Preseason Countdown No. 3: Top 5 Series for 2020

23

As they have the past few years, Maryland baseball faces national blue-blood programs on the road early in the season and will have to get past some of the Big Ten’s elite in order to reach the conference tournament.

Here are the Terps’ top five series of the 2020 season. 


@ Coastal Carolina, February 28-March 1

After opening the season in South Carolina on February 14, the Terps head back to the Palmetto State at the end of the month to face off with the Chanticleers. It’s the third straight year Maryland will face Coastal, losing 7-2 in one game last year, and beating the Chants 7-6 in 2018.

Coastal’s offense, which finished last season fifth in the country with 525 runs,  will be led by outfielder Parker Chavers. Baseball America named the junior a second-team preseason All-American coming off last season, when he batted .316 with 15 home runs.

Control will be key for the Terps’ pitching staff, as Coastal finished 11th in the nation last season with 350 walks, drawing eight in their matchup with Maryland. Coastal can also make free bases hurt, as they stole 79 bases on 93 attempts in 2019 (opponents were 78-95 against the Terps last season). The Chanticleers serve as a useful early-season measuring stick, as the first of five NCAA tournament teams the Terps will face this year. 

@ TCU, March 13-15

The Terps play five straight home games after their trip to Conway, South Carolina, before they head to Fort Worth, Texas to take on the new-look Horned Frogs. Coming off an NCAA tournament berth, the Horned Frogs lost their ace, Nick Lodolo, and their top three hitters to the MLB draft last year.

Despite the roster turnover TCU has plenty of talent, with top-15 recruiting classes in three of the last four seasons. Pitcher Charles King will be looking to step into the ace role left behind by Lodolo, coming off a junior season where he had a 3.36 ERA in 21 appearances, including eight starts. The Horned Frogs’ bullpen should be anchored by junior Augie Mihlbauer, who led the team with a 2.35 ERA in 28 relief appearances last season.

On offense, TCU returns only four players who appeared in more than 40 games, though those four players include reigning RBI leader, infielder Austin Henry, who hit .288 with 43 RBI and started all 62 games last season. Like the Terps, TCU will lean heavily on a young, yet talented roster, with impending learning curves making it difficult to project where the two teams will be when they meet.

@ Iowa, April 17-19

Entering the last series of 2019, Maryland needed to sweep Iowa to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. The Terps secured that sweep, battering the Hawkeyes’ pitching staff to the tune of 26 runs in three games in College Park.

This year Iowa’s pitching staff, led by senior Grant Judkins, will look to quiet Maryland’s offense in Iowa City. Judkins was the team’s most reliable starter last season, with a 2.72 ERA in 15 starts, punching out 65 hitters while allowing just 70 hits in 82 2/3 innings.

The pitching staff will also be bolstered by the return of redshirt sophomore Jack Dreyer, who missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. When healthy, Dreyer looked sharp, striking out 11 and allowing just 2 runs in 7 1/3 innings over two starts.

The Iowa offense maintains most of its biggest weapons, with the team’s three batting leaders, Izaya Fullard, Zeb Adreon, and Austin Martin, all returning. Outfielder Ben Norman, the only player to start all 55 of Iowa’s games, also returns, coming off a season where he led the team with 12 doubles and 34 RBI along with six home runs, the second-most on the team.

Picked by Baseball America to finish fifth and sixth respectively in the Big Ten, both Iowa and Maryland should be looking to this series as a key time to pick up quality conference wins. 

@ Ohio State, May 8-10

This season the Terps drew a favorable conference schedule, avoiding the defending regular-season champion Indiana and national runner-up Michigan. Maryland will, however, have to face the defending Big Ten Tournament champs when they travel to Columbus.

The Buckeyes lost their tournament hero and closer Andrew Magno to the draft, but did retain their entire weekend rotation of Seth Lonsway, Garrett Burhenn and Griffan Smith. Lonsway was the Buckeyes’ most dominant pitcher the Buckeyes, punching out 126 batters in 92 1/3 innings and recording a 3.70 ERA.

