Preseason Countdown #1: Brittain Resorts Invitational Preview

The wait for Maryland baseball is nearing an end, but there are still many questions without answers.

While head coach Rob Vaughn said he and the coaching staff have a good idea of their primary starters, the batting order and certain position battles won’t be officially decided until the team’s bus ride on Thursday to the Brittain Resorts Invitational in Conway, South Carolina.

Offseason turnover leaves many aspects of the Terps a mystery heading into the season-opener Friday morning against Campbell. Among Maryland’s 35-player roster is 17 first-year Terps, a DIII transfer that had to sit out last year, a redshirt who never touched the field last year and a pitcher coming off Tommy John Surgery.

That’s 57 percent of the team that hasn’t played a single pitch in the Maryland baseball uniform. That stat will decline shortly into the 2019 campaign, with four positions still up for grabs and the bullpen filled with young and eager arms.

As of Wednesday’s media availability with Vaughn, only half of the positions had a locked starter — sophomore Justin Vought at catcher, senior Taylor Wright at third, senior AJ Lee at short, sophomore Randy Bednar at one of the three outfield spots and senior right-hander Hunter Parsons on the mound.

The starting rotation behind Parsons was finally revealed for the first three games. Per Vaughn, right-hander Zach Thompson will start Saturday against Coastal Carolina and southpaw Tyler Blohm will start on Sunday against VCU. Initially, it seemed Blohm might not be ready for opening weekend due to an undisclosed injury sustained late last season.

The only other sure thing is that senior right-hander John Murphy is the team’s closer. But he’ll watch the first two games this weekend from the hotel, serving the remainder of a three-game suspension required from an ejection in the final weekend of last season.

Last year, a transitioned pitcher in then-senior Kevin Biondic was the first arm out of the bullpen. So anything can happen when Maryland baseball finally kicks off the 2019 campaign.

Friday — Campbell Fighting Camels 

Last season

Campbell went 35-26 last season, winning the Big South regular season and tournament titles for the first time in program history. The Camels thus earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 but were eliminated swiftly with losses to regional host Georgia, and Duke.

This season

The Camels were chosen by the conference to repeat as Big South champions, as they return five starters and 11 pitchers from last year’s successful team. Redshirt junior outfielder Matthew Barefoot was named the conference’s preseason player of the year, becoming the second player in program history to earn the honor.

Hitters to watch

Barefoot is a standout star getting national attention. He hit a conference-high .364 last season, smashing eight homers while swiping 33 bases. The outfielder was also named the Cape Cod Baseball League MVP this summer after hitting .379 during the regular season.

Barefoot was the only Camel to hit above .300, and the next two highest batting averages are now graduated. So sophomore catcher Ty Babin is the next-highest returning average at only .255. He started in 36 games and led the team with three triples.

Relievers to watch

Senior right-hander Tyson Messer came out of the bullpen 27 times last season for the Camels. While he had a lofty 4.72 ERA, he held hitters to a .191 average. He did struggle with command. His 28 walks were as many as his strikeout total in only 26.2 innings of work.

With the Camels’ top two relievers gone from last year, senior lefty Phil Simpson might more responsibility in filling that workload. He threw 32.2 innings last season, the most of any returning bullpen arm.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Friday, 11 a.m. ET

Sr. RHP Michael Horrell vs. Sr. RHP Hunter Parsons

horrell_michael_sp094_c.jpg  1200px-Campbell_Fighting_Camels_logo.svg.pngvs.  1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo RMZBYNJDDYBZPMM.20150924191225

Horrell started in all 14 games he appeared in as a sophomore. He went 6-4 with a 3.75 ERA, but did not pitch in the NCAA tournament. He conceded five earned runs in less than four innings in his last outing of the season in the Big South tournament.

Parsons went 5-2 with a 3.44 ERA last season, beginning the season on Sunday’s and eventually working his way into the Friday role. He’s coming off a standout season that included two complete games. After surpassing all expectations last year, he’s now the leader of Maryland’s rotation.

Saturday — No. 21 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers 

Last season

Invitational host Coastal Carolina went 43-19 en route to a Sun Belt tournament title last season. The Chanticleers hosted an NCAA Regional, but after winning their first game, were bounced by Washington and UConn. Coastal lost to Maryland, 7-6, last year on the same day of a similar weekend it hosted.

