Over the summer, Maryland shortstop Kevin Smith displayed the tendencies of an avid reader, thumbing through books that dove deep into the secrets of the swing and the spirit.
One book instructs how to effectively use different mechanics at the plate. Another, written by Shawn Green, reveals the former MLB All-Star’s spiritual approach that helped him find serenity on and off the field. Smith also read a book penned by two retired Navy SEALs, which explains how to apply leadership techniques SEALs employ in life-or-death situations to everyday life.
The junior put his newfound knowledge on display and changed his swing playing in the Cape Cod League, where he earned all-star and all-league honors on the back of a .301 batting average.
All of this comes together as Smith prepares to take over as the face of the Maryland program following the departure of ace Mike Shawaryn.
“He became a little bit of a student on the offensive side this summer. He read a lot and tinkered with a lot of things,” head coach John Szefc said. “That was like a laboratory for him, working up there.”
He may not answer to a nickname like “The Unicorn,” but Smith’s successful summer earned him recognition as a premiere prospect and saw him named as a preseason All-American.
“As a person and in how he speaks and carries himself, he is very similar to a Mike Shawaryn kind of kid,” Szefc said. “They just can handle things. You don’t have to spoon-feed them.”
Szefc said Smith always approaches the game in a low key manner, regardless of the acclaim. It could be because Smith is used to going unnoticed. In his junior year of high school, he went to Maryland’s prospect camp and the coaches didn’t even know who he was.
“I never really pay attention much to the accolades,” Smith said. “Going through high school, I was never on the list, but I paid really close attention to who was. It was almost motivation for me.”
Smith said the team hasn’t been paying a lot of attention to all the preseason hype it is getting either. The Terps are ranked 22nd and are tabbed as favorites to win the Big Ten by D1Baseball.
“Getting ranked, high or low or wherever you are, doesn’t help you when it’s game time,” Smith said. “Within the locker room, [the rankings] don’t really play that big of a part.”
The experience the Terps are bringing back this year is a big reason for the excitement. Eleven position players who totalled 80 percent of the team’s starts last year will rejoin the team and Shawaryn is the only pitcher who started a game last year that will not return.
“A lot of them have been in the program for at least one year, if not more than that,” Szefc said. “That’s experience that you can’t just go out and buy in the store.”
Juniors Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom will take the mound again this year after stellar sophomore seasons where they each picked up third-team All-Big Ten honors. Both pitchers logged over 100 innings last season and started more games than they had walks allowed.
Sophomore Hunter Parsons, who was named Cal Ripken League Pitcher of the Year this summer, will most likely be the Sunday starter, although freshman left-hander Tyler Blohm makes for an intriguing alternative.
Blohm was drafted in the 17th-round of the 2016 MLB Draft, but opted to play collegiately. He posted a 2.07 ERA in the Cal Ripken League.
“He’s progressed at a faster rate than almost any guy I’ve been around,” Szefc said. “Four or five weeks in, he was pitching in the Ripken League All-Star Game. He was pitching against good college players two weeks out of high school.”
The team also has a lot of experience coming out of the bullpen. Junior reliever Ryan Selmer leads the team in appearances for the last two seasons and will see a lot of time. Senior Mike Rescigno, who reportedly hit 97 mph on the radar gun, will also be a popular bullpen option.
The Terps have a lot of seasoned bats in the lineup, as well. Sophomore first baseman Nick Dunn and right fielder Marty Costes will return from outstanding freshman campaigns. Both were named freshman All-Americans, while Costes led all Big Ten freshmen with nine home runs and Dunn earned third-team All-Big Ten honors.
Both Smith and Szefc cited sophomore third baseman AJ Lee and sophomore centerfielder Zach Jancarski as players that have improved a lot from last year and will see significant playing time.
“[Jancarski’s] arm is way better than when he came in, he’s been working a lot on that,” Smith said. “Defensively, he’s outstanding now. His bat is coming along, too.”
For the season as a whole, Smith said that they have high expectations, but he knows they won’t get complacent with the attention they are already drawing.
“The big thing with the team this year is that every day, [we’re going to] treat it like a national championship,” Smith said. “We want to get to Omaha and when we get there, we don’t want to have to change everything.”
Edited by Connor Mount.
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