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Maryland baseball brings veteran pitching, unproven offense into 2019

Our three baseball writers have come together to talk about the Terps’ infield, outfield and pitching staff.

Maryland Athletics

After a disappointing 24-30 season in 2018, Maryland baseball enters a new year with a new-look roster. The Terps lost several key players to graduation, and both veterans and recruits left for the MLB Draft, so there aren’t as many known quantities entering 2019. Maryland’s roster is heavy on freshmen and JuCo transfers, with some returning talent mixed in.

It’s hard to gauge how the season will play out. If some of the new faces step up and the veterans replicate some of their better statistical seasons, the Terps should return to the Big Ten tournament and perhaps beyond. But if the pieces don’t come together, it could be a long spring in College Park.

Our trio of baseball writers is here to preview each of Maryland’s position groups with the season just one day away.

The pitching staff

Andrew Kramer: The pitching staff might be the strongest component of the 2019 Terps, as pitching coach Corey Muscara will have a lot more ammo to call on than last year. In 2018, the Terps’ bullpen was thin on reliable arms and it hurt them late in games. It particularly caused havoc in midweek games, where the bullpen plays an unusually large part. However, 2019 should be different.

Senior RHP Hunter Parsons is slotted as the Friday starter. After a rough outing against Tennessee in his first start last season, Parson came on as a consistent presence on the mound for Maryland. He ended the season leading the team’s starters in innings pitched (89.0), ERA (3.44), strikeouts (62) and opponents’ batting average (.225). Parsons’ five victories also tied him with LHP Tyler Blohm for the team lead.

Blohm, now a junior, would normally be this year’s Saturday starter if not for an undisclosed injury. As of this writing, the timetable for his return is unknown, but it should be before Big Ten play. [Update: Blohm will be on the mound in this Sunday’s game against VCU.] A Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2017, Blohm’s numbers regressed a little last year, in part due to his injury towards the end of the season. Still, the southpaw mixes in a wicked curve with a low-90s fastball.

The Sunday pitching slot is wide open with a number of potential pitchers. Sophomore RHP Mark DiLuia, walk-on freshman RHP Daniel O’Connor, D-III transfer RHP Zach Thompson, and redshirt sophomore LHP Drew Wilden (coming back from Tommy John surgery last year) are all in the mix.

The back end of the bullpen will be manned by senior RHP John Murphy, who led the team with four saves last year. He’ll miss the first two games this season after nearly nailing an Indiana batter in the final series of 2018. A couple of JuCo transfers—RHP Nick Turnbull and LHP Tuck Tucker—will also be counted on late in games. There’s a large number of pitchers who will see considerable time out of the pen, including sophomore LHP Sean Fisher and Grant Burleson, freshman RHP Sean Burke and Sean Heine, freshman LHP Andrew Vail, and veterans RHP Mike Vasturia, LHP Billy Mitchell and sidearm RHP Elliot Zoellner.

The rotation at the start of the year might be fluid, given the number of new arms, but it should be solidified by Big Ten play. There’s a lot of upside on the staff, and their success will have a major impact on the team’s chances of making postseason play.

The infield

Matt Levine: Maryland’s 2019 catching situation will be led by sophomore Justin Vought. The Terps lost Justin Morris to graduation last spring; he went on to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. Vought will lead the pack with two newcomers, JuCo transfer Tavan Shahidi and freshman Zach Doss, behind him.

Maryland also lost the right side of its infield to the professional ranks. Kevin Biondic signed a minor league contract with the Boston Red Sox, and Nick Dunn was a fifth-round selection by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Senior shortstop AJ Lee will pilot the infield once again this upcoming season after starting all 54 games last year. Lee hacked a .232/.375/.396 slash line with 18 RBIs, 32 runs scored and a team-high 12 stolen bases and 36 walks. It was a sharp drop from 2017, when he slashed .307/.389/.474 with eight home runs.

Retaining Lee was huge for Rob Vaughn and the Terps, but the rest of the returning infield is a question mark. Senior first baseman Taylor Wright batted .230 with a .319 OBP and drove in 25 runs last season. Sophomore second baseman Tommy Gardiner appeared in 34 games with a .311 on-base percentage. Sophomore first baseman Michael Pineiro redshirted last season and will likely play in the outfield for the Terps, but he can easily fill in at first base when called upon.

Freshman Kody Milton will likely start at first base for the Terps and can also play at third. He was ranked the 28th first baseman in the nation for the 2018 recruiting class, according to Perfect Game, and was an Under Armour All-American in high school.

The Terps also have three other freshman infielders. Shortstop Benjamin Cowles was a 2018 Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American. He has a shot to get a lot of playing time at shortstop in his first year with Maryland. Second baseman Josh Maguire was named second-team all-state in Delaware as a senior in high school. He was ranked the No. 2 second baseman in Delaware, according to Perfect Game. And utility infielder Maxwell Costes—younger brother of former Terps outfielder Marty Costes—will serve as strong infield cushion for Rob Vaughn. He was ranked the No. 3 utility infielder in the state of Maryland.

The outfield

Alex Murphy: Maryland’s outfield rotation took a massive hit after the 2018 season, losing seniors Zach Jancarski and Will Watson to graduation and junior Marty Costes to the MLB Draft. Of the six outfielders on the 2018 team, the Terps only retained Randy Bednar and Michael Pineiro, who didn’t get much playing time in 2018.

However, Vaughn and the coaching staff were able to add depth for 2019. There are seven potential outfielders listed on Maryland’s depth chart, including five new additions. Chris Alleyne switched from the infield to the outfield after seeing limited playing time in 2018. The Terps also added three JuCo transfers in the offseason: Ben Irvine, Caleb Walls and Sebastian Holte-Mancera. All three will have junior eligibility.

Irvine played in the NJCAA World Series last season with Northern Essex Community College, being named a Second Team All-American. He hit .338 last year with one home run, 28 RBIs, 17 steals and a .402 on-base percentage. Walls transferred from Pasco Hernando State College and previously spent two seasons at George Mason. Last season, he led the team with a .385 average, 43 RBI, 16 stolen bases and 58 runs scored. Holte-Mancera hit .384 last season for Ellsworth College with seven home runs, 51 RBI, 57 runs scored and 42 walks, with a .515 on-base percentage and .632 slugging percentage.

Maxwell Costes, a combo infielder/outfielder, should also crack the rotation. Costes was named to the 2018 Baltimore Sun First Team All-Metro, hitting .392 as a senior while also posting a 2.60 ERA on the mound, a possible two-way player if Vaughn chooses to use him that way.

Bednar will be relied upon as the de facto outfield captain. Despite .208/.272/.376 splits last season as a freshman, he hit six home runs with 15 RBI, seven doubles and 11 runs scored. He now has a year of college baseball under his belt, and hopefully that will translate into better results on the field.

This year’s outfield lacks the experience and chemistry of last year’s team, but there is a lot of potential for players to break out and fill the voids left by Jancarski, Costes and Watson.