2013 Season Leadoff: Infielders
Feb. 11, 2013
As Maryland closes in on its 2013 season opener at No. 10 LSU on Friday, Feb. 15, we'll preview this year's squad in three installments over the next week. The infielders highlight today's preview.
Season Preview: Pitchers & Catchers
COLLEGE PARK, Md. - In order to compete in the talent-laden Atlantic Coast Conference, recruiting at a high level is paramount and over the last couple of years the Terrapins succeeded in attracting top-notch talent to College Park.
Last season, that potential began to emerge as the Terps solidified themselves as one of the top defensive teams in the conference, finishing second with a .973 fielding percentage. Offensively, four of the team's top five hitters return from a year ago, two of which occupy starting positions in the infield.
One of the emerging talents is sophomore third baseman K.J. Hockaday, who was ranked by Baseball America as the eighth-best MLB prospect in the ACC for the 2014 MLB Draft. Hockaday started all 56 games for the Terps last season and was second on the team in hits (62), RBI (27) and runs (35), and ranked third in batting average (.305) and slugging percentage (.404).
"He has had a good preseason," said head coach John Szefc. "I think he is a lot better defensively from where he was a year ago. His range is better and he makes the routine plays and has plenty of arm. Offensively, Rob [Vaughn] has done a good job with helping him attack inside the ball."
If Hockaday improves on his freshman campaign, the sophomore may be primed for a special season.
Across the diamond, after a strong summer in the Cape Cod League where he was named to Perfect Game USA's Top Prospects List, junior Tim Kiene should continue to provide the Terps an offensive jolt. Kiene led the squad with six home runs last season despite missing 15 games due to injury.
Kiene made 31 starts at first base last season, but may DH and split time with freshman LaMonte Wade at first. Wade, who entered the fall as an outfielder, surprised the coaching staff with his defensive ability in the fall.
"A good first baseman makes the rest of your infield better," said Szefc. "If you throw in his vicinity, he is going to catch it or pick it. LaMonte is as good a defender at first base at the college level that I have been around in probably 10 years."
At second base, junior Kyle Convissar may develop into one of the best offensive second basemen in the conference. Convissar entered last season competing for the starting job and quickly seized the opportunity. The Severna Park, Md., native appeared in all 56 games last season with 54 starts at second.
A 2012 Academic All-ACC selection, Convissar ranked fifth on the team with a .285 batting average and led the club with 36 runs. After a successful fall season, he appears primed to become one of the team's top offensive weapons.
"He's had as good of a preseason as anyone on the team," Szefc said. "He might be the most effective guy offensively right now."
For the past four seasons, the familiar face of Alfredo Rodriguez occupied the starting spot at shortstop. Rodriguez started 177 straight games at the position before being selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2012 MLB Draft. Junior college transfer Blake Schmit steps into the role this season.
Schmit enjoyed a standout career at Des Moines Area Community College helping the Bears reach the NJCAA Division II World Series each of his two seasons. Schmit finished last season with a .403 batting average, a .496 slugging percentage, and posted 11 doubles en route to earning first team all-conference honors and all-region honors.
But it is Schmit's defensive ability that has stood out so far to the coaches.
"Blake makes the routine play 99.9 percent of the time and he also makes his fair share of flashy plays," said Szefc. "Having a solid defender at short perks up the rest of the club."
Two players that stood out in the fall and in the preseason are freshmen Brandon Lowe and Jose Cuas. Lowe had a strong fall season and will push for playing time. Cuas is one of the most versatile players in the infield. A natural shortstop, Cuas may also see playing time at first base and third base.
With Maryland's experience, depth and talent, the infield should be a major strength for the Terps in 2013.