Another day, another preview. Baseball prepares to open their season at Florida and for its final ACC campaign

Questions hang over the baseball team in Coach John Szefc's second season. Who'll step into Jimmy Reed's spot as the Friday night starter? Are the ACC and NCAA Tournaments reachable before the B1G move? How will they fare opening weekend at Florida?

So, I looked out my window this morning, saw all that snow on the ground and thought, "It must be baseball season!" That balmy twenty-eight on the thermometer reinforced the budding images of spring and a look at the Maryland Terrapins baseball schedule confirmed it. Yes, the Terps open their second season under head coach John Szefc with a trip to Gainesville this weekend for a three game series with the Florida Gators. Let's take a look at what we can expect.

As for the Terps opening series, they're jumping right in to what should be the toughest match up on their non-conference schedule. The Gators have preseason ranks of fifteenth in the writers' poll, sixteenth in Collegiate Baseball's poll, twentieth in the USA Today coaches' poll, and twenty-third in the Baseball America poll. Bryant University, which also appeared in last year's NCAA Tournament will come to College Park for a four game weekend series beginning February 21, is the only other non-conference foe to receive votes in the preseason polls with one vote in the coaches' poll and they are among the teams listed in the alphabetic RV section of the writers' poll.

As for this weekend, Florida finished last season 14-16 in the SEC and lost in the first rounds of both the SEC and NCAA Tournaments to end the campaign with a 29-30 overall record. This season, they return eight of their top ten position players accounting for about seventy-five percent of their run total. The Gators hit 28 home runs last season (compared to Maryland's 13). Three players tied for the team lead in that category with five and all are returning for 2014 including one named (are you ready for it?) Casey Turgeon.

Florida's pitching staff should be bolstered by the return of a healthy Karsten Whitson. Whitson was something of a phenom coming out of high school turning down a $2.1 million offer after being drafted ninth overall by the San Diego Padres. He has been plagued by shoulder problems and is coming off a redshirt year. The second starter for the Gators should be junior lefty Bobby Poyner. Poyner started seven games in 2013 and appeared in fourteen finishing with a 3.41 ERA and opponents batted only .214 against him.

Maryland finished 30-25 last season registering back to back thirty win seasons for the first time in program history. The Terps finished 11-19 in the ACC and failed to reach either the ACC Tournament or the College World Series.

Looking at the 2014 Terrapins roster, two major contributors from the 2013 squad, pitcher Jimmy Reed and right fielder Jordan Hagel have graduated and moved on. Reed was the Terps number one starter and Hagel was one of the few sources of power at the plate delivering four home runs in an injury plagued season. Seven players who appeared in mostly complimentary roles transferred from the program. Most notable among those are Greg Olenski and K.J. Hockaday. (Okay, Hockaday played a lot until something went sour about three-fifths of the way through the season but he didn't play much from that point.) For the rest of the squad, it's Poltergeist II: "They're back."

(Note: After drafting this preview, I was able to address some lineup questions via email to Coach Szefc, who took his team to Florida a day early to get ahead of the weather. Rather than rewrite the article, his answers are in bold type.)

The strength of every good baseball team starts up the middle - 2,1,6 & 8 - or catcher, pitcher, shortstop, centerfielder. Let's start our look at Maryland's 2014 squad behind the plate where the Terps do have some strength returning in the person of Kevin Martir. As a freshman, Martir moved around some last season but should be the regular catcher this season. A graphic published by the team shows two freshmen, Nick Cieri and John Mazza in the gallery behind Martir. Martir hit a solid, if unspectacular .279 as a freshman but didn't show the same defensive arm strength as the Terps everyday catcher, Jack Cleary who has also completed his eligibility. Martir threw out only 5 of 24 runners attempting to steal. Though he out hit Cleary by 66 points, Martir wasn't notably more productive. Both players finished with nineteen RBI and nine extra base hits - all doubles. (Martir is slated to be the starting catcher and Cieri, who Szefc sees as a possible breakout candidate from the freshman class, will open the season as his backup. Mike Rescigno will serve as the emergency backup.)

Moving out to the 1 spot on your scorecard, expect junior Jake Stinnett to step into Reed's spot as the Terps Friday night starter. Stinnett started nine games last season and finished 6-5 with a respectable 2.83 ERA. Opponents hit only .204 against him and he struck out two batters for every one he walked. The number two and three spots are probably up for grabs with junior Brady Kirkpatrick and sophomore Alex Robinson probably holding the inside track. Robinson, in particular will have to sharpen his control and both will have to do a better job spotting their pitches outside good hitting zones.

