(Photo via the Maryland Athletics website, seen here)
The University of Maryland’s baseball team has overcome a lot of adversity this past offseason. Former head coach John Szefc left after coaching Maryland to a 179-120 record and three NCAA tournament appearances. They reached the Super Regionals twice in back-to-back seasons in 2014 and 2015 and made a Regional appearance in 2017.
So far, this season, new head coach, Rob Vaughn has had his fair share of struggles, attempting to bring much of the same talent back to the NCAA tournament. Vaughn, an assistant coach under Szefc, is familiar with top talent, coaching 26 players that have been drafted or have signed professional contracts in his seven years as a coach.
One of the more recent and most exciting players that Vaughn has coached is current Minnesota Twins prospect LaMonte Wade. Wade most recently finished playing in Double-A Chattanooga, where he slashed .292/.397/.408. Wade is quickly making his way through the minors with exceptional plate discipline. He held an OBP of .401 through all levels of the minors including his stop in the 2017 Arizona Fall League.
When Wade played at Maryland, he did not hit that well for average with the exception of his junior season. One thing that Wade has been able to do consistently is walk at an abnormally high percentage versus rarely striking out, a huge key to his success in professional baseball.That, paired with the fact that he is now beginning to hit for average is showing that Wade has high potential.
Video via YouTube, John Tarr
Another exciting prospect to come out of Maryland in recent years is Mike Shawaryn, the Red Sox’s ninth-rated prospect according to MLB.com. Shawaryn, a right-handed pitcher who was drafted in the fifth round of the 2016 draft, is performing at a high level even through his most recent season in High-A. At Maryland, Shawaryn was known for being a relentless pitcher with a high strikeout percentage and low walk rate. This has only continued in pro ball. Shawaryn has posted absurd 11.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in the minors. In fact, Shawaryn had the ninth-most strikeouts (169) and 11th highest K/9 in the minors in only his first full season. Shawaryn uses a three-pitch mix – fastball, changeup, and slider – to put away hitters.
A third highly touted prospect to come out of Maryland in recent years is Brandon Lowe, who is currently ranked as the 10th-best second base prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com. Lowe, the 87th overall pick in the 2015 draft, has been absolutely crushing minor league pitching. His BABIP has been very high at all levels: .357 at Maryland and .327 in the minors. Lowe also has above average ISO numbers. He had a .171 ISO while playing in College Park and in the minors his ISO is .147. Lowe played very well last season in the Florida State League before being called up to Double-A. His .927 OPS in Advanced-A was a testament to his approach at the plate, especially since the FSL is well known as a pitcher-friendly league.
Even with all of these players succeeding in the minors, Maryland has only been able to accumulate a record of 14-15 this year as of April 5. They won their recent series against Northwestern (2-1) including a 6-5 win in 10 innings. In that game, junior Nick Dunn collected three hits. Dunn uses a mild leg lift to create timing with his level swing path. He recognizes pitches well and has a solid, line-drive approach. His long swing path, however, could give him issues in professional levels. No pitcher from either team threw harder than 88 mph or had any plus pitches, which made it easy for a prospect such as Dunn to have a three-hit performance.
Nick Dunn at the plate, video via author, Isaac Braun
Maryland’s starter was Tyler Blohm, a sophomore who had a below average fastball averaging 85-88 mph. He also featured an 80-82 mph changeup and an average curveball that he threw in the low 70s. Blohm did not have much command of the zone, giving up two home runs to Northwestern catcher Jack Claeys. His fastball, aside from having below-average velocity, lacked any notable movement. His changeup, while having a good drop-off in velocity, was basically a BP fastball with little movement. Blohm’s lone bright spot was his curveball. The 71-74 mph pitch was inconsistent. It did flash tight shape and had some good deception when it was on the same plane as his fastball.
Tyler Blohm warming up, video via author, Isaac Braun
Right now, Maryland’s team is struggling to stay above .500 and will need to play much better baseball to reach an NCAA Regional. Rob Vaughn is doing the best he can with the talent John Szefc left for him. There are definitely some potential MLB draft prospects such as Dunn, Marty Costes, Kevin Biondic, and Taylor Bloom. However, this is far from a perfect team. Maryland needs to start winning quickly if they want to think postseason play and their schedule does not get any easier. They are just starting Big Ten conference play in a conference that is improving every year. With teams like Indiana, Ohio State, and Iowa playing very well, Maryland needs to begin to pick up the pace before being left behind.