COLLEGE PARK, MD – Maryland entered the 2018 season with high expectations, having gone to the NCAA Tournament in three of the previous four seasons. Further, many of their starting position players were returning and their incoming freshman class, as well as some JUCO transfers, were highly regarded.
Things don’t always go according to plan, and Maryland, at 24-30, suffered its first losing season since 2011. In fact, the Terps didn’t even qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. There was no one item that you can point to as the culprit, although the lack of plate production by anyone not named Nick Dunn or Kevin Biondic put an unreasonable burden on a thin pitching staff. Things got even worse in the offseason as the team’s top two recruits went pro after being drafted.
But there are reasons for optimism.
Last season, the Terps had some notable wins, including a series triumph over a super regional team in Stetson and beating NCAA Tournament-bound Coastal Carolina at the Chanticleers’ home park. And despite losing two top-tier recruits, the incoming freshman class was considered a top-40 group by some services.
In terms of the 2018 season, Vaughn was able to offer some insight.
“(It was an) older team that might have taken some things for granted,” he said. “We didn’t challenge the group enough last fall.”
Consider that a lesson learned, as this autumn Vaughn said that the coaching staff put things in front of the players that challenged them to improve.
Losing stud outfielders Nick Decker and Jack Herman to the MLB draft and sophomore Richie Schiekofer through transfer left the outfield kind of thin. At this point, sophomore Randy Bednar is the only certainty in the outfield, but Vaughn is excited about some of the options available.
He is quick to talk about Chris “Bubba” Alleyne, an infielder who was asked to move to the outfield. Not only did Alleyne “take to the outfield like a duck takes to water,” as Vaughn put it, but he’s got a solid arm and enough speed to be seriously considered for the starting spot in center field. Along with Bednar (whom Vaughn praised for taking the next step up in terms of his play) and Alleyne, a trio of late-signing JUCO transfers might be vying for the third spot: Ben Irvine, Caleb Walls, and Sebastian Holte-Mancera. Pushing them will be Maxwell Costes (the brother of former Terp Marty Costes), who will eventually play third base starting in 2020, but might get asked to play some outfield in 2019.
Asked for the position player who stood out the most in the fall, Vaughn doesn’t hesitate with his answer – Mike Pineiro. Vaughn said that the redshirt freshman consistently hit the ball hard and will play either in the outfield, or more likely, first base. Highly-regarded recruit Kody Milton (son of former MLB pitcher Eric Milton) is improving and could also play quite a bit at first base.
There’s more quantity to the current Terrapin pitching staff than last year, when there were only eight or nine pitchers. The weekend duo of senior RHP Hunter Parsons and junior LHP Tyler Blohm could be the best in the Big Ten in 2019. In terms of the last weekend spot, however, that’s still to be determined.
Drew Wilden is coming off Tommy John surgery and could be ready, and junior RHPs Zach Thompson and Daniel O’Connor are being considered, as is 2018 midweek starter Mark DiLuia. Then there are two highly-rated freshmen, LHP Andrew Vail and RHP Sean Burke, joined by junior RHP Mike Vasturia. With senior RHP John Murphy and sophomore LHP Sean Fisher being solid choices to close out games, along with JUCO transfer RHP Nick Turnbull and junior LHP Billy Phillips, pitching coach Corey Muscara will have plenty of options.
The Terps have the concept of bringing in OKG players, that is, “Our Kind of Guys.”
“We’re not building a program that’s a flash in the pan, nor coaching here with an eye towards going somewhere else,” Vaughn says. “So the first thing is to get the culture right. OKG is about toughness, mental as well as physical. Players who aren’t afraid to fail.”
This goes along with what Vaughn termed the “process of becoming,” meaning players who are interested in learning and getting better. A good example of an OKG is former Terp first baseman Kevin Biondic, whom coach Vaughn said might have been last season’s MVP. Biondic, who graduated and is going to be involved in police work, was a tough guy who never complained and constantly worked at improving to the point where he maximized his ability to help the team.
Getting OKG players isn’t easy, and on top of that, Maryland is somewhat restricted geographically in recruiting players. Although they’ve built up quite a nice pipeline from in-state baseball powerhouses as well as throughout the northeast, Maryland hasn’t stretched their net nationwide in any depth. Vaughn said that part of that is due to the plethora of good programs at state schools in Virginia and North Carolina, making it less expensive for those players to stay in state and play for quality programs and making it tougher for Maryland to grab players from the southeast.
Time will tell whether the 2018 season was an outlier. But the expectation at Maryland is to continue building a nationally-recognized program that consistently plays at a high level while preparing student-athletes for life beyond College Park. Getting OKGs goes a long way in that regard.