A year ago, Tyler Blohm wasn’t on the Maryland baseball team’s radar.
As coach John Szefc listed the players he wanted to target, the left-hander hadn’t emerged as a prospect. That changed in April, about two months before the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 17th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Blohm, who grew up in Severna Park and pitched to a 0.74 ERA over 66 innings at Archbishop Spalding High School, still had to decide whether to join the Terps. Szefc increased his recruiting efforts after learning Blohm’s goal