By Jake Eisenberg
With just a week to go until the Terrapins open their season in against the Crimson Tide, we take a look at the Terps 2016 infield. The Terps lost key players Kevin Martir, LaMonte Wade, Brandon Lowe and Jose Cuas to the draft, but will be able to fill those holes with returning players and incoming freshman.
It’ll be up to sophomore Justin Morris and junior Nick Cieri to replace Kevin Martir, who was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 18th Round last summer. Martir was the consistent clean-up hitter for the Terps in 2015, starting behind the dish in 64 of the team’s 66 games. He also led the team in batting average with a .342 mark.
Morris is slated to start behind the plate for Friday and Sunday games, while Cieri will be the backstop on Saturday’s.When Morris is the team’s starting catcher, expect Cieri to find himself in the cleanup spot as the Designated Hitter. This arrangement allows both catchers to be well-rested throughout the season, as well as maximize their strengths.
Morris is a better defensive catcher, while Cieri is the better hitter. Last year, despite behind limited with a hamate bone injury, Cieri hit .299 with 28 RBI in 37 games, and provided an offensive spark to the lineup in the postseason.
The junior also had a terrific summer in the Cape Cod League, batting .319 for the Wareham Gatemen, earning the starting nod in the Cape Cod League All-Star Game. Morris played in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League over the summer, and earned a spot on the CRCBL All-Star roster.
The Terps’ biggest question mark in 2015 came at first base. A flurry of injuries and position swaps saw more than four Terps see time at first base, including Andrew Bechtold, Kevin Biondic, Justin Morris and LaMonte Wade.
Bechtold began the 2015 season in a competition with Kevin Smith for shortstop, but became the team’s starting first basemen instead. But, early in the season, Bechtold sustained a season-ending thumb injury, making Kevin Biondic the starting first basemen. However, Biondic struggled at the plate. Justin Morris was the potential solution, but he too struggled at the plate, and struggled defensively as well. So, when LaMonte Wade returned from his hamate bone injury, he moved back to first base from centerfield—a switch he had made in the offseason—and provided some stability. After some lineup tinkering and progress, Wade moved back to centerfield and Biondic regained his starting role at first base, providing solid defense. This offseason, Wade was drafted in the 9th Round by the Minnesota Twins.
This year, it will remain Biondic’s job, but, should Biondic falter, junior college transfer Brandon Smith could earn some playing time. Smith recorded a .420/.510/.663 slash line at Harford Community College, helping the Fighting Owls win the Maryland JUCO Championship.
The Terps lost their best player of the 2015 season in Brandon Lowe when he was drafted in the third round by the Tampa Bay Rays. Lowe started all 66 games, batting .331 and tying third basemen Jose Cuas for the team lead in RBI (53).
In 2016, second base will belong to incoming freshman Nick Dunn. Dunn batted .447 with 32 RBI his senior year of high school at Shikellamy High School, not striking out a single time. He also enjoyed a terrific summer with the Silver Spring/Takoma Park T-Bolts, hitting .321 and driving in a team-high 17 runs.
The similarities between Lowe and Dunn are easy to spot. Both bat lefty and throw right-handed, both stand aroudn 5’10”, and both are excellent hitters. Lowe, began the season leading off for the Terps, but soon found a comfortable and productive slot hitting third. Dunn will most likely follow in Lowe’s footsteps and anchor the middle of the order.
For more on Dunn, read this feature on his summer, by MBN’s Matt Present.
Andrew Bechtold, who began 2015 as the starting first baseman, will switch to the other side of the diamond to be the team’s third baseman in 2016. As previously mentioned, Bechtold came to Maryland competing for the shortstop, so a lateral move to third base is natural. The sophomore had a promising start in 2015, collecting six hits and scoring four runs over eighth games before his season-ending thumb injury.
Bechtold will replace Jose Cuas, who was drafted in the 11th round by the Milwaukee Brewers. Cuas brought considerable power to the Terps’ lineup, tying Brandon Lowe for the team lead in RBI (53) and leading the team in home runs (11).
Bechtold played with the Bethesda Big Train over the summer, reaching base 23 times in 19 games.
Sophomore Kevin Smith returns to captain the infield in 2016. He enjoyed an outstanding freshman campaign, batting .273 and scoring 55 runs en route to being named a first-team Freshman All-American by Perfect Game and a second-team All-American by D1Baseball. He also recently landed at #52 of D1Baseball’s list of Top 100 2017 Prospects.
Smith will be a mainstay at the top of the Terps’ lineup, batting second like he did all of last season. He tied for the team lead in steals (11) with Lowe, and recorded a .358 on-base percentage.
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