On offense, the two biggest losses for the Buckeyes were Dominic Canzone and Brady Cherry, who had 16 homers apiece last year. The lineup still returns three 30-RBI players in Conner Pohl, Brent Todys and Zach Dezenzo, but the thump-and-fear factor provided by Canzone and Cherry will be difficult to replace.

Ohio State is also perhaps the most vulnerable of the Big Ten’s elite. While they found their stride in the postseason, the Buckeyes also were swept at home by Northwestern (by a combined score of 30-11), and went only 12-12 in conference play. 

vs. Minnesota, May 14-16

For the second year in a row, the Terps finish the regular season at home, this time with a three-game set against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota finished tied for third in the Big Ten last season, with a 15-9 conference record, and took two-of-three from Maryland in Minneapolis last year.

While the Gophers look to be near the top of the Big Ten again, they have a lineup that can be pitched around; the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, infielder Jordan Kozicky, had 11 home runs and 49 RBI last season but hit only .237 and struck out 62 times. Kozicky was the only player with more than 30 RBI and no qualified player hit over .300.

On the mound Minnesota will be led by ace Max Meyer. The now-junior led all Big Ten starters with a 2.11 ERA, had an 87-20 K/BB ratio and held opponents to a .202 batting average in 76 2/3 innings last season. Junior Joshua Culliver also figures to be a key part of the Minnesota pitching staff. Culliver led the team with 13 starts last season, and his ability to bring his ERA down from last season’s mark of 4.64 will be a key factor in Minnesota’s success.

After last year’s dramatic end to the season, the Terps know their series against the Golden Gophers could be the key to their postseason hopes and the deciding fate in their season. 

Preseason Countdown No. 16: Standout Summer Pitchers

11

Over the summer of 2019, nine Maryland pitchers appeared across five different summer leagues. These pitchers combined for seven wins and five saves 78 appearances, 15 of them starts. Of the nine hurlers to get innings over the summer, the two who stood out the most were two veteran bullpen arms, Sean Fisher and Elliot Zoellner. 

Sean Fisher, LHP, Brewster Whitecaps (Cape Cod League): 12 apps, 25.1 IP, 3-0, 3 SV, 2.84 ERA, 15 K/4 BB

Fisher, a junior from Parsonsburg, led the Whitecaps in appearances and was named the teams reliever of the season. Fisher’s role in Brewster was similar to his one in College Park, often going multiple innings, including over three innings four times.

The southpaw pitched to contact over the summer as he did in the spring, with relatively low numbers of both strikeouts and walks. But while his style remained the same, his results differed wildly, with an ERA more than four runs lower than his mark from the spring.

While Fisher was solid from start to finish over the summer, his two-week period from July 10 to 24 sealed him as the team’s reliever of the season. Over four appearances in that span, Fisher went 12 ⅔ innings over four appearances without allowing an earned run and recording three wins and a save.

With the departure of closer John Murphy, Fisher figures to take on a larger role in the Terps’ bullpen, with more appearances in more crucial situations.  

Elliot Zoellner, RHP, Bethesda Big Train (Ripken): 12 apps, 16 IP, 1-0, 1 SV, 1.12 ERA, 17 K/5 BB

Zoellner was a key cog of the Big Train’s championship team, coming second on the team with 12 appearances and allowing only two runs. The senior from Annapolis was coming off a tough spring where he had a 7.40 ERA in 18 appearances. Like Fisher, Zoellner was almost lights-out from start to finish, with 11 of his 16 appearances ending scoreless, including six consecutive shutout appearances to end the summer.

Zoellner was mostly a short-innings option, going only an inning over four times. While he did not have many long outings, he was also consistently getting outs, never going less that a full inning after failing to record three outs eight times in the spring.

Like Fisher, the righty sidewinder has the potential to be a key veteran presence in the Terps bullpen, as the only senior reliever on the roster. While the experience can be helpful regardless of on-field performance, Zoellner’s ability to carry his summer-ball form into the spring could be a key to the reliability of Maryland’s bullpen.