Entering the 2018 season, Maryland baseball’s offense once again looks like the team’s strongest point. The Terps have a veteran-heavy unit, returning a large chunk of production while also adding talented players to replace those who left.
For the Terps, it helps that new head coach Rob Vaughn made his name as an offensive coach. Vaughn was largely responsible for Maryland’s strong offensive season in 2017, which included 61 total home runs and an .807 OPS. With many questions surrounding the pitching staff, the Terps once again must rely on their offense to lead them.
Maryland’s most significant loss is that of former shortstop Kevin Smith, a three-year player who started over 150 games for the Terps before getting drafted by the Blue Jays in the fourth round last year. In 2017, Smith led the team with a .552 slugging percentage and 48 RBIs, and tied for the team lead with 13 home runs. Smith’s loss leaves a massive hole in Maryland’s lineup, and, even though the team is equipped to replace him, Smith will be missed this year.
The Terps’ other big departure from last year is Brandon Gum, who spent one season in College Park as a grad transfer. Gum’s .338 batting average lead the team, while he also recorded five home runs and 37 RBIs after coming over from George Mason. Gum may have only spent one season with the Terps, but he was a huge offensive piece while he was around.
Smith and Gum were the only main starters who didn’t return, but Maryland still has to replace some offensive depth. Two of the Terps’ three catchers from 2017 left the program, as Dan Maynard transferred a year after starting 21 games while Nick Cieri graduated after starting 24 behind the plate. Additionally, the two combined for five home runs and 35 RBIs over 75 total games played. Maryland also loses backup infielder Patrick Hisle and outfielder Jamal Wade.
As was the case with the pitching staff, Maryland’s biggest addition is Randy Bednar, a two-way player who is likely to focus more on playing the outfield this season. The Terps’ other main freshman face is outfielder Richie Schiekofer, who looks to earn time in the starting lineup, competing with Bednar.
At catcher, two of the three on the depth chart will be new to the team, as true freshman Justin Vought and redshirt freshman Ty Friedrich join the squad. Maryland also adds freshmen Chris Alleyne, Tommy Gardiner and Michael Pineiro as depth options.
As for transfers, Maryland’s most important addition is Taylor Wright, an infielder who comes over from Colorado Northwestern Community College. Wright should be able to slot in immediately at third base to start the season. Maryland also adds infielder Brad Barnett from Grayson College; he’ll be a reserve playing at his third school in three years.
As the season unfolds, Maryland can count on its middle infielders to produce. The Terps return junior second baseman Nick Dunn, the only returning starting infielder playing the same position as last year. Dunn has started all 118 games of his career, and had a strong 2017 where he hit .261 with five home runs and 32 RBIs.
Elsewhere, after spending 2017 at third base, junior A.J. Lee slots in next to Dunn at shortstop, replacing Smith and playing his natural position for the first time in his college career. Lee is coming off a breakout season in which he hit .307 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs.
The Terps’ corner infield spots, meanwhile, will look different this year. The biggest question mark is at first base, where Kevin Biondic is the projected starter. After a strong 2016 where he hit .278 with five home runs and 24 RBIs, Biondic took a seat to make room for Gum, who far outproduced him at the plate. He was relegated to a defensive replacement, and it influenced his offensive production as he only hit .161 without a home run. If he can return to his 2016 form, Biondic could hold the key to the offense this year. At third base, Wright slots in as the projected opening day starter, replacing Lee.
Along with the freshmen, the Terps’ infield backup includes Barrett Smith, who only had a single at bat last season.
Behind the plate, Justin Morris is the only returnee, and will get most of the playing time to start. However, if Morris struggles at the plate like he did in 2017, when he had an OPS below .700, then Friedrich or Vought could earn more playing time.
Two-thirds of Maryland’s starting outfield returns, and those two are incredibly important. Marty Costes is set to move from right field to left, and he is ready to take over as the face of the team. The junior hit .322 with 13 home runs and 46 RBIs in 2017, including a team-leading .977 OPS, and he is back despite being drafted by the Astros last year. Next to Costes in the field is senior Zach Jancarski, a center fielder who excelled as a leadoff hitter last season. Jancarski totaled a .434 on-base percentage last season while leading the team with 33 walks and 20 stolen bases. He and Costes likely make up the top of the Terps’ order and represent the lifeblood of this lineup.
At media day, Vaughn explained that Bednar and Schiekofer will split time in right field to start. With Bednar being a righty hitter and Schiekofer a lefty, the day-to-day starter may depend on matchups, along with who is playing better at that time. However, neither are glued to the role, so they each have to produce to earn playing time.
Will Watson will probably fill the designated role once again. The senior had a steady 2017, hitting .253 with five home runs and 30 RBIs while stealing 14 bases as well. Both Watson and Pineiro offer versatility, able to play both the infield and the outfield if necessary.
Despite a few losses, Maryland’s offense has the opportunity to offer depth and explosiveness once again. Biondic is the biggest wild card for the season, but if he can produce like he did two years ago and the returning starters can keep up their performance, the Terps will once again hit with the best in the country.