Season Preview: Infield

By Jake Eisenberg

DAY 7
Graphic by Kate Correia

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.

Catcher:

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.

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Justin Morris

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.

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Nick Cieri

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.

First Base:

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First Baseman Kevin Biondic

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.

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First Basemen Brandon Smith

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.

Second Base:

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).

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Second baseman Nick Dunn

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.

Third Base:

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Third Baseman Andrew Bechtold

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.

Shortstop:

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Shortstop Kevin Smith

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.

Season Preview: Relief Pitching

By Jake Eisenberg

Yesterday, we broke down the Terrapins starting pitching. Today, eight days before the season-opener, we’ll take a look at the bullpen.

DAY 8
Graphic by Kate Correia

The bullpen may be one of the Terps’ biggest question marks entering this season after many of the key pieces have either graduated or been drafted.

Most notably, the Terps will be without RHP Kevin Mooney, who established a new school career saves record before he was drafted in the 15th round by the Washington Nationals.

Maryland will also be without key southpaws Alex Robinson and Zach Morris. Robinson was drafted in the 5th round by the Minnesota Twins and Morris was taken drafted in the 24th by the Philadelphia Phillies. Also gone from the bullpen are veteran arms LHP Jake Drossner and RHP Bobby Ruse.  Drossner was drafted in the 10th round by the Milwaukee Brewers and Ruse exhausted his NCAA eligibility.

So, in total, the Terps said goodbye to three key left-handers and two veteran righties, one of which is arguably the best closer in Terps history.

But, returning players and an infusion of freshman pitchers from the Terps’ 17th-ranked recruiting class should have no problem filling any holes.

 

The Bullpen:

 

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LHP Tayler Stiles

LHP Tayler Stiles is jumping from the starting rotation to the bullpen and will likely be the team’s new closer. Last year, he won the Saturday starting job and made six starts for the Terps before his injury against Cal St. Fullerton. His fastball sits in the mid-80s, atypical of a closer, but makes up for it with a solid curveball and tremendous control. The junior walked just eight batters in his 39.0 IP last year, to go along with 37 punchouts. Finally, Stiles offers a unique arm slot from the left side, only increasing his chance of success.

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LHP Robert Galligan

Joining Stiles in the bullpen is another southpaw, LHP Robert Galligan. The redshirt senior pitched 62.1 innings last year, most on the team by anyone not named Mike Shawaryn, and notched a 2.74 ERA with a 58:21 K/BB ratio. His role varied, as he was both used in long-relief situations, like when he tossed 4.1 IP of scoreless relief against UCLA in the Regional, and in one-batter matchup situations. This year, Galligan will continue to be a reliable late-inning option from head coach John Szefc and pitching coach Jimmy Belanger.

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RHP Ryan Selmer

RHP Ryan Selmer is another reliable option for the Terps. The sophomore made the most appearances (31) last season, including four starts, recording a 2.18 ERA in 53.2 IP. Selmer has the ability to be a consistent starter for the Terps, which also makes him the go-to candidate for long-relief. As we mentioned yesterday in our starting pitching preview, if Selmer be as consistent as last year, he could become a mainstay in the mid-week rotation by the end of the season.

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RHP Mike Rescigno

RHP Mike Rescigno struggled in his limited use last season, walking seven in his four innings after moving from the infield to the mound. But the junior had a terrific summer in the Cal Ripken Baseball League for the Bethesda Big Train, allowing just eight hits in his 20 IP, good for a 1.80 ERA. With his summer success and more pitching experience, Rescigno could be in for a bigger role in 2016.

Yesterday, we mentioned RHPs Cameron Enck, John Murphy and Hunter Parsons as freshman that could make significant contributions to mid-week starts. Each could also fill a long-relief role like Selmer, as could Andrew Miller, a new southpaw.

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LHP Andrew Miller

LHP Andrew Miller is the only member of the Terps’ 2015 recruiting class besides Hunter Persons to have been drafted—Miller was selected in the 34th round by the New York Yankees. In his senior year at Sterling High School, Miller threw 52 2/3 IP, allowing just 25 hits while notching 88 strikeouts. The southpaw was named first-team All-Conference as both an outfielder and a pitcher. Miller figures to be another key lefty option with the departures of Robinson, Morris and Drossner.

Season Preview: Starting Pitchers

By Jake Eisenberg

With just nine days to go until the Terrapins open their season in Alabama, we take a look at the Terps 2016 starting pitching. RHP Mike Shawaryn was among the best in the country last year, and LHP Tayler Stiles added a potent one-two punch. But, after Stiles was injured against Cal St. Fullerton and lost for the season, the rotation struggled to find consistency, as eight different Terps (other than Shawaryn and Stiles) made starts.

