MBN’s Jake Eisenberg talks to Maryland Head Coach John Szefc about the growth of the Terps’ program, this season’s expectations and the impact of incoming recruiting class.
MBN’s Jake Eisenberg sits down with Maryland Hitting Coach Rob Vaughn ahead of the 2016 season to discuss Terps’ batting order, freshman bats, and the plan to replace the offensive production of some key players in 2015: LaMonte Wade, Brandon Lowe, Jose Cuas and Kevin Martir.
MBN’s Jake Eisenberg sits down with Maryland Pitching Coach Jimmy Belanger ahead of the 2016 season to discuss the Terps’ starting rotation, bullpen and incoming freshman arms.
By Ben Harris
Now four days from opening day, we’ve thoroughly broken down the 2016 Maryland Terrapins: the infield, outfield, starting rotation and bullpen corps. We’ve shared the top plays from last year along with two straight weeks worth of player profiles. Now, we broaden our focus to include the rest of the Big Ten Conference, where the Terps finished second in both the regular season and the conference tournament last year before beginning their second consecutive NCAA Super Regional run. D1Baseball projected the Terps to win the Big Ten this season, and the 2016 Big Ten Coaches Poll has Maryland finishing in second.
Illinois: 2015 record 50-10-1 (B1G 21-1)
After a first place Big Ten finish last year, the Fighting Illini return just two of their conference-leading six First Team All-Big Ten Selections. Strong up the middle, catcher Jason Goldstein returns for his senior season, as does redshirt junior Adam Walton, ranked Baseball America’s top Big Ten defensive shortstop. Reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Dan Hartleb leads Illinois into 2016 in his 11th season as head coach and 26th season overall on the Illini staff.
2015 Maryland vs. Illinois: 1-0 (Big Ten Tournament)
2016 vs. Maryland: May 6-8 @ Maryland
Indiana: 2015 record 35-24 (B1G 12-10)
Ranked third in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, the Hoosiers look to improve on their sixth place conference finish last season behind starter Kyle Hart. Posting a 5-0 record in 37.1 innings of work last season, the senior notched the third lowest earned-run average in the conference of any pitchers with double-digit innings logged, adding a stellar 30/3 strikeout/walk ratio.
2015 Maryland vs. Indiana: 0-3 regular season, 1-0 in Big Ten Tournament
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled
Iowa: 2015 record 41-18 (B1G 19-5)
Iowa enters 2016 coming off a second place conference finish last season and their first NCAA tournament birth in two and a half decades (and first tournament win since 1972). The Hawkeyes will rely on senior infield experience in Tyler Peyton and Nick Roscetti. Peyton registered the 11th best batting average in the conference last season. Their pitching staff, second in the Big Ten a year ago, is anchored on the back end by Luke Vandermaten who posted the lowest ERA (1.06) of Big Ten pitchers recording double-digit innings pitched. The senior allowed no runs in 18 of his 22 appearances, with a 0.87 ERA in Big Ten play.
2015 Maryland vs. Iowa: 1-2
2016 vs. Maryland: March 25-27 @ Iowa
Maryland: 2015 record 42-24 (B1G 14-10)
Head coach John Szefc leads the Terrapins in his fourth season and second in the Big Ten. In his three seasons at the helm – the last two resulting in the school’s first two 40-plus-win seasons – Maryland’s winning percentage is .608, nearly 100 points higher than their all time win percentage (.510). The Terps return their ace and all time wins leader Mike Shawaryn, the 2015 Big Ten strikeout leader (138) who posted 43 more punchouts than the runner-up. Maryland’s pitching staff led the conference in strikeouts last season (549) and posted the fourth lowest ERA (3.32).
Michigan: 2015 record 39-25 (B1G 14-10)
The Wolverines enter 2016 ranked first in the conference preseason coaches poll after last season’s Big Ten Tournament title. Michigan returns eight starters, headlined by two-way threat Carmen Benedetti who led the conference last season in runs batted in (71), doubles (25), tied for the fourth most total bases (126) while posting the second highest batting average (.352). As a team in 2015, Michigan registered the most runs, hits and doubles in the conference, and had the most players (four) voted to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
2015 Maryland vs. Michigan: 1-2, 0-1 in Big Ten Tournament
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled
Michigan State: 2015 record 34-23 (B1G 14-10)
The Spartans just cracked the preseason conference coaches poll, holding down the sixth spot. After tying for third overall in the conference last season, they will not return their top two hitters. However, their pitching staff returns its top two relievers and their top starter. The bullpen is headlined by junior relievers Walter Borkovich and Joe Mockbee (1.78 ERA, 6-2 record in 25 appearances). Borkovich tied a Michigan State single-season record with 30 appearances, going 3-0 with a 2.73 ERA.
