Tribune-Herald 's All-Big 12 baseball team has Baylor flavor

After three seasons sharing or backing up the catcher position, Baylor's Josh Ludy emerged as the year's premier player in the Big 12.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: BU’S JOSH LUDY

Josh Ludy is living proof of the theory of evolution.

How else can you explain the guy transforming himself from a seldom-used backup as a freshman to a fully evolved, All-America candidate four years later?

“I think it’s just a function of getting more at-bats, learning what you have to do at this level,” Ludy said. “I’m just trying to take advantage of that.”

Ludy endured two full seasons as a backup to defensive stalwart Gregg Glime at catcher, then spent most of the 2011 season in a platoon situation with Joey Hainsfurther.

But Ludy left little doubt that he was the lone man for the job this year. Moreover, his mighty hitting — Ludy sports a .363 average, 13 home runs and 64 RBIs through Saturday’s games — made him an easy choice as the Player of the Year on the Tribune-Herald ’s 16th annual All-Big 12 baseball team.

Ever the competitor, Ludy didn’t always have fun as a backup catcher. At times, he debated transferring to another school.

“There were a couple of different times where I thought I was going to find somewhere else to go,” Ludy said. “Fortunately, I decided this is where I wanted to stay.”

Baylor coach Steve Smith said that the coaches envisioned this kind of potential in Ludy when he first signed with the Bears as one of the top prospects out of Indiana coming out of high school.

“We always knew Josh could hit. Hitting was never an issue,” Smith said. “But you never know how a guy is going to do behind the dish until you put him out there and let him work. Usually, most years, we’ve gone with two guys there. This year Josh has been the guy.”

Ludy possesses prodigious power — the home run he launched in Baylor’s 4-0 win over Texas on May 18 may still be orbiting the stratosphere somewhere above Austin. In the finale against Kansas State, Ludy ripped three home runs, becoming just the seventh Baylor player to pull off a homer hat trick.

But it’s Ludy’s deft handling of Baylor’s pitching staff that has taken his game to a whole new level.

“I’ve always been more of an offensive guy and just an average defensive catcher,” Ludy said. “Last year I really started paying more attention to pitch-calling and what I was going to work on with the pitchers. That’s when I felt like I started getting better as a defensive catcher.”

Besides winning conference player of the year honors from both the Trib and the league’s coaches, Ludy is a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, presented annually to the nation’s top catcher.

For a guy who spent so long as a backup, it must be nice piling up so much hardware, right?

Naturally. But these aren’t the trophies he wants most of all.

“When you get to be a senior, all the individual stuff doesn’t mean much,” Ludy said. “You’re just looking for every chance you can to get to the College World Series, and that’s all we’re focused on.”

COACH OF THE YEAR: BU’S STEVE SMITH

Generally, the head coach is viewed as the teacher, not the student.

Yet if you ask veteran Baylor coach Steve Smith, he’s learned as many lessons from his 2012 team as he has delivered.

What, pray tell, are those lessons?

“You don’t have to have the most talent in the league to win,” Smith said. “That it is possible to play the game one pitch at a time over a long, long stretch of time. It’s challenging to do it, but it’s possible. This clearly is the group that has done it over the longest period of time that I’ve been around.”

For Smith, his assistant coaches and players, last offseason was far different than most. Coming off a gut-wrenching loss to California in the Houston Regional final, it was a time to reflect and regroup. “We grieved together as a team,” Smith said.

But once they returned for the fall, the Bears turned the page. They took a simple — even boring — one-day-at-a-time approach, and by doing so they managed to make almost every day count.

Baylor, picked fourth in the preseason Big 12 poll, became the first team in league history to sweep its first six series. The Bears achieved the first No. 1 ranking in program history, and set a school record with a mind-blowing 24-game winning streak.

Along the way, Smith picked up his 650th career win, allowing him to surpass his mentor Mickey Sullivan as Baylor’s all-time winningest coach in any sport.

And whether he admits it or not, he educated his team plenty.

“He’s a great coach, and he teaches us a lot about the game and about life,” pitcher Joey Hainsfurther said. “It’s an honor playing for him.”

PITCHER OF THE YEAR: OSU’S ANDREW HEANEY

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Andrew Heaney attended a slew of minor league baseball games with his family. He remembers being mesmerized by the hitting prowess of Ruben Sierra, then of the Oklahoma City 89ers, and dreamed of mimicking Sierra’s swing someday.

Instead, Heaney will just have to settle for being one of the best pitchers in the country.

Mowing down hitters all year long, Heaney has racked up 140 strikeouts, currently tops in the country. But it is Heaney’s durability — he has recorded six complete games this season — that makes him the Big 12 Pitcher of the Year in a close call over Baylor ace Josh Turley.

Heaney wasn’t quite that rugged when he first came to Stillwater.

“It hasn’t always been smooth,” Oklahoma State coach Frank Anderson said. “He’s been kind of up and down his entire career, but the biggest change I’ve seen is that he’s so much stronger now. He came in at about 145 (pounds) and now weighs 175. He’s still not huge, but he’s a lot stronger.”