DAY 9
Graphic by Kate Correia

This year, with Shawaryn poised for another stellar year, Tayler Stiles back from injury, and returning sophomores RHP Brian Shaffer, RHP Taylor Bloom and RHP Ryan Selmer emerging, Maryland fixes to have a solid foundation. Mix in freshman RHP John Murphy, RHP Cameron Enck and RHP Hunter Parsons, and head coach John Szefc and pitching coach Jimmy Belanger have exciting depth.

 

The Weekend Rotation:

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RHP Mike Shawaryn

As expected, preseason first-team all-American RHP Mike Shawaryn will sit atop the the weekend rotation. Shawaryn, a junior, had the best pitching season in Terps history in 2015, totaling 13 wins and racking up 138 strikeouts, both school single-season records. In the process, he also set the school record for career wins (24). The right-hander recorded a 1.71 ERA in 116.0 IP, good for 17th in the country and 2nd in the Big Ten, trailing only Illinois closer Tyler Jay (1.08 ERA, 66.2 IP).

Shawaryn is projected to be picked in the first round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Baseball America lists him as the 15th-best college prospect, giving him the chance to be Maryland’s highest-ever draft pick, a honor currently held by former Minnesota Twins LHP Eric Milton (1996 MLB Draft, 20th overall).

 

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RHP Taylor Bloom

The Saturday slot in the rotation is expected to be manned by sophomore RHP Taylor Bloom. On paper, Bloom  struggled last season, posting a 2-3 record in five starts to go along with a 4.01 ERA. But, the right-hander showed his potential in the postseason, tossing six innings of one-run ball against top-ranked UCLA in the Regional Final to help the Terps win 2-1.

Over the summer, Bloom played for the Gaithersburg Giants of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League and saw tremendous success, including being named to the CRCBL All-Star team. The sophomore went 3-0 with a 1.76 ERA, with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 38:2. That ratio was helped by a 16 strikeout performance against the Alexandria Aces. With a fastball in the upper-80s, he won’t beat hitters with speed. Instead, Bloom mixes speeds to keep hitters off-balance and uses a lethal change-up to miss bats.

 

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RHP Brian Shaffer

Rounding out the weekend rotation is RHP Brian Shaffer. The sophomore was the only Terps pitcher besides Shawaryn to make more than 10 starts in 2015. Shaffer went 5-1 in 11 starts with a 4.57 ERA. His repertoire includes a low-90s fastball and a slider with a strong late break.

Shaffer doesn’t rely on strikeouts to get through innings, but pitches to contact by maintaining excellent control. The right-hander only gave out only nine free passes to go along with 52 strikeouts.

Like Bloom, Shaffer emerged in the postseason. He held the Illinois Fighting Illini, then winners of 27 straight games, to one run over seven innings, striking out seven in his best performance of the season. He was on his way to another solid start against UCLA (2.0 IP, 1 ER, 1 K) before exiting due to injury.

 

In the Mix:

While the weekend rotation is set for now, the Terps have plenty of mid-week games, presenting starting opportunities for other hurlers. Most notably absent from the 2016 weekend rotation is junior LHP Tayler Stiles.

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LHP Tayler Stiles

While the southpaw started six games for the Terps before his injury, securing the Saturday slot, Stiles will start the 2016 season in a new role. With all-time saves leader Kevin Mooney (drafted in the 15th round by the Washington Nationals), and bullpen arms Zach Morris (drafted in the 24th by the Philadelphia Phillies) and Alex Robinson (drafted in the 5th round by the Minnesota Twins) gone, Stiles has been named the team’s new closer, anchoring the bullpen with his strong left arm and veteran presence (more on this in our relief pitching preview tomorrow).

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RHP Ryan Selmer

RHP Ryan Selmer is another returning pitcher to watch. The sophomore was one of the Terps best options out of the bullpen last year leading the team with 31 appearances, posting a 2.18 ERA in 53.2 IP. However, four of the 6’8″ right-hander’s appearances were starts, where he went 3-1. Selmer may start the year as the go-to arm in the bullpen, but could very well be a consistent mid-week starter by the end of the season.

Some freshman arms could make an impact early in the season as well. RHP Cameron EnckRHP John Murphy and RHP Hunter Parsons could all vie for a mid-week slot.

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RHP Cameron Enck

Enck went 2-3 his senior year of high school (Lampeter-Strasburg) posting a 2.97 ERA in 37 IP, striking out 45. The right-hander was named first-team all-league and also earned a 2015 Perfect Game All-American honorable mention.

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RHP John Murphy

Murphy is cut from a similar cloth to Shawaryn, both having attended Gloucester Catholic High School. But, the similarities don’t end there. While Shawaryn holds the Terps career wins record, Murphy established the careers wins record at Gloucester Catholic, notching 28 over his four years, finishing his senior year 5-2 with 70 strikeouts.

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RHP Hunter Parsons

Parsons is one of the two players—along with Andrew Miller—in the Terps’ incoming class to be drafted out of high school. Parsons was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 40th round. The right-hander tallied 67 strikeouts in just 40 IP his senior year at Parkside High School en route to being named the Bayside South Pitcher of the Year.