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Shea Langeliers Propels Baylor Back Into The National Conversation

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Shea Langeliers (Photo by John Williamson)

Catcher Shea Langeliers is, in a way, the perfect embodiment of the Baylor program and its recent progression. When Langeliers, now a junior, arrived on campus in the fall of 2016, it had been five seasons since a Baylor team played in a regional. Steve Rodriguez had just completed his first season at Baylor, a 24-29 campaign that marked the team’s highest win total since 2013. And Rodriguez wasn’t the coach who initially recruited Langeliers. That was longtime Baylor coach Steve Smith, who was fired after the 2015 season.

To an outsider, Baylor wouldn’t have been the obvious choice for a player as talented as Langeliers. It might have been easy to start looking elsewhere after Smith’s dismissal, but Langeliers’ affinity for the Baylor community and his comfort with Rodriguez from the start kept him committed.

“You can just kind of tell with some people the type of person they are, and obviously coach Rod is a great man,” Langeliers said. “Baseball doesn’t come first for him. It’s a family atmosphere here. It’s not all talking about baseball with coach Rod. You can talk to him about anything. You can call him day or night, it doesn’t matter, he’ll answer the phone.

“That was one of the things that I really loved about coach Rod is just that he’s a great guy. Obviously, the whole coaching staff that he brought in, they’re the same way. They’re all super open, you can talk to them about anything. It doesn’t always have to be about baseball, and that’s something I really like.”

The decision, three years later, has clearly been mutually beneficial.

The Bears, with Langeliers helping lead the way, returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 for the first time since 2012. The following year, they won the Big 12 Conference Tournament title, their first conference tournament championship since 1993 when they were members of the Southwest Conference.

Now, ahead of the 2019 season, Baylor appears poised for a return to a place among college baseball’s elite, far sooner than anyone might have expected. The Bears enter the season ranked No. 15, the program’s highest preseason ranking since 2009, when the placed No. 8.

As Langeliers has helped Baylor’s stock rise once again as a national brand in college baseball, his own stock has risen as a prospect. He was voted a Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors and ranks as the No. 6 prospect in the draft.

In fact, Langeliers—in a season when the Bears could conceivably experience success they’ve not enjoyed since last reaching the College World Series in 2005—could give Baylor its highest draft choice ever. Currently, that distinction goes to righthanders Kip Wells and Jason Jennings, who were selected with the 16th overall picks in 1998 and 1999, respectively.

Some of the offensive skills for Langeliers jump off the page right away. With 32 doubles and 21 homers over his first two seasons, for example, he’s shown quality power. His .368 career on-base percentage suggests that his plate discipline and ability to work the count will have a chance to play at the next level, too.

After Langeliers hit .252/.351/.496 last season, some scouts have wondered about how his contact ability will translate against higher-quality pitchers, and he is now making a concerted effort to become a better all-fields hitter.

“For myself, it’s just being able to spray the ball, hitting-wise, anywhere on the field,” Langeliers says. “Hitting the baseball wherever it’s pitched and not trying to overdo (it) or try to get an extra-base hit sometimes. It’s just get the barrel to the baseball.”

Those are easily quantifiable things, but there’s much more to his profile. He’s also an underrated athlete who doesn’t always get to show off those tools because of the demands of spending a full season behind the plate.

“There’s also an aspect of his game that a lot of people don’t get to see in that he is probably one of the most athletic guys on the field,” Rodriguez said. “I can put him in left, I can put him at first. I can probably put him at third or in center and he’s going to do just fine.

“Most people don’t realize he runs a 6.7 (60-yard dash), but you don’t really get a chance to see that because his legs are usually squatting down behind the plate for so long and they get tired.”

More than anything else, Langeliers is a premier defensive catcher who could provide value to a team even if he didn’t possess his current offensive skill set.

“His defensive ability, I’ve never seen anything like it on the baseball field,” Rodriguez said. “Defensively, I’ve only had one other player like him and that was Dane Sardinha (at Pepperdine). He was a catcher I had out of Hawaii. He was unbelievable behind the plate and made it to the big leagues, and I would compare Shea to him. Just unbelievable talent behind the plate.”

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A player of Langeliers’ caliber alone can provide quite a jolt to a program, but the reasons for optimism about Baylor’s 2019 season go far beyond one standout player. All three of the Bears’ weekend starters from a season ago will return to handle those same roles, as will last year’s entire primary starting lineup.

The rotation will be led by junior Cody Bradford, who last year was named Big 12 pitcher of the year after going 7-6, 2.51 with 87 strikeouts in 96.2 innings. He’ll be followed by junior Hayden Kettler and sophomore Tyler Thomas.

Offensively, the infield returns junior on-base machine Andy Thomas at first base, a strong defender in senior Josh Bissonette at second and Freshman All-American Nick Loftin at shortstop, with another highly-regarded prospect at third base in Davis Wendzel.

In the outfield, there’s enough returning quality that senior T.J. Raguse could see most of his time at DH. Senior Cole Haring returns to left field and sophomore Davion Downey is back in right, surrounding four-year starter Richard Cunningham in center field. The lefty-swinging Cunningham led the Bears in hitting a year ago and was second on the team with nine home runs, trailing only Langeliers.

“(Cunningham is) probably one of the smartest kids I’ve ever actually had to coach, and one of the greatest human beings I’ve actually had on the baseball field and off the field,” Rodriguez said. “He is a very consistent player defensively, very consistent offensively, continues to constantly work on his game and is one of those guys that I’m sure a lot of the Big 12 coaches are just like ‘Oh my gosh, this kid is still here.’ ”

For Rodriguez, his team living up to its immense potential in 2019 could come down to how well they deal with the buzz around them.

“We have to try to avoid as much static as possible,” Rodriguez says. “All the off-the-field noise that we should be receiving, whether it’s scouts, whether it’s the attention in regards to interviews that they’re going to receive, it’s going to be new for some of these kids.”

That’s certainly a challenge for players who haven’t had to deal with that kind of thing before, but with a veteran roster that won’t be awed by any situation they face on the field, myriad early-round draft talent on display and quality depth just about everywhere, the buzz is deserved.

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