The Maryland baseball program had a banner season in 2014. They advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971, won a regional on the road pitted against a South Carolina team that just doesn’t lose at home in the postseason, and in the super regional, they took eventual national runner-up Virginia to the “if necessary” third game of the series before bowing out.
Understandably, interest around the program is at an all-time high. Several preseason polls have the team ranked in or around the top 15 and they seem to be the consensus favorites to win the Big Ten title in their first season in the league.
Recently, College Baseball Central had the opportunity to chat about all things Maryland baseball with Andrew Kramer. Andrew is the baseball beat writer for Testudo Times. He also regularly tweets about college baseball at @mercator88. Recently, he completed comprehensive overviews of the Terps position players and pitching staff. These pieces are a must-read for any Maryland, Big Ten, or college baseball fan looking to get up to speed on what’s going on with one of the best up-and-coming programs in America.
College Baseball Central: Between the successes of last season and the love that the program is getting in the preseason rankings for this season, how would you compare the buzz around Maryland baseball coming into this season versus previous seasons?
Andrew Kramer: To be honest, I expected the Terps to receive preseason rankings somewhere within the 25 to 30 range. With two exceptions, the polls might actually be undervaluing Maryland. Nevertheless, the local buzz has been exponentially larger than prior to the 2014 season. The expectation bar is higher and I think that anything less than a return to the NCAA tournament would be considered disappointing. Maryland is probably where the Virginia baseball program was a few years ago.
CBC: Blake Schmit and Charlie White were huge parts of last year’s offense. How does the team make up for their lost production?
AK: Maryland loses quite a bit of their team speed from last year. They were also one of the nation’s leaders in HBP, and that might (excuse the pun) take a hit this season. However, Coach Szefc is a proponent of small ball, so I expect Maryland to continue to run the bases, play hit and run, and bunt more than most teams. Maryland might gain some offense from hitting more home runs. Last year the team managed only 19 home runs. They should easily surpass that this year given their home run output in the 2014 post-season as well as in summer ball. (How much the low seam baseball plays a part remains to be seen.) A number of freshman will get the opportunity to make a significant contribution in terms of production. In particular, Justin Morris could end up being among the top freshmen in the B1G.
CBC: Can Mike Shawaryn step up and be a dominant ace the same way Jake Stinnett was last season or is he more of a steady mid-rotation pitcher?
AK: As the Friday night starter this season, Shawaryn will be facing each team’s best pitcher. However, last year Shawaryn defeated Florida at Gainesville, Florida State in Tallahassee, Florida State yet again in the ACC tournament, and South Carolina in the Columbia, SC regional. Not many aces on other teams can boast that kind of record. Prior to his freshman season, Shawaryn led his American Legion team to a World Series title. In a large way that was instrumental in Shawaryn exhibiting a poise well beyond his years. I have no doubt that he can be an effective Friday night starter in 2015.
CBC: Where are this team’s question marks?
AK: Three question marks stick out in my mind. For the last six years, Maryland has had the luxury of having Alfredo Rodriguez and then Blake Schmit at shortstop. This year two talented freshman are vying for that spot. Will they continue the Terps’ success at that position? Second, Maryland flew under the radar last year and now they are square in the spotlight. Can the team succeed under increased scrutiny? Finally, last year’s squad was considerably buoyed by senior leadership (especially when things got a bit hairy after the Boston College series). Which upperclassmen will emerge as clubhouse leaders in 2015?
CBC: Who do you expect to be Maryland’s primary competition for the Big Ten crown this season?
AK: I could answer this question more definitively if Maryland were still playing against their estranged ex-wife of 61 years: the ACC. Coming into the B1G represents terra nova for the team as well as fans who follow them. From what I have read, many people are bullish on Nebraska. Illinois might have (outside of Maryland) the best pitching staff in the conference, as well as one of the best closers in the B1G. However, I think the conference dark horse is Michigan. Erik Bakich and Sean Kenney have taken the formula that resuscitated a moribund Maryland program and successfully applied it in Ann Arbor. Their series against the Terps in late March should prove quite interesting.