Every coach searches for talent, guys who can play. Steve Rodriguez is no different.
Yet when Rodriguez thinks back on some of the most successful teams of his 14-year college baseball coaching career, he realizes that the teams that traveled the farthest were not the ones led by one or two stud horses. They were the ones whose stable worked in unison.
That’s the way it has gone for Baylor this season. The Bears are much better collectively than they are individually.
“When you’re trying to perfect what you do best as a team, it’s not that we have a bunch of great individuals, in terms of overly talented high draft picks,” Rodriguez said. “We have a great team, not a bunch of phenomenal individuals. Looking back on it, those are the best kinds of teams.”
Outside observers didn’t expect much from the 2017 Bears. The Big 12 coaches tagged Baylor as the seventh-place team in the conference in their preseason poll.
Baylor blew all those projections away. The Bears won 14 of their first 15 games, and by mid-March were ranked in all five of college baseball’s five major polls. For the year, they recorded a 34-21 record and a 12-12 mark in the Big 12, building a strong case for NCAA tournament inclusion when that field is announced on Monday.
Rodriguez’s deft molding of a newcomer-laden mystery into a NCAA regional hopeful makes him the Tribune-Herald’s choice as Coach of the Year on our annual All-Big 12 Baseball Team.
Rodriguez passionately believes in the art of execution. If his team plays the game the right way, he can live with the outcome. During the Bears’ trip to Minute Maid Park for the Shriners Hospitals for Children Houston College Classic, he saw that flicker of illumination. The Bears were getting it.
“After that Houston series at Minute Maid, beating Ole Miss and then even in the loss to LSU and the exciting win over A&M, you started to see that the guys had really bought in for the respect for the game,” Rodriguez said. “If you play like that, win or lose, I can tolerate the results. That’s when it’s pretty exciting. … It’s been fun to watch for me.”
PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
EVAN SKOUG, TCU
When one of TCU’s biggest boppers, Luken Baker, succumbed to injury, Evan Skoug beefed up his own bopping.
TCU’s junior catcher more than picked up the slack. Skoug clubbed a Big 12-best 16 home runs, including 11 in the Frogs’ final 17 games of the regular season.
Skoug hit .370 with 28 RBIs and 68 total bases in TCU’s 24 conference games, helping the Frogs to a share of the Big 12 championship along with Texas Tech. That was quite a finishing flourish for Skoug, who endured a season-opening slump that saw him hit just .193 (11-for-57) over the first month of the season.
Nevertheless, TCU coach Jim Schloggnagle never lost faith for a moment that Skoug, a preseason All-American, would get it going again.
“There’s a lot of things I lose sleep over,” Schlossnagle told Baseball America, “but whether Evan Skoug is going to hit is not one of them.”
PITCHER OF THE YEAR:
STEVEN GINGERY, TEXAS TECH
According to his teammates, Steven Gingery exudes a laid-back California attitude. On the mound, he uses that calm demeanor to his perpetual advantage.
Gingery overpowered hitters like no other pitcher in the Big 12 in this, his sophomore season. Texas Tech’s lanky left-hander recorded a 9-1 record with a 1.68 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 85.1 innings, leading the conference in all those stats.
Around Lubbock, Gingery is known as “Cali,” as he hails from Huntington Beach, Calif. As West Coast exports go, he’s fared even better in Texas than In-and-Out Burger.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
MONTANA PARSONS, BAYLOR
On his third college in three years, Montana Parsons could be forgiven if he’d been overwhelmed with the newness of it all.
“Montana has experienced a lot of inconsistency in his learning,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said. “Just because he’s been three places in three years, and every place might be trying to teach him something else. But he knows what his strengths are and he’s been able to maximize those strengths. He’s gotten better as the year has gone on, which has been fun to watch.”
Despite the incongruity of his zip codes, Parsons made himself at home this season at Baylor. He took over the Saturday starter role at the very start of the year and never relinquished it, emerging as a reliable difference-maker ever time he took the mound.
Parsons played his high school ball at College Park in The Woodlands before signing with Texas State. He didn’t get much work during his one season in San Marcos, and transferred to San Jacinto Junior College for the 2016 season. After one season there, it was on to Waco, where the right-hander demonstrated a fairly unflappable nature on his way to a 5-3 record and a 2.81 ERA.
When you talk to Parsons, one of the first thing you notice is his ever-present grin. It even follows him to the mound.
“He’s laid-back, but on the mound as a pitcher he’s got an aggressive nature,” Rodriguez said. “But it’s really funny, I’ll go out there to talk to him and it’ll be like this casual conversation, ‘Hey coach, how you doing?’ I told him, ‘It’s OK to get mad sometimes.’ … But he’s such a great kid, and if that’s the worst I have to deal with, that’s fine with me.”
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR:
SHEA LANGELIERS, BAYLOR
When Steve Rodriguez talked Matt Menard into coming back for a fifth season at Baylor, he mentioned one qualifier. He let Menard know that he thought the veteran would best fit in as a designated hitter, given the two talented freshman catchers, Shea Langeliers and Andy Thomas, he was adding for 2017.
It says a little something about the ability of Langeliers that he was able to supplant Menard, a second-team All-Big 12 catcher last year by the Trib.
From the jump, it was pretty evident that Langeliers boasted the total package. Coming out of Keller High School, Langeliers took his name out of consideration from the 2016 MLB Draft, yet was still taken in the 34th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.
He showed why this season, hitting .324 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs while manning the No. 3 spot in BU’s batting order. Behind the plate, he showed off a lively arm, gunning down 40 percent of attempted base stealers.
“You always think you know when a guy is special, but it helps to see them do it out in a game,” Rodriguez said. “The game moves fast, and sometimes you really have no idea. But Shea really rose to the occasion … He made my job easy.”
The wicked bat speed, the rocket arm – those are things you can’t teach, and the reasons Baylor recruited Langeliers in the first place. The things the coaches can teach, such as the nuances of working with a pitching staff or the importance of situational hitting, are the current areas of focus.
“We talk a lot about those little things with him,” Rodriguez said. “We understand that he’s a freshman and he’s dealing with a lot, but we also have high expectations. The more he gets a handle on those small things, the sky’s the limit with that kid.”
2017 TRIBUNE-HERALD ALL-BIG 12 BASEBALL TEAM
|Player of the Year: Evan Skoug, Jr, C, TCU|
|Pitcher of the Year: Steven Gingery, So, Texas Tech|
|Newcomer of the Year: Montana Parsons, Jr, P, Baylor|
|Freshman of the Year: Shea Langeliers, C, Baylor|
|Coach of the Year: Steve Rodriguez, Baylor|
|SS||Orlando Garcia||Jr||.298||12||57||Texas Tech|
|3B||Garrett Benge||Jr||.314||9||51||Oklahoma State|
|OF||Garrett McCain||Jr||.382||4||36||Oklahoma State|
|UT||Hunter Hargrove||Sr||.342||5||51||Texas Tech|
|SP||Steven Gingery||So||9-1||1.69||99||Texas Tech|
|3B||Josh Jung||Fr||.310||5||41||Texas Tech|
|OF||Grant Little||Fr||.342||2||34||Texas Tech|
|OF||Kyle Davis||Jr||.316||8||41||West Virginia|
|DH||Steve Serratore||Sr||.292||6||42||Kansas State|
|SP||Michael Grove||So||3-1||2.87||61||West Virginia|
|RP||Braden Zarbinsky||Jr||6-1||2.63||6||West Virginia|