There’s an old adage that you’re only as good as your record. And with a 24-30 record overall, a 9-14 mark in the Big Ten and an RPI of 98, Maryland baseball had its worst season in years. When coupled with the team’s preseason expectations and the program’s recent success, this season was demoralizing. Still, there were some bright spots, and it may very well be that next year the Terps are right back in the thick of things.
A primary cause for 2018’s dismal showing actually goes back to the 2016 recruiting class. There were only eight freshmen on the 2017 team, which is well below what most teams bring on. With the usual attrition at season’s end, Tyler Blohm was the only sophomore player with meaningful experience on the 2018 team (Mike Vasturia was a redshirt in 2017). I knew there was going to be a problem with team depth when Maryland had only 29 players listed on their squad at the end of last summer, many of whom had not played a single inning of Division I baseball. The roster was increased to 32 with the addition of three transfers, but still below a full squad of 35 players.
Add to that the underwhelming performance of the 2017 class this year, and it was critical that the upperclassmen play a notch above their 2017 efforts. Unfortunately, there was regression, and the result was an agonizing season.
There were strikeouts galore with men in scoring position and less than two outs, a plethora of runners left on base, and a team batting average that at times was close to the Mendoza line. It was no secret that if you fed the Terps a steady diet of breaking pitches, you’d be successful. Meanwhile, Maryland’s pitchers issued way too many free passes and were not capable of holding on to a lead late in the game. Finally, errors on the left side of the infield seemed to always come back to bite the Terps.
As mentioned above, there were numerous bright spots that should be acknowledged.
Nick Dunn had a wonderful year, leading the team in just about every offensive category, all without potent bats around him. He’ll most certainly hear his name called early in next month’s MLB draft.
Kevin Biondic was the quintessential Swiss army knife. His play at first base was superb, probably saving 10-plus errant throws and catching several difficult pop-ups in foul ground. He was second on the team with a .279 batting average and banged out six home runs. Most surprisingly, he excelled as a relief pitcher, with the lowest ERA on the team (2.70).
While Zach Jancarski and Marty Costes saw their batting averages drop 46 and 82 points, respectively, there was no letup in their defense. It seemed that Jancarski made a SportsCenter highlight catch almost every other night. Costes’ arm was so lethal that teams didn’t even attempt to run against it in the second half of the season.
Hunter Parsons had a terrific turnaround campaign after a stressful 2017. By the end of the season he was firmly entrenched as the Friday night starter, and led Maryland’s starters with a 3.44 ERA, 89 innings pitched, 62 strikeouts, a .225 opponent average and a 5-2 record (tied with Blohm).
And Billy Phillips’ appearance on the mound after battling cancer was inspirational. His April 25 start against James Madison was amazing—four innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, four strikeouts. If he can keep an upward trajectory going into next year, he’ll be more than just a heartwarming story.
The Terps return most of their starting lineup in the field, but Dunn, Biondic and Jancarski will be tough to replace. The returning players will be pushed hard by an incoming freshman class that ranks No. 23 nationally by Perfect Game, with two of the top 100 players: outfielders Nick Decker and Jack Herman. Plus, Kody Milton, son of ex-Terrapin and MLB pitcher Eric Milton, will join the Terps as a first baseman. Assuming most of these players and the juniors decide against turning pro, Maryland should have a strong core in place.
On the mound, the Terps lose Taylor Bloom, Ryan Hill and Biondic from the staff. That leaves Blohm and Hunter Parsons in the rotation and John Murphy anchoring the bullpen (assuming neither goes pro this summer). Maryland will also hope the promising rising sophomores will improve next year. Mark DiLuia, Sean Fisher and Grant Burleson had a number of good outings in 2018, and if they improve in 2019, then the Terps could be once again back in postseason games.