Heaney, who tossed three shutouts and tallied eight or more strikeouts in 12 of his 15 appearances, said he didn’t want to waste the ability with which he’d been blessed.

“My goal was just to be stronger,” Heaney said. “If that meant working in the weight room or just being mentally strong, that’s what I had to do.”

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: BU’s NATHAN ORF

Very early in the season, Baylor assistant coach Trevor Mote gave Nathan Orf an interesting piece of advice. Be a pest up there, Mote said.

Orf took those words to heart.

By being an annoying nuisance to opposing pitchers, Orf had arguably the best year of any newcomer in the league. The transfer from Illinois-Chicago set the table perfectly as Baylor’s leadoff hitter, tallying a .315 batting average, 54 runs, a .455 on-base percentage and a Big 12-record 31 hit-by-pitches.

What makes Orf such a plunk magnet?

“I don’t know. I’ve asked myself that question, too, other than he just won’t get out of the way,” Smith said. “Some guys just have a knack.”

When the right-handed Orf steps into the batter’s box, he owns it, crowding the plate to the point where any pitch that misses the inside corner is probably going to hit him.

Hence the reason he wears an EvoShield, a large protective pad on his front arm.

“I feel like I’m stealing when I (get hit on the pad), because it doesn’t hurt at all,” Orf said. “And I go to first base a happy dude.”

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: OU’S HUNTER LOCKWOOD

The title of the walk-up music for Hunter Lockwood says it all: Bang Bang Pow Pow.

No doubt Lockwood can bang a baseball out of the park with the best of them.

The freshman from Bedford, Texas, has ripped 11 home runs thus far this season, ranking second in the Big 12.

His 11 multi-RBI games also rank second on the Oklahoma squad.

“Our league has had the likes of a freshman like him several times, but he’s pretty special,” OU coach Sunny Golloway said.

What makes Lockwood truly unique is his versatility.

Signed as a catcher, Lockwood has indeed seen time behind the plate for the Sooners but has also made starts at first base, third base and designated hitter.

2012 TRIBUNE-HERALD ALL-BIG 12 BASEBALL TEAM

Player of the Year: Josh Ludy, C, Baylor

Pitcher of the Year: Andrew Heaney, Oklahoma State

Newcomer of the Year: Nathan Orf, DH, Baylor

Freshman of the Year: Hunter Lockwood, 1B/C, Oklahoma

Coach of the Year: Steve Smith, Baylor

FIRST TEAM

Pos Player School Cl Avg HR RBI Notable

C Josh Ludy Baylor Sr .363 13 64 .622 slug pct.

1B Max Muncy Baylor Jr .317 6 52 48 runs

2B Jamodrick McGruder Texas Tech Jr .358 2 27 39 steals

SS Mikey Reynolds Texas A&M Jr .303 1 22 53 runs

3B Erich Weiss Texas So .350 5 38 .547 slug pct.

OF Barrett Barnes Texas Tech Jr .325 9 49 19 steals

OF Logan Vick Baylor Jr .347 2 33 23 doubles

OF Tyler Naquin Texas A&M Jr .384 3 46 21 steals

DH Nathan Orf Baylor Jr .315 2 28 31 HBP

UT Jared King Kansas State So .377 7 47 16 steals

Pitchers

Pos Player School Cl W-L ERA K Notable

SP Josh Turley Baylor Jr 9-0 1.64 67 .223 opp.BA

SP Andrew Heaney Oklahoma St. Jr 8-2 1.60 140 6 CGs

SP Trent Blank Baylor Sr 10-1 2.07 50 .229 opp. BA

SP Ross Stripling Texas A&M Sr 10-3 2.90 110 Threw no-hitter

RP Corey Knebel Texas So 4-5 2.08 68 9 saves

SECOND TEAM

Pos Player School Cl Avg HR RBI Notable

C Troy Stein Texas A&M So .320 2 25 12 doubles

1B Wade Hinkle Kansas St. Sr .330 10 49 .529 slug pct.

2B Lawton Langford Baylor So .320 0 20 39 runs

SS Jake Brown Kansas St. Sr .261 1 33 16 steals

3B Cal Towey Baylor Jr .289 5 45 34 walks

OF Max White Oklahoma Jr .355 2 54 17 doubles

OF Mark Payton Texas So .322 5 29 40 runs

OF Dan Evatt Baylor Sr .320 7 26 .523 slug pct.

DH Matt Juengel Texas A&M Sr .302 2 45 17 steals

UT Jacob House Texas A&M Sr .308 8 55 10 steals

Pitchers

Pos Player School Cl W-L ERA K Notable

SP Michael Wacha Texas A&M Jr 8-1 2.21 107 2 shutouts

SP Jordan John Oklahoma So 8-6 2.30 97 4 CGs

SP Frank Duncan Kansas So 6-8 3.23 100 .228 opp. BA

RP Max Garner Baylor Jr 2-2 4.97 39 10 saves

RP Hoby Milner Texas Jr 7-4 2.64 68 3 saves

* All statistics through Saturday’s games

— Team selected and compiled by Brice Cherry

 

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