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Maryland baseball: Terps sizzle in summer ball

Maryland players dominated the summer leagues, hired three new coaches, and snagged some key transfers.

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Kevin Smith was outstanding on this summer playing ball on The Cape
Sung Min Kim/Testudo Times

In early July, Joe Healy of College Baseball Central asked me during a podcast on Maryland baseball what I thought of the Terps’ chances in 2017. I replied that I was cautiously optimistic. Truth be told I was more cautious than optimistic. Maryland had just finished a disappointing season, and gone were Mike Shawaryn, Anthony Papio, Rob Galligan, and quite possibly Mike Rescigno and highly talented incoming freshman hurler Tyler Blohm. The latter two players were drafted and had plenty of incentive to go pro. To compound the situation, pitching coach Jim Belanger had recently moved on to Kentucky. Lastly, Maryland’s incoming freshman class consisted of just seven players, hardly an inspiring number to build on.

Fast forward now eight weeks and the outlook for the Terps’ 2017 season has improved considerably. There’s not one but three new coaches, Terrapin ballplayers ate up the summer leagues, and Maryland has added a couple of key transfers to their roster.

Welcome the new baseball coaches

Former pitching coach Jim Belanger was in no small part responsible for the Terrapins’ recent success. Pitchers such as Jimmy Reed, Jake Stinnett, Kevin Mooney, Zach Morris, and Mike Shawaryn all did well under Belanger’s tutelage and went on to play professional baseball. So his leaving Maryland could have been a major loss to the program. Fortunately, head coach John Szefc quickly filled that void by hiring Bryant University’s pitching coach, Ryan Fecteau, to replace Belanger. As with his predecessor, Fecteau is a young coach who’s achieved early in his career. He’s been praised in many circles as a “good hire” for Maryland. I’ve gotten to see Bryant play Maryland in weekend series for the past two seasons and I was impressed with the Bulldogs’ pitching.

Former Terrapin stalwarts Anthony Papio and Kevin Martir have joined the Terrapin staff as student assistant coaches. Both were gritty players who played key leadership roles. They should be particularly helpful with young players, setting an example of how to approach and prepare for the game.

Terps scorch summer leagues

To say the Terrapins made a mark with their summer play is an understatement. In fact, the All-Star rosters for the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, Cape Cod Baseball League, and the New England Collegiate Baseball League were chock full of Terrapins. Hunter Parsons, Nick Dunn, Marty Costes, and Zach Jancarski took up where they left off in the 2016 regular season. Andrew Miller, Mike Rescigno, Justin Morris, and Jared Price showed dramatic improvements in performance, and incoming freshmen Tyler Blohm and Ty Freidrich were impressive. In the Perfect Game League Cameron Enck set a new record with a near-perfect era of 0.39. Jamal Wade showed prowess on the mound, and he could very well be part of Maryland’s bullpen in 2017. Last but not least, shortstop Kevin Smith was listed as the #5 prospect on The Cape according to D1baseball.

An excellent wrap-up of all of the Terps’ doings this summer can be found at the Maryland Baseball Network’s site.

Players coming and going

Due to the roster limit of 35 players, and the fact that the number of incoming freshman and transfers usually surpass players drafted or graduating, a few players will choose to play elsewhere the following season. This year has been no exception: Andrew Bechtold, Peyton Sorrels, Nick Browne, Kengo Kawahara, and Brandon Smith are not listed on the 2017 roster. Sorrels and Browne are sophomores who saw little action in 2016, as did JuCo transfer Brandon Smith. Kawahara played quite a bit his freshman year, pressed into service after an injury to LaMonte Wade. He did a respectable job, but saw his role diminished in 2016. The big surprise is the departure of redshirt sophomore Bechtold, who will be playing at Chipola Junior College in Florida. In 2015, Bechtold and Kevin Smith were waging an intense battle for the starting shortstop position. Smith got the initial nod, with Bechtold manning first base. Unfortunately Bechtold played in only eight games before injuring his thumb while sliding into first base. Smith took over for good at shortstop and received freshman All-American honors in 2015. In 2016 Bechtold was asked to play third base. It took a while until Bechtold’s fielding became consistent, but he made a number of web gems plays. Ultimately it was his bat that was the culprit as he hit .218. Testudo Times wishes Andrew all the best going forward.

The freshman class consists of five pitchers and two position players. Blohm was the Gatorade Maryland High School Player of the Year in 2016. He was drafted in the 17th round by the hometown Baltimore Orioles, but elected to turn down a pro career for the time being; he’ll be pitching for the Terps first. The southpaw has a high upside and made the Cal Ripken League All-Star squad before he had even pitched an inning of collegiate ball. He’s joined on the mound by John Dignazio (ranked 2nd LHP in Pennsylvania by Perfect Game), Nick Pantos (gotta have a new Nick and Tyler every year), Mike Vasturia (recruited by 11 DI schools and chose Maryland), and Elliot Zoellner (ranked #1 RHP in Maryland by Perfect Game and his fastball clocked at 92 mph) . The freshman position players include catcher Ty Friedrich (hit .351 in 37 ab in the Cal Ripken League) and outfielder Nathan Panzer (ranked #1 OF in CT by Perfect Game).

There are three transfers on Maryland’s 2017 baseball team. Shortstop Brandon Gum played three full seasons for George Mason before injuring his shoulder early in 2016. He was subsequently granted a redshirt waiver for 2016. Gum has enrolled in Maryland as a graduate student and will play for the Terps in 2017, most likely at third base. Gum has a career average of .297 and was second-team all-Atlantic 10 in 2015 with a .338 ba. According to a northern Virginia newspaper, the departure was mutual, which is puzzling given Gum’s success. Will Watson is transferring from DII school LSU-Eunice (same school as Madison Nickens). Watson hit in the second hole for the Bengals and sported a .312 ba with 21 sb. Ryan Hill comes to Maryland all the way from Texas, having previously pitched for JuCo Grayson College. The righthander had a team-best 2.29 era, striking out 53 batters in 39.1 ip, a significant achievement in the hitter friendly JuCo environment.

Three things to know:

1. Maryland’s bullpen might be better than first thought. Rescigno has probably nailed down the closer role, with Wade, Price, and Hill joining him in the back-end of the bullpen. Selmer, Guth, and Stiles can eat up innings, while Cameron Enck and Andrew Miller will be pushing Blohm for the midweek starter slot.

2. Parson, Costes, and Dunn were not flashes in the pan. Parsons led the Cal Ripken League in wins, strikeouts, and just missed out on the pitching trifecta: his 1.41 era was slightly above the league-leading 1.36. Costes batted .319 with seven hr, 10 sb, and no errors in the Cal Ripken League. His stellar play captured attention from the national press. Nick Dunn sat near the top of the Cape Cod League in batting average before a slump near the summer’s end brought him “down” to ninth place with a .311 average. D1 baseball ranked him as the 39th best prospect on The Cape.

3. Coach Szefc is pulling all the right strings. Getting Fecteau was huge, but so is his annual placement of players in the right summer league, as well as his continued recruiting success. Szefc also has a good track record at pulling in transfers: Blake Schmit, Tim Lewis, and Madison Nickens have all been important contributors, and this year’s group look very good.