Often times, a ballplayer will choose to fixate on a particular aspect of his game that he wants to improve over the offseason. Baylor’s Davis Wendzel spent last summer trying to hone his short-term memory loss.
It’s a legitimate asset for a baseball player. The ability to take what happened just a bit ago – good, bad or somewhere in between – and forget about it, to flush it, helps the player stay in the moment.
Sure, you can take lessons from what you did wrong. But you don’t carry disappointment in your pocket like a bag of sunflower seeds.
“I think my mental approach really changed,” Wendzel said. “I got off to a hot start and even if I had a bad game, I didn’t let it change anything. I had a bad game. The next game I could go out and get five hits. It didn’t change anything, so that was the biggest thing for me.
“Every day is a new day, and even if I had a 5-for-5 day I could also have a bad day. So I had to come in locked in for the next game.”
With that just-keep-swimming approach, Wendzel stayed locked in like Fort Knox this season. Baylor’s junior third baseman led the Big 12 in hitting with a .377 batting average in league action on his way to being named the Tribune-Herald’s Player of the Year on our 22nd annual All-Big 12 Baseball Team.
As he noted, Wendzel sizzled to start the season and never really cooled off. He began the year on a nine-game hitting streak, and even after his first 0-for-4 outing, he followed that up with an eight-game hitting streak.
Wendzel hit .385 for the regular season with a .500 on-base percentage, numbers that led the Big 12. He chipped in 17 doubles, eight home runs, 39 RBIs and 11 stolen bases, and his .647 slugging percentage ranked third in the conference.
“Davis, regardless of whether he’s on defense or in the batter’s box, he brings a presence to the field that is like no other,” Baylor centerfielder Richard Cunningham said. “He’s intimidating in the box, and nobody wants to pitch to him.”
As many runs as Wendzel produced for the Bears this season, he might have taken away an equal amount from BU’s opponents. Wendzel’s glove work at the hot corner was near-flawless all year long, as he committed only one error in 89 chances in the regular season.
“I’ve told everybody, he’s one of the best third basemen I’ve ever seen,” Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez said. “Not to mention he can play short as well. The funny thing is, you’ll see a lot of people with really high fielding percentages on turf. And that’s where I’m like, it’s a different animal when you’re playing on turf and you’re playing on grass. To see what he’s done on grass has been one of the most impressive things that as a coach you kind of watch.
“And when I have other coaches coming up to me going, ‘Oh my gosh . . .’ I just tell them, he doesn’t have a lot of the fanfare, he doesn’t have a lot of the notoriety that a lot of guys in our conference have right now. But, I have a funny feeling it’s going to come up pretty soon.”
The hype machine is definitely gaining steam for Wendzel, who turned 23 on Thursday. The Boston Red Sox selected him as a draft-eligible sophomore last year in the 37th round. When this year’s draft rolls around on June 3-5, he’ll likely go a lot higher.
“It definitely helped (getting drafted), being able to go through the experience once last year,” Wendzel said. “Even though I wasn’t going to end up going, just to be able to talk to everyone and go through the experience once, and know what’s coming, it just set me up well for this year.”
Wendzel may be as well-known for his long hair and scruffy beard as anything. That’s why it generated a laugh when Rodriguez mentioned Justin Turner as a Major League comparison for Wendzel. Like Davis, Turner often looks like Sasquatch let himself go.
But Turner is also a former all-star and NLCS MVP, so he’s made a name for himself beyond his ability to grow hair. As for Wendzel, he’s cool with the comparison.
“Absolutely, we’re both So-Cal guys and I have a lot of connections who coached him at Fullerton and they coached me in high school,” Wendzel said. “They compared me a lot to him as well. Not just now, but even back then when he was in high school. It’s pretty cool.”
Pitcher of the Year:
Alek Manoah, WVU
At 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds, with tattoos emblazoned on his arms, Alek Manoah casts an ominous shadow when he takes the mound.
Then the West Virginia junior throws a pitch. Somehow at that point, he becomes even more intimidating.
Manoah absolutely dominated the Big 12 this year, and was an easy choice as the league’s Pitcher of the Year. The right-hander from Miami, Fla., pumps his fastball to the plate in the upper 90s, and hitters naturally had trouble catching up with it. They mustered a meager .189 average against Manoah, who fashioned an 8-3 record with a 1.91 ERA, two complete games, and 125 strikeouts in 94.1 innings pitched.
Fortunately for Big 12 hitters, they won’t have to worry about him next year, as Manoah is projected as a first-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft.
“Sometimes an ump will whisper in my ear, ‘They’re not going to hit him. They have no chance,’” WVU catcher Ivan Gonzalez told the Miami Herald earlier this year.
Coach of the Year:
Tim Tadlock, Texas Tech
On paper, it was pretty cut and dried. At the start of the year, Big 12 coaches predicted Texas Tech to win the conference title. Four months later, the Red Raiders clinched exactly that.
So what made Tech’s run to the championship so special?
Well, first, the games are played on dirt, not paper. And, second, the Red Raiders had to get really dirty to get it done.
With a month left in the conference season, Tech sat under .500 in Big 12 play. But the Red Raiders didn’t sound the panic alarm. They pulled together, trusted the message that head coach Tim Tadlock was espousing, and won 13 of their final 15 games.
That included an 8-4 win over TCU on the final day of the regular season that wrapped up the Big 12 title, eliminating Baylor and Oklahoma State from contention.
“The way we went about this the last month, we played really good baseball,” Tadlock told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We didn’t give ourselves as much margin for error as you’d like going into the last weekend, but guys figured out a way to get it done, which is pretty neat.”
Newcomer of the Year:
Dylan Neuse, Texas Tech
If the last name Neuse (pronounced noy-see) sounds familiar to Big 12 baseball fans, it should. Oklahoma used to have a heck of an infielder named Sheldon Neuse, who now plays in the Oakland A’s organization. Sheldon won the Trib’s Big 12 Player of the Year as a shortstop and pitcher for the Sooners in 2016.
If the name Dylan Neuse sounds familiar to folks around Waco, it should. He starred last year for Mitch Thompson’s McLennan Community College team, hitting .333 with 44 RBIs. He also happens to be Sheldon’s younger brother.
And now this kid with the familiar name is carving out his own identity at Texas Tech.
In his first year with the Red Raiders, Neuse hit .304 with 54 runs (which ranked third in the conference behind teammates Cameron Warren and Josh Jung) to go with eight home runs, 48 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He also played a mean center field, and consequently is the Trib’s choice as Big 12 Newcomer of the Year.
Freshman of the Year:
Jordan Wicks, Kansas State
Kansas State coach Pete Hughes is undoubtedly overjoyed that he’ll have Jordan Wicks on his team for at least two more years.
A freshman left-handed pitcher out of Conway, Arkansas, Wicks seized the role of Wildcats staff ace in 2019. He struck out seven and gave up only one run in his first start of the year, and only got better from there, finishing the regular season with a 6-2 record with a 3.20 ERA and 82 strikeouts. He wasn’t just good, he was historically good, as he broke 46-year-old school records for innings pitched and strikeouts by a freshman.