As Maryland closes in on its 2014 season opener at No. 23 Florida on Friday, Feb. 14, we'll preview this year's squad in three installments over the coming week. Infielders highlight today's preview.
When head coach John Szefc arrived in College Park in the summer of 2012, he implemented an offensive approach that stressed speed on the bases and discipline at the plate, which was a slight deviation from the team’s offensive approach in previous seasons.
Szefc’s time honored approach paid immediate dividends. Last season, the Terps achieved an 11-point increase in their batting average from .268 in 2012 to .279 in 2013, along with an increase of three points in slugging percentage (.379 to .382) and an 18-point increase in on-base percentage (.358 to .376). The Terps also recorded 118 doubles, an increase of 20 from the season before, 11 shy of the program record.
In addition, the Terps ranked third in the ACC in stolen bases (94) and led the conference in fielding percentage (.977).
With six of the Terps’ top seven hitters from a year ago returning, year two in Szefc’s system should provide additional gains. Of those six hitters, four reside in the infield: Kyle Convissar, Kevin Martir, Blake Schmit and LaMonte Wade.
After an outstanding summer in which he earned Perfect Game USA All-American honors, Wade returns to anchor first base for the Terps. The sophomore from Owings Mill, Md., helped the Baltimore Redbirds to the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League title and earned league all-star honors in the process.
Last season, Wade hit .260 with a team-high 38 RBI and scored 36 runs. Wade ranked second on the team in doubles (14) and stolen bases (14), and ranked third on the team in triples (3).
A middle of the order hitter, Wade will be counted on as an offensive spark for the Terps.
On the other side of the diamond, the outlook is slightly more muddled where several Terps are vying for playing time. Sophomore Jose Cuas may be the front runner. The versatile infielder possesses one of the best gloves on the team. In 2013, Cuas appeared in 45 games with 37 starts, 15 of which came at third base.
Competing with Cuas at third is the familiar face of senior Kyle Convissar and junior-college transfer Krysthian Leal. Convissar made 35 starts at second a season ago, but is scheduled to slide to third and also compete for time in left field as well as serve as the team’s designated hitter.
Last season, Convissar ranked 17th in the ACC in hitting with a .325 batting average and was second on the squad in RBI (37), slugging (.427) and OBP (.427). Leal, who played at Yavapai College, earned first team All-NJCAA Region I Division I honors last season.
Whoever wins the starting job at third base will have one of the best defensive shortstops in the ACC to his left. Senior Blake Schmit appeared in 55 games last season with 54 starts all at short. The slick-fielding Schmit committed only five errors on 262 chances for a .981 fielding percentage. Schmit posted a .277 batting average a year ago and ranked second on the team in hits (54) and runs (38).
With Convissar’s positional move, redshirt freshman Brandon Lowe is expected to serve as Schmit’s double-play partner. After having a strong fall camp prior to last season, Lowe suffered a knee injury in preseason camp which caused him to miss the entire 2013 season.
In terms of newcomers, Mike Rescigno, who has been lauded in the preseason for his pop, will be in the mix at third base as well as serving as Wade’s backup at first. He will also serve as the Terps’ emergency catcher. Matt Oniffrey will compete for time at first and Patrick Hisle may spell Schmit on occasion at shortstop.
Maryland’s infield possess the depth, talent and experience to be a major strength for the Terps in 2014.