This season

In no surprise, Coastal received the most first-place votes to take home another Sun Belt crown this year. The Chanticleers return three of their top five hitters, two of which hit above .300. Coastal also returns the lowest four ERAs on its team from 2018, and sits just outside the top 20 in the national polls.

Hitters to watch

Sophomore outfielder Parker Chavers had an unbelievable rookie campaign, hitting .323 with seven homers and 42 RBIs. He started in 60 games as a freshman, and was named an All-American by multiple national media outlets. He enters 2019 as on the Sun Belt’s preseason All-conference team.

Senior Zach Biermann brings more than just veteran leadership. He hit for average and power last season, hitting .302 with 13 home runs that somehow ranked third on his own team. He was named last season’s Sun Belt tournament most outstanding player.

Relievers to watch

Senior right-hander Matt Eardensohn was one of the three Chanticleers on the Sun Belt preseason team and the only reliever on the entire list. He sported a 2.18 ERA in 57.2 innings pitcher. He went 7-0 in 20 appearances, holding hitters to a .188 batting average.

Redshirt junior southpaw Jay Causey is another top returning relievers after pitching 43.1 innings a season ago. His five saves only trailed Eardensohn’s six, making the duo stiff task to handle if trailing at the end of games. He had a 2.28 ERA in 24 outings in 2018.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Saturday, 3 p.m. ET

Jr. LHP Anthony Veneziano vs. Jr. RHP Zach Thompson

Anthony_Veneziano.jpgCoastal_Carolina_Chanticleers_logo.svg.png vs.  1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo Thompson082818_02

Veneziano will have the clear experience advantage in this matchup, a starter for two seasons already at Coastal. He went 7-1 with a 3.81 ERA last year. In the NCAA tournament, he pitched seven scoreless frames with only allowing three hits in Coastal’s lone win of the Regional.

Zach Thompson won’t wait long to make his Maryland debut. After having to sit out last season after transferring from a DIII program, the right-hander instantly finds himself in a huge weekend role. Head coach Rob Vaughn has continuously raved about Thompson since he stepped on campus before last season.

Sunday — VCU Rams 

Last season

VCU went 34-23 in 2018, but its offense didn’t show up when it mattered most in the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Rams scored three runs in their postseason losses and missed out on the NCAA tournament. VCU and Maryland split a home-and-home series last year, with the road team winning both games.

This season

The Rams were picked second in the A10 preseason poll, receiving two first-place votes. VCU will return an All-Conference outfielder and a preseason All-American closer. The Rams and Terps will face off twice more after this weekend, scheduled to complete a home-and-home for the second straight year.

Hitters to watch

Sophomore Hogan Brown had an unbelievable freshman campaign with the Rams, hitting .344 with a .436 on-base percentage. He ranked second on the team in both runs (34) and doubles (11). He played against Maryland once last season and went 3-for-5 with two runs, three RBIs and a walk.

Junior Paul Witt started in all 57 games for the Rams a season ago. He led VCU with 61 hits and 43 RBIs, while making pitchers struggle to strike him out. He only went down on strikes 20 times, and he walked 16 times.

Relievers to watch

VCU played in a lot of close games last season, helping senior righty Mac McCarty compile the third most saves in the country with 16. He went 1-1 with a 3.26 ERA in over 38 innings. McCarty did not pitch against Maryland in either of the two meetings last season.

Senior right-hander Benjamin Dum was the most dominant arm out of the Rams bullpen in 2018. In 17 appearances, Dum boasted a 1.64 ERA and held hitters to an abysmal .195 average. He was the most featured relievers for VCU a season ago, but he also got one start — a one-inning spot start against Maryland.

Probable Starting Pitching Matchup 

Sunday, 11 a.m. ET

RSo. RHP Justin Sorokowski vs. Jr. LHP Tyler Blohm

Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 11.39.20 AM.pngNew_VCU_Wordmark_Logo.png vs.  1Maryland_M_Bar_Primary_Athletic_Logo YFZMWOKWXYQKPRI.20160916193835

Sorokowski is set to make his first-career start for VCU after transferring from Tallahassee Community College, where he put up a 2.35 ERA for the Eagles in 2018. He started 13 games and had 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.

Two weeks ago, it didn’t appear Blohm would be ready in time for the 2019 season. He’s back, though, and instead of assuming last year’s Saturday role, he’ll begin the year back in the Sunday role he held as a freshman. The southpaw went 5-2 with a 4.10 ERA in 2018.