2015 Maryland vs. Michigan State: 1-0 (Big Ten Tournament)
2016 vs. Maryland: May 19-21 @ Michigan State
Minnesota: 2015 record 21-30 (B1G 9-15)
The Golden Gophers ranked in the bottom four in both team batting and pitching rankings in the Big Ten last season. However, Minnesota returns a pair of talented upperclassmen in Matt Fiedler and Dan Motl. Fiedler, a two-way standout, ranked second on the team in batting average (.310) and led the team in hits (62), RBIs (31), runs (37) and stolen bases (18) last season. He also led Minnesota with a 2.86 ERA in 15 appearances. Motl, a senior outfielder, posted a 17-game hit streak, hitting .312 in conference play.
2015 Maryland vs. Minnesota: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: April 15-17 @ Minnesota
Nebraska: 2015 record 34-23 (B1G 9-14)
Skipper Darin Erstad (two-time MLB All-Star and 2002 World Series champion) begins his fifth year at his alma mater in Lincoln. Despite the fifth highest team batting average (.276) and third lowest ERA (3.12) in the conference a year ago, Nebraska finished eighth in the Big Ten. The offense is led by returning junior Ryan Boldt. The Cornhuskers leadoff hitter, and 2016 Perfect Game preseason All-American, led the team in batting average (.344), hits (75), runs (45) and stolen bases (9). Boldt produced the second highest batting average of any returning Big Ten player and the fourth highest on-base percentage (.467) in conference play.
2015 Maryland vs. Nebraska: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled
Northwestern: 2015 record 18-36 (B1G 8-16)
The Wildcats look to bolster their middle of the pack offensive performance in 2015 returning their best all-around hitter in senior Zach Jones and two-way star Joe Hoscheit. Jones, a first baseman and outfielder led the Northwestern offense in hits (70), RBIs (32) and doubles (20). Hoscheit, a junior, started in each of his team’s 54 games last season and hit .286, the second highest average of any returning starter.
2015 Maryland vs. Northwestern: 1-2
2016 vs. Maryland: not scheduled
Ohio State: 2015 record 35-21 (B1G 13-11)
After a seventh place conference finish last season, Ohio State will rely on a duo of junior outfield mainstays. Ronnie Dawson, who made every start in left field a year ago, posted the third highest batting average (.279) of any returning Buckeye and led his squad with 20 multi-hit games. Second Team All-Big Ten selection Troy Montgomery, the center field starter in each game last season, led the conference in steals (35), tying an Ohio State single season record. He reached base in 32 straight games, led the team in runs (54) and logged the most hits (65) and highest batting average (.317) of any returning player.
2015 Maryland vs. Ohio State: 2-1
2016 vs. Maryland: April 8-10 @ Maryland
Penn State: 2015 record 18-30 (B1G 6-16)
Penn State looks to reverse its slow 1-13 start last year while replacing nine departing seniors. The pitching staff, however, remains nearly complete, secured in the back end by closer Jack Anderson (2.98 ERA, five saves in 54.1 innings pitched). The senior allowed just nine extra base hits and no home runs last year. Junior shortstop Jim Haley logged the highest batting average of any returning Nittany Lion (.301) and led the team in runs (35).
2015 Maryland vs. Penn State: did not play
2016 vs. Maryland: April 29-May 1 @ Penn State
Purdue: 2015 record 20-34 (B1G 6-17)
A duo of Kyles lead the Boilermakers into 2016 after finishing in the Big Ten’s cellar last season. Kyle Wood and Kyle Johnson posted nearly identical numbers last season. Wood led all starters hitting .326 last year, with Johnson just behind him at .286. Both played in 53 games, each mashing six homers, 34 RBIs and 19 extra base hits. The redshirt-senior Wood scored 29 runs, and the senior Johnson scored 30 times.
2015 Maryland vs. Purdue: 3-0
2016 vs. Maryland: April 22-24 @ Maryland
Rutgers: 2015 record 19-35-1 (B1G 7-17)
In their first season of Big Ten play, the Scarlet Knights finished 11th in the conference with the league’s worst pitching staff and second worst offense. The 2016 pitching staff is led by left-hander Howie Brey, Rutgers’ most used pitcher and strikeout leader (56) last season. Rutgers most potent offensive weapon, Junior Tom Marcinczyk, slugged .507 last year, the seventh highest total in the conference and launched the 10th most homers (seven). He also led the team in hits (66), RBIs (36), total bases (103) and average (.325).
2015 Maryland vs. Rutgers: did not play
2016 vs. Maryland: May 13-15 @ Maryland
by: Matt Present
After tallying 82 wins over the past two seasons, noting that the Terps are now on the map would simply be pointing out the obvious. John Szefc has continued what Erik Bakich started, and the results are evident. Eight Terps were drafted following the 2015 season, the most Maryland players ever to sign with a professional organization in one year.
There have been so many successes over the past two seasons. The Terps have made their first two Super Regional appearances in school history, and last year set the single season wins record in the process. To highlight the last two years—in contrast with the many years prior—only three players on this year’s roster even know the feeling of not making it to the postseason. However, with each success, the goals and expectations rise, and so after knocking on the door the past two seasons, the Terps hope this is the year they can finally kick the door down and make it to the College World Series.
