This is the second of two columns that preview the 2015 Maryland baseball team. In this article, I'll focus on the pitchers and finish up with my overall outlook. The previous article discussed position players.
Players departing: Ben Brewster, Brandon Casas, Brady Kirkpatrick, Jamie Pashuck, Jake Stinnett.
New players (all freshmen, as no transfers this season): Taylor Bloom (RHP), Tyler Brandon (RHP), Chase Brewis (RS RHP), Andrew Green (RS RHP), Jack Piekos (LHP), Willie Rios (LHP), Ryan Selmer (RS RHP), Brian Shaffer (RHP).
Last year's All-American freshman and Maryland single-season wins record holder Mike Shawaryn (11-4, 3.12 era) has the Friday night slot locked down tight. After Shawaryn there are a plethora of individuals who could start, including Tayler Stiles (5-2, 4.05 era), Jake Drossner (4-1, 2.45 era), Bobby Ruse (7-3, 3.52 era), and freshman Brian Shaffer. Two from this group will be weekend starters with the other two taking the mound midweek.
The southpaw Stiles was used as a relief specialist during his freshman year. He followed that up with a great summer season as a starting pitcher in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League (4-1, 2.17 era). Stiles looked quite effective in the Fall World Series, and if he can maintain or increase his velocity he could have a breakout season in 2015.
Drossner started 2014 as a midweek starter and finished the year as the team's Sunday starter. He got great exposure pitching in big games during the playoffs.
Ruse set a single-season record for most appearances (31) and was a strike-throwing machine. He was effective whether he was starting or in relief. Ruse will figure prominently in the Terrapins' pitching scheme in 2015. (In case you're wondering, yes, the 'stache is still there.)
Shaffer is a freshman who was selected as a first-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro pick last year. The coaching staff is quite high on him and he could be a midweek pitcher or used in long relief this season. Of course, all of the above is fluid and will depend on how the pitchers perform once games begin. Regardless, the depth of starting pitching will be particularly important in tournament and post-season play.
Back-end relief pitchers
I'll state this without equivocation: the Terrapins' bullpen will rank among the elite in the country. In the late innings, expect to see Kevin Mooney (13 saves), Alex Robinson (2.87 era), and Jared Price (31 strike outs in 29 innings). Mooney tied the Terrapins' single-season saves record with 13 last year and is one save away from tying the career Terp mark set by MLB All-Star Brett Cecil. Mooney has a fastball in the 90s and a nasty curve ball. Robinson was a weekend starter during his freshman year (2013) with electric stuff, but inconsistent command of his pitches. Last season he transitioned to the bullpen to work on his mechanics and had great success there. He was named the New England Collegiate Baseball League's best player for the 2014 summer season and is on MLB scouts' radar (literally and figuratively). In the Fall World Series, his fastball consistently clocked in at 94-95 MPH. Price followed a path similar to Robinson, beginning as a weekend starter and finding a home as a relief pitcher. He has a live arm and provides pitching coach Jim Belanger with another option late in the game.
Middle and long relief
There's no shortage of arms available in the middle of the bullpen. From the right side of the mound the Terps have Andrew Green (RS FR) and Ryan Selmer (RS FR). Both are tall, imposing pitchers. Green was voted "most improved pitcher" in the fall by his teammates. Mike Rescigno played infield last season, and the sophomore's rocket arm was incentive to transition him to the bullpen; Rescigno had previously pitched effectively in high school. Freshmen Taylor Brandon, Tyler Broom, and Chase Brewis could also play a part this year. Zach Morris (2-1, 2.77 era) provides an experienced arm in the pen, and the southpaw will be counted on heavily in 2015. Fellow southpaws Robert Galligan (6 ip, 6 strikeouts), and freshmen Willie Rios and Jack Piekos round out the staff. Coming out of high school, Rios was selected in the 26th round of the MLB draft, but elected to play baseball at Maryland.
Overall 2015 outlook
The depth and breadth to this team make it possibly more potent than last year's squad. The starting line-up is not set in stone, and competition for playing time will be intense. In particular, the catcher/first base/DH slots promise to see a number of different combinations. Ditto for the starting rotation. This is not due to a lack of talent, but the opposite. As I mentioned above, the Maryland bullpen will be among the nation's elite. All of which serves the Terps well as they venture into B1G baseball.
The 2014 North Carolina State team's fate acts as a warning. In 2013, the Wolfpack made it to Omaha and started off 2014 ranked in the top ten nationally. They had two players considered within the top five players in the MLB draft (Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner). Yet NC State limped into the ACC Tournament as the final seed, were promptly eliminated, and failed to make the NCAA Tournament. Despite the presence of marquee players, the team never gelled, falling way short of expectations.
I don't believe a similar fate awaits the 2015 Terrapins. Yes, there are marquee players that MLB scouts will be watching. However, when talking with the players and coaches, it's obvious that personal accolades are not what matters: winning is. The gestalt is not cockiness, rather a hunger to go beyond what was accomplished last year. The Terrapins were one win away from Omaha and getting there in 2015 is the primary goal. It will be fun watching this team chase, and hopefully reach, that star.