark in Reno, he had a great fall camp in Waco, and is looking to be a major piece in his new home this year.
We will learn the bullpen roles as the season progresses, as we lost most of the guys who made up the back end of our bullpen including star closer Luke Boyd. While there is a lot of talent in the bullpen this year, there aren’t yet any clearly defined roles. This is going to be the X factor of the season, if our bullpen can find 4 or 5 guys who can get important outs, and a confident closer, then the sky is the limit for this team. Here are some guys who will be looking to win these jobs over the first three or four weeks.
This is a very important year for Anderson Needham, as he missed the 2021 season after elbow surgery. This is his fourth year on campus, and despite not seeing a lot of action since 2019, he is a veteran who we will need to lean on especially early in the year. He has the talent to be great, showing his ability to strike people out in his 2019 freshman season, striking out 18 in only 14 innings. Anderson has a lot to prove on the college level, but after the Covid shortened 2020 season, and an injury before 2021, he’s dealt with adversity and should be ready to prove himself.
Hambleton is coming off a season where he posted a 3.77 ERA, 2-0 record in 21 appearances, Oliver should have a lot of confidence coming into his (third year) sophomore season. He did make three starts last year, so he is a candidate to get some starts on mid-week games, or maybe even sneak into the weekend rotation if someone else stumbles or is injured. I expect Oliver and Needham will be the people Pitching Coach John Strauss and Coach Rodriguez turn to for important outs early in the season.
Newcomers to Watch
There are a few new faces to watch out for out of the bullpen for the Bears this year. Kobe Andrade is a transfer from Texas A&M. Its okay, he’s found a better place. He had a good fall for the Bears, and hopefully provides some long relief availability, as the lefty throws all three of his pitches for strikes. Matt Voelker is a Grad Transfer from Loyola Marymount and looks to be a very important piece for the Bears. He is old, in a good way, and will be comfortable coming into games during the late innings with runners on base. Mason Marriott, freshman from Tomball who posted a 1.10 (!!) ERA in 70 innings at Tomball High School. He has a live arm, with his fastball up to 94 in the fall, and good secondary pitches. If he proves he can thrive in big situations, he could compete for the closer role very early on, despite being a freshman.
We have 5 or more other pitchers that will get opportunities to earn roles either out of the bullpen or starting on Tuesdays. The talent is there, the players just need to put it all together and make this bullpen an asset, not a question mark.
Team Season Expectations
Most publications have the Bears picked 5th or 6th in a Big 12 that is loaded at the top with talented teams. With a LOADED non-conference schedule, we are going to find out how good this Baylor team is quickly. The offense is something to really look forward to, as any team who returns the kind of production on offense as the Bears are this year would be excited about it. The Bears should be a lock to be in the top 3 offensive teams in the Big 12, with the chance of being special (10-year anniversary of the #FeedTheBeaver offense) if the lineup can get on base for and protect Jared McKenzie. Look for the Bears record, and possibly national rankings, do reflect the performance of the pitchers and especially bullpen. If the bullpen is a lingering question, I see the Bears in that 4th-6th range in the conference, which still probably gets into the tourney this year. If the bullpen comes together and has a good to great season, this team can compete for a Big 12 championship.
My prediction: the Bears win 35 games this season, and finish 3rd in the Big 12. This would amount to a great year and put the Bears in the hunt to host a regional.
Maryland is a series that the Bears should expect to win, but it will be a great test. The Terrapins are coming off a 30-win season and NCAA Regional appearance where they made it to the finals at ECU. They were 2 games over .500 away from home last year, so they have no issue going on the road and competing.
Nick Dean will likely start Opening Day for the Terps and his is the projected Big 10 Pitcher of the Year, posting a 3-1 record last year with a 2.87 ERA. Maryland’s pitching staff is the strength of their team, but they do return most of their key offensive production from the 2021 tournament team.
Prediction: Bears win series 2-1. I think it will be hard to avoid some losses early in the season while the coaching staff figures out bullpen roles and finds late game leaders, but the Bears offense will carry the weekend and carry us to a series win against an experienced Maryland team.
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