This year’s weekend rotation is what separates this team from the previous two. In 2014, Jake Drossner had a very good regular season behind Jake Stinnett and Mike Shawaryn, but faltered down the stretch. In the ACC Tournament, Drossner struggled to get through five innings, giving up three earned runs on five hits, and then in the Columbia Regional final he was pulled after just 3.2 having given up five hits and a run. It turned out that runs would not be at a premium as Maryland went on to win 10-1, but Drossner’s inconsistency cast enough doubt in the minds of the coaches that in the decisive third game against Virginia in the Super Regional, they turned instead to the veteran Bobby Ruse.
Last year, the Saturday and Sunday spots in the rotation were in flux for most of the season, especially following the injury to Tayler Stiles. The coaching staff mixed and matched throughout the season, trying to press the magic button that could produce wins behind Shawaryn’s ever reliable Friday starts. In all, ten different pitchers made weekend rotation starts, including the school’s all-time saves leader Kevin Mooney. In the end, the Terps had two true freshman, a redshirt freshman, and a sophomore start every postseason game.
All things considered, the rotation finally clicked. In the Big Ten Conference Championship, Brian Shaffer tossed seven strong innings to snap Illinois’ 27-game winning streak, and then Ryan Selmer followed the next day with five innings of shutout ball. In the Los Angeles Regional, Taylor Bloom won the clincher, pitching six innings of one-hit ball. However, also in the Regional, Selmer struggled, and Shaffer made an early exit with right arm stiffness. Back in Charlottesville, Selmer got hit around again in game two, and despite a performance for the ages by Rob Galligan out of the bullpen, the Terps came up short again.
But in terms of this season, the best thing to happen to the Terps a year ago was to be forced into sending Shaffer and Bloom to the mound in the Regional. The big game experience is invaluable. While the media guide will tell you that both are sophomores, the successes that both enjoyed in key spots as freshmen, will give them the confidence of veterans.
It takes three wins to win a Regional, two wins to take home a Super Regional, and five more to be crowned a champion. Entering the 2016 season, the Terps are no longer in search of their dynamic duo…that’s because they have found their terrific trifecta, at least it certainly looks that way.
By Jake Eisenberg
Now less than a week until the beginning of the 2016 season, we roll out our final positional preview with an in-depth look at the Terrapins’ outfield. The outfield should remain a strong part of the Terps, both on defense and at the plate.
Mainstay left-fielder Tim Lewis (graduated) and centerfielder LaMonte Wade (drafted in the 9th Round by the Minnesota Twins)
Tim Lewis was the main left-fielder for the majority of the Terps’ season, starting 58 games. But, Lewis struggled at the plate, batting just .214. He gave way to then-freshman Kengo Kawahara in the final games of the regular season and the Big Ten Tournament. Kawahara likely would’ve played in the Regional and Super Regional, too, but hurt his hand in the Big Ten Semi-Final (more on Kawahara later).
Regardless, left field will be manned by junior transfer Madison Nickens in 2016. Nickens comes to Maryland after playing for two years at LSU-Eunice. He batted .289 with six home runs, 37 RBIs, 38 runs score and 38 stolen bases last season, helping the Bengals win the 2015 NJCAA Division II National Championship. The junior will sit atop the Terps lineup, adequately replacing LaMonte Wade.
LaMonte Wade is one of the biggest loses of the Terps’ offseason. Wade started 41 games, and would’ve started more if not for a hamate bone injury. He hit .335, collecting 53 hits in his 42 total gams, with four home runs and the highest on-base percentage on the team at .453. Wade also provided stellar defense at both first and in center field, making highlight-reel plays against UCLA in the Regional.
While Madison Nickens should make up for Wade’s offense, it’ll be Zach Jancarski playing patrolling center field to make up for the defense. Jancarski spent most of his time in 2015 as a pinch-runner, entering the game in such a role 16 times, scoring nine runs. The junior is arguably the fastest player on the team, and, with a sure glove, will provide excellent defense. He struggled last year at the plate, going just 2-17, but, if he can get on base in 2016, he has the potential to wreak havoc on opposing pitchers.
Kengo Kawahara could also find himself playing time in center field, or in left and right field as well. The sophomore was used mainly as a defensive upgrade in 2015 before climbing into bigger role toward the end of the season. This year, Kawahara will once again be a key late-inning defensive upgrade for head coach John Szefc, but should he produce more at the plate, he could see more playing time before too long.
Anthony Papio started all 66 games in right field for the Terps in 2015, and figures to do the same in 2016. The redshirt senior—and former walk-on— was a constant in the five-or six-hole last year, batting .262 with six home runs. If Papio can cut down on strikeouts—he led the team with 63 in 2015—he has the potential to one of the most valuable hitters in the lineup. Not only will he bring power to the middle of the order, but also a strong arm in right field.
Papio is also one of the strongest players on the team, winning the team’s offseason “Iron Terps” workout competition three seasons in a row. As a redshirt senior, he’ll be one of the de facto leaders for Maryland on and off the field.
For more on Papio, read his draft preview from last year.
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.