Maryland Baseball: The Dawn of a New Era

Patrick DuffyContributor IFebruary 17, 2011

Head Coach: Erik Bakich (Second Season)
Assistants: Sean Kenny, Dan Burton, Nolan Nieman
2010 Record: 17-39 (5-25)

Top Retuners: Alfredo Rodriguez (Jr/SS), Eric Potter (SR/LHP), Sander Beck (JR/RHP)
Top Newcomers: Korey Wacker, David Carroll, Chuck Ghysels, Tomo Delp, Tim Kiene, Jake Stinnett, Mike Boyden, Brady Kirkpatrick, Kyle Convissar, Mike Montville, Aaron Etchison and Charlie White.

Never has there been so much energy surrounding the baseball program at the University of Maryland. It’s a wonderful thing to see, especially since in the past twenty years the school has transformed itself into both an academic, and athletic powerhouse. National Championships won in sports such as basketball, field hockey, and soccer have brought a great amount of attention to the school. While the majority of the 26 athletic programs have thrust themselves onto the national stage, Terrapin baseball has remained one of the bottom feeders in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Keeping local talent has always been an uphill battle due to poor showings in the ACC, and an overall lack of energy surrounding the program. Top prospects from the state either signed with Major League clubs or accepted scholarships to play elsewhere. In 2008, two stud instate hurlers overlooked the Terps and signed with rival ACC schools Virginia (Danny Hultzen) and Clemson (Kevin Brady).

All that is changing now under second-year coach Erik Bakich. The former Vanderbilt assistant has come to College Park with unparalleled enthusiasm, an aggressive attitude towards recruiting, and an impressive track record that includes assisting with one of the better college baseball turnarounds in recent history.

While an assistant at Vanderbilt, Bakich was considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country. Vanderbilt went from the bottom of the Southeastern Conference to one of the nation’s top programs. He has wasted no time in doing his very best to assemble a competitive team at Maryland, and memories of his inaugural season – only five conference wins – in the ACC will soon be a distant memory.

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Baseball America ranked Maryland’s most recent recruiting class—23 players signed— No. 25 in the country. With the sudden momentum Bakich, and his staff, have created the Terps look primed to make a run for a spot in the ACC Tournament.

At the plate, and on the bases

The 2010 season was not a productive offensive year for the Terps as they struggled in many areas. In fact, the team finished dead last in nearly every ACC offensive category, and their team batting average was a dreadful .258.
Fortunately, this season should prove much differently as offensive help has been added via transfers, and true freshmen.

Freshman Tim Kiene, a 6’4”, 240 lb. first baseman/designated hitter is a three time high school All-American, and was selected in the 30th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Amateur draft, by the Washington Nationals. He was rated a 9.5, out of 10, by Perfect Game, a nationally recognized high school scouting medium. Kiene’s strength will provide much needed power to the middle of the batting order.

Another intriguing bat that’s sure to beef up the line up comes from third basman Tomo Delp. A transfer from Southern Nevada College—he was teammates with Major League Baseball’s first overall draft pick, Bryce Harper—Delp is a prospect many pro scouts have their eyes on. In the annual Fall Red-Black Super Regional Series, Delp showed his promise by slugging five extra base hits in the three-game series, including two home runs.

Curtis Lazar returns from injury to play first base. After two unheralded seasons with the Terps, Curtis showed an improved bat during the fall, and the team expects him to hit third. The left-handed Lazar is strong, and has power potential.

Maryland did shine in one offensive category last season, stolen bases. It’s a big part of Coach Bakich’s game paln, as he prefers a style of play that is constantly trying to put pressure on the defense. When asked about the team’s aggressive style, Coach Bakich added, “We led the ACC in stolen bases last year with average speed and plan to do the same thing again this year with much better team speed.”

The spark plug at the top of the batting order, and in charge of setting the offensive tone, is returning shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez. Last season, Rodriguez stole 23 bases in 31 attempts to lead the team, and he scored 40 runs. The infielder also showed some pop with five home runs, and 11 doubles.

Adding to the team’s overall speed are Korey Wacker, a junior college transfer, and Charlie White. As a sophomore at Temple College, Wacker stole 18 bases, and legged out 4 triples. The Texas native, and former Academic All-American, brings legit, NCAA Division One speed to the number two spot in the batting order.

White, a freshman out of Illinois, had a great senior year in high school. While swiping an impressive 34 bases, he also belted five home runs. The left handed batter figures to bat sixth, and will platoon with returning sophomore Matt Marquis, a talented prospect from New Jersey.

When Dealing from the Bump

The biggest question mark facing Terrapin baseball, in 2011, involves the top of the rotation. There was no disputing Brett Harman as the team’s ace last year, but due to Tommy John surgery he will have to rehab this season. Thankfully there are a slew of new arms that will bolster a Maryland team that finished 2010 with a combined ERA of 7.19.

The best top-of-the-rotation candidates are returning starters Sander Beck and left-hander Eric Potter. Both hurlers had an abysmal 2010 campaign as the number two, and three starters, but the coaching staff is confident they will step up and perform well this year. “Sander Beck and Eric Potter are much improved from last year,” said Coach Bakich.

