Maryland Baseball Preview – The Infield

Catcher

Incumbent: Kevin Martir (Jr.)

In the Mix: Nick Cieri (So.) Justin Morris (Fr.), John Mazza (R-Fr.)

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Kevin Martir (Photo by Alexander Jonesi)

While many teams struggle for offense from the catching position, the Terps will have no such problem. A classic logjam, Maryland has four players that are capable of being starting Division I catchers.

Kevin Martir is the proven veteran, having batted .274 over 94 starts in his first two years in College Park. There is no weakness to his game defensively and Martir proved he can produce when it matters most, batting .314 with two home runs over 11 playoff games in 2014.

While he appears poised for another busy season behind the plate, the Terps’ other catchers may challenge him for some starts.

Sophomore Nick Cieri and true freshman Justin Morris were drafted out of high school (Morris to the Diamondbacks and Cieri to the Giants) and possess significant pop and serious upside. While Morris may be the catcher of the future, he will likely get more time at first base in 2015. Cieri will serve as the backup catcher while also serving as the primary DH. Mazza may be the odd man out (despite a lofty .531 high school batting average his senior year), but he could also see some time in 2015 after missing his first collegiate season with an injury.

First Base

Incumbent: none

In the Mix: Nick Cieri (So.), Matt Oniffrey (R-Fr.), Justin Morris (Fr.), Andrew Bechtold (Fr.), Kevin Smith (Fr.)

Two-year starter LaMonte Wade will leave the position behind to take over in centerfield for the pro-bound Charlie White, so first base becomes one of two position battles on the team.

As it stands, five different players have the possibility to start at first base.

Sophomore Nick Cieri is the only candidate with collegiate experience (48 games) and true freshman Justin Morris is considered a blue-chip prospect and catcher-in-waiting. Freshman shortstops Andrew Bechtold and Kevin Smith have also taken first base reps in practice and the loser of the shortstop competition could enter the fold at first base.

The emergence of Matt Oniffrey this fall has made the first base situation that much more messy. The coaching staff elected to redshirt the New York native in 2014 after he missed the first half of the season with a thumb injury. Named the most improved position player this fall, Oniffrey now finds himself in the middle of a five-way battle that includes three pro draft picks.

One thing is for sure, whoever wins the job will offer major offensive firepower. However, defense will be a concern for whoever gets the gig.

Second Base

Incumbent: Brandon Lowe (R-So.)

In the Mix: Pat Hisle (So.)

This one is easy: Brandon Lowe will start at second base for the 2015 Terps. Coming off an All-American season in 2014, Lowe will be at the top of the Terps’ lineup and provide on-field leadership and strong defense.

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Brandon Lowe (Photo by Alexander Jonesi)

The Virginian hit a team-high .348 last year, good for second in the ACC behind Florida State slugger DJ Stewart. His .948 OPS and exquisite bat control gives John Szefc a versatile weapon. He could be the hardest guy to replace on the roster.

Don’t forget, Lowe put together his historic freshman campaign despite playing with a torn ligament in his thumb for much of the year. As head coach John Szefc put it, “We’re pretty excited to see what he can do with two thumbs.”

Shortstop

Incumbent: none

In the Mix: Kevin Smith (Fr.), Andrew Bechtold (Fr.)

16Bechtold
Andrew Bechtold (Photo: Alexander Jonesi)

The departure of emotional leader and defensive whiz Blake Schmit leaves a gaping hole at one of the most important positions on the diamond. Fortunately, the coaching staff has brought in two freshman who they consider capable of running with the job from day one, which is what Schmit did when he replaced four-year starter Alfredo Rodriguez two years ago.

Kevin Smith enters College Park as the Albany Times Union Player of the Year and a member of Perfect Game’s All-Northeast team while Andrew Bechtold was the Pennsylvania 3-A Player of the Year and was selected by the Texas Rangers in the 2014 Draft.

Both come from athletic families (both of their fathers played college baseball), stand at six feet tall and can absolutely pick it at shortstop. Rumor has it that Smith will be in the lineup on Opening Day, but the competition may continue far beyond the preseason, and the deciding factor will likely come down to what happens in the batter’s box.

Third Base

Incumbent: Jose Cuas (Jr.)

In the Mix: Kevin Biondic (Fr.)

Cuas will man third base in 2015 and has a lot to gain if he can put together good numbers. Standing at 6-foot-3 and having blasted five home runs to lead the Terps in 2014, scouts have Cuas pegged as a player to watch heading into June’s MLB Draft.

He led the team with 42 RBIs, showed prodigious power at times last season and will likely fill the cleanup spot in the batting order this year. The two things scouts will be keeping an eye on will be Cuas’ ability to put the ball in play (49 strikeouts in 59 games in 2014) and to become more consistent defensively. Jose has the hands, arm and athleticism to be a Major League third baseman but committed a team-high 13 errors in 2014.

With last year’s backup Mike Rescigno headed to the bullpen, freshman Kevin Biondic will likely fill in for Cuas if necessary. Biondic is from Illinois and might be the only player on the roster boasting a typical Big Ten athletic resume. His dad was a college wrestler and Kevin was a two-time all-league high school ice hockey player. He also becomes one of four Kevins on the 2015 Terps roster.

Check back tomorrow for the outfield preview, followed by a full breakdown of the rotation and bullpen on Friday and Saturday.

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Jose Cuas (Photo: Alexander Jonesi)

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