Although some other returning pitchers could also challenge for the number three spot, a pair of freshmen may challenge for that slot or, at a minimum, see action in the mid-week games. Mike Shawaryn from Carney's Point New Jersey throws in the low 90s and was a low round draft choice by the Kansas City Royals. Likewise, Maryland native Chase Brewis can bring his fastball at ninety plus miles per hour. He comes to Maryland as the fourth ranked high school pitcher in the state. (Stinnett is the Friday starter. Shawayrn has secured the Saturday spot and Jared Price will start on Sunday. Kirkpatrick is recovering from an off season injury and will miss most, if not all of the season.)

I can't leave the mound without mentioning potential stud closer Kevin Mooney. The sophomore from Forest Hill rung up nine saves for the Terrapins last season. Tuesday afternoon the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association selected Mooney as one of the initial fifty players named to the watch list for the Stopper of the Year Award. We'll know more when the list is updated on the twenty-first of April.

Looking at shortstop, the Terrapins return Blake Schmit. Schmit, who came to Maryland last season from the junior college ranks had a solid first season with the Terps. He batted .277,showed a little pop in his bat with two home runs, and was one of only three Terps to drive in thirty or more runs. If he can maintain that presence in the lineup and shore up his fielding a bit, he will make a solid all around contribution.

Charlie White enters his junior year with his position solidified in centerfield. White is a great table setter at the top of the Terrapins lineup. He led the Terps in batting average and on base percentage. White is essential to a team that again looks like it will be built around pitching, defense and speed. White set a Maryland record with thirty-nine stolen bases last season on only forty-six attempts for an impressive 85 percent success rate.

Around the rest of the infield, returning starter LaMonte Wade and redshirt freshman Brandon Lowe will hold down the right side. Wade was the team's top performing freshman in 2013. One expectation for Wade is that he will have gotten stronger and can provide a bit of a long ball threat while remaining a threat on the bases. (Per Coach Szefc, "We expect Wade to make a jump this season. He'll bat in the middle of the lineup.) He also finished second on the team with 14 steals in only 19 attempts. Lowe looked like a potential starter as a freshman until a preseason knee injury sidelined him for the season. Third base looks to be a battle between two newcomers. Freshman Mike Rescigno comes to Maryland as the thirty-fourth ranked player in his home state of New Jersey. Also looking for playing time on the hot corner will be JuCo transfer Krysthian Leal. Leal was named first team All-NJCAA Region I Division I last season and looks to have a knack for getting timely hits as he finished tied for fifteenth nationally with sixty RBI. (Also in the mix {and surprising to me in the lead} for securing the starting spot at third base is Jose Cuas though Szefc did mention Rescigno as a player with "a live bat and a good amount of pop.")

Anthony Papio and Michael Monteville are the likely starters who will flank White in right field. Papio had some inconsistencies as a freshman while Monteville lost playing timedue to an injury. With Lowe's emergence at second base, look for Kyle Convissar to slide into left field. Convissar returns for his senior season at the Terps' second leading hitter and second leading run producer with 37 RBI. Others in contention for outfield spots are junior Andrew Amaro - who was recently voted by his teammates at the most improved positional player, JuCo transfer Tim Lewis, DeMatha freshman Bradley Keith.

Before I take a deeper look at Maryland's schedule, I need to thank mercator88. He's a long time fan and supporter of Terrapins baseball and occasional fan poster and commenter on Testudo Times. He reached out to me and provided much of the information I used in the roster analysis.

Now, for that look at Maryland's schedule, After opening the season and Florida and hosting 2013 CWS participant Bryant in a four game weekend series, the Terps will split mid-week home and home games with Delaware, George Mason, James Madison, Virginia Commonwealth, and West Virginia. Maryland also has two games against local rival Towson both scheduled to be played at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen. Rounding out the non-conference schedule, Navy, Rider, and UMBC will make mid-week trips to College Park.

Absent from the Terrapins schedule for their final ACC season are regular season games against Virginia and Miami. Virginia is picked to win the Coastal Division and is ranked sixth in the nation in first USA Today Coaches' Poll. Miami was picked to finish third in the Coastal and was ranked seventeenth by the coaches. ACC newcomers Notre Dame and Pitt have replaced the Cavaliers and Hurricanes. The Terps will travel to Pittsburgh and host Notre Dame.

Three of the four remaining squads ranked in the Coaches' Poll, number 9 NC State, number 12 North Carolina, and number 16 Clemson will visit College Park. The only ranked ACC team the Terps will face on the road will come in an early March match up with the fifth ranked Florida State Seminoles in Tallahassee.

The remainder of the ACC schedule has the Terps traveling to Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Maryland's fifth league home opponent will be the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

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