Potter throws his fastball between 88 and 92 MPH, and if he can find some consistency with his curveball he could start getting attention from scouts. Beck has the stuff and potential to develop into a high draft selection. His devastating knuckle-curve, if thrown in the right spots, will offset a fastball some scouts consider hittable.

Chuck Ghysels, a Cincinnati Reds draft pick and transfer from Lincoln Community College, is a smallish righty at 5’11.” Don’t be fooled by his stature because he is a flame throwing talent with a fastball topping out at 95 MPH. He’ll stay in the low 90’s range for accuracy, throw from three-quarters, and will battle for the closer role. Chuck has a great change up, and if the rotation suffers he could be an option.

Western Nevada transfer David Carroll will be a terrifying site for opposing batters. Standing in at 6’8”, 235 pounds, Carroll’s long reach and good fastball will get in on batters in a hurry. Coaches also rave about his curveball, and feel he was the best pitcher in the fall.

Position players Korey Wacker, Gary Schneider, and Jacob Stinnett also figure to log innings. Wacker is going to be a solid left handed option. He won 20 games in high school, and last season pitched the final two innings in his NJCAA Regional Tournament to send Temple College to the JuCo World Series.

Rounding out the staff are transfer Mike Boyden, La Plata, MD, and freshman Brady Kilpatrick of Eugene, OR.

Around the Horn

Defensively, the Terps are strong in the middle of the diamond. Shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez has all the tools necessary to perform in the pros, and he will have transfer Ryan Holland as his double play partner. Holland’s bat will has caught the attention of pro scouts, but his athleticism, and ability to play almost anywhere in the infield, helps upgrade the Maryland defense. Freshman Kyle Convissar, the state of Maryland’s top high school prospect a year ago, will also get time playing middle infield.

At the corner positions, Tomo Delp will play everyday at third base, and Stinnett could spell him from time to time. Lazar will man first base, but look for Schneider to replace him late in games for defensive purposes.

The speedy Wacker anchors the outfield in center. Flanking him in right is Charlie White, and freshmen Mike Montville in left. Montville was named 2009 Gatorade Player of the Year in New Hampshire, but is better known as a power hitting prospect.

Brandon Padula, and Matt Marquis return and will see time in the outfield as well. Marquis transferred from Vanderbilt two years ago, and has yet to meet his potential. He has solid arm strength, plenty of speed, and could be an everyday player if he can put it all together. Freshmen Jordan Hagel had an impressive fall, and will also battle for time in the outfield.

Behind the Dish

Maryland has three quality catchers on the roster, and all are expected to play. Projected starter Aaron Etchison will miss the first four to six weeks with a broken hand. Etchison began his career at Ball State, but transferred to Chipola Community College for last season, where he batted .284.

The back up is Jack Cleary, the Terps starting catcher in 2010. The sophomore batted .275 in 54 games a year ago, and his experience will prove valuable especially with Etchison sidelined.

The third option is Alex Ramsey, considered as the second best high school prospect in Maryland last year. Ramsey, high school teammate of Convissar, was an Under Armour All-American and was invited to play in the company’s All-Star Game at Wrigley Field. He has an uncanny pop time of 1.84 seconds, plus he should develop into a great college hitter.

The Road Ahead

Coach Bakich believes in playing a competitive schedule, and this year the Terps are taking that to heart by opening with perennial power Texas. The Longhorns are the first in a string of openers against elite competition. “In order to be the best, you have to play the best and we want to dive into the fire opening weekend, on the road, and get our players battle tested for the ACC,” said Bakich.

There are four, maybe five, teams in the ACC that look especially strong this season. Florida State is perhaps one of the better teams in the entire country, and should finish the season in the National top five. North Carolina, Miami, and Clemson will also challenge for the ACC title, but do not count out Georgia Tech as they could be a sleeper.

Coach Bakich feels Maryland should be in the ACC top eight, and compete in the conference tournament this season. “Position Players are the strength of the conference this year. Only [Danny] Hultzen is the pre-season premier first round caliber pitcher in the league.”

Final Thoughts

The NCAA has implemented stricter requirements for bats, and that should mean lower offensive production across the country. While this could complicate Maryland’s improvement at the plate, it certainly plays into Coach Bakich’s style. Look for the Terps to continue swiping bags, bunt runners into scoring position, and of course take advantage of hit-and-run situations. Bakich’s game plan won’t change, but the results will be significantly better this season.

“The new bats will most likely have a negative effect the fringy average .280-.300 hitters. The good hitters will still hit with the new bats. Power output will definitely be reduced nationally across the board,” Bakich said.

The defense has improved across the field, and added arms will help the Terps compete in a hitter laden conference. Finding the right man to throw the all-important Friday night game will be key, and if the Terps find that guy it should be a fun spring in College Park.

“ACC Tournament or bust. We have the talent to finish in the top 8 this season,” proclaims a confident Bakich.

Filed under: College Baseball, Terps Tagged: ACC baseball, Alex Ramsey, Alfredo Rodriguez, Chuck Ghysels, Eric Potter, Erik Bakich, Korey Wacker, Kyle Convissar, Maryland Baseball, Ryan Holland, Sander Beck, Tim Kiene, Tomo Delp