Part one of our Maryland baseball season preview focused on position players. Part two is all about pitching.
Pitching is the major differentiator between good and elite teams. The past few seasons Maryland has trotted out a steady supply of stellar arms, including Brett Harman, Jimmy Reed, Jake Stinnett, and Kevin Mooney.
But the jewel in the crown has been Mike Shawaryn, "The Unicorn," who in just two seasons has set the new Maryland record for wins (24). Shawaryn will once again cast an imposing shadow on the mound for the Terps, and the stands will be full of scouts whenever he pitches on Friday nights. He gained valuable experience this summer playing for the USA Collegiate National Team, in essence facing professional players from Taipei and Canada.
Taylor Bloom is penciled in as the Saturday starter. Bloom really started to come on in the last third of the season as well as the postseason. He showed incredible poise against in the B1G title game and in the NCAA Regionals against UCLA. Not a flame thrower, Bloom can nibble at the corners and has a nasty changeup. This past summer Bloom had an awesome record in the Cal Ripken League, in one game striking out 16 batters.
Sunday's starter figures to be Brian Shaffer, who was second on the staff last year in terms of wins (5). The sophomore had a season similar to Bloom, coming on late and shining in the postseason. His strikeout to walk ratio was outstanding, about 6:1. Shaffer started and won the game in the Big Ten Tournament that snapped Illinois' 27-game winning streak.
Unfortunately, Shaffer experienced elbow soreness in the NCAA Regional round, and didn't pitch again until recently. If 100 percent, Shaffer is a legitimate weekend starter, with good command and a slider that could end up being a plus pitch for him.
Styling and profiling
Last year Tayler Stiles pitched himself into the Saturday slot, and was trending towards a fine sophomore season. Then he got hit in the face by a line drive on the second pitch of his start against Cal State Fullerton. That awful moment ended his season, requiring him to undergo multiple surgeries. But Stiles is a determined individual. After throwing lightly in the fall, the southpaw has steadily progressed and is slated to start the season in the backend of the bullpen, possibly as the closer. It's conceivable that later on in 2016 Stiles could end up starting, as Maryland's front rotation currently are all right handers.
Joining Stiles in the pen is junior Mike Rescigno. The latter started his career at third base. His live arm and previous pitching experience in high school led to Rescigno getting a shot on the mound for Maryland. Last year Rescigno made only six appearances, but had a 2.25 era in those games. He got more opportunity to pitch in the Cal Ripken League, where he recorded 20 strike outs in 20 innings while posting a 1.40 ERA.
You can never have enough pitching
Last season played out the axiom that you can never have enough pitching. With Stiles and Shaffer going down, and Kevin Mooney missing some time due to back spasms, the once-rich pitching staff started to run thin. There should be no such problems this year, as Maryland is stocked with a great mix of freshman and veteran arms. Ryan Selmer is the team's Swiss army knife, capable of making a midweek start, throwing long relief or closing. He recorded a 2.18 ERA in 53.2 innings pitched. Selmer excelled at getting hitters to ground out.
His counterpart from the left side is Robert Galligan, who showed incredible progress in 2015 from where he stood in 2014. Galligan went 4-5 with a 2.74 ERA, striking 58 batters in 62.1 innings and holding opponents to a .219 batting average. Andrew Green and Jared Price are both hard-throwing right handers. Price has suffered a spate of injuries throughout his career and is reported to be 100% healthy this year.
Then there's the freshman arms. John Murphy is a big right hander who went to the same high school as Mike Shawaryn (Gloucester Catholic). He's projected to be a midweek starter this year. Hunter Parsons was selected in the 40th round of the 2015 MLB Draft but opted for school, and he impressed the coaches with his play last fall. He should also see action.
Cameron Enck absolutely dominated the Maryland Collegiate Baseball League this past summer. Murphy, Parsons, Enck, RS freshman Tyler Brandon, and Thomas Truman are all right handers. The two freshman southpaws are Zach Guth, a highly ranked pitcher from northwestern Pennsylvania, and Andrew Miller (drafted in the 34th round by the New York Yankees).
Why the pundits may have it wrong
Only eight teams make it to the College World Series, and most pollsters doubt the Terps will be playing in it. One esteemed pundit called it "unrealistic." I respectfully disagree.
More to the point, I disagree with the reason being given. The basic narrative goes something like this: Maryland lost a ton of talent to the draft, and it's equivocal whether the attendant loss of offense can be replaced. While losing the likes of Brandon Lowe, Kevin Martir, Jose Cuas, and LaMonte Wade is undeniably substantial, the remaining players as well as the impressive freshman class have a real chance of filling that void. Perhaps more importantly, it's pitching that really distinguishes the top-tier teams from the rest. This is particularly true in the postseason, where pitching depth is paramount.
So what are my predictions for the 2016 Terrapins? First, the low hanging fruit. I would be shocked if Maryland doesn't make the NCAA Tournament. Likewise, I think it's highly probable that the Terps end up within the top three teams in the B1G. Due to the Terrapins' deep pitching I believe they will do extremely well in the NCAA Tournament. Is Omaha a realistic expectation? Most certainly yes, depending on if the Terps can avoid injuries to key players, the freshman bats are as good as advertised, and a reliable closer emerges.
The Terps open their season against Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Friday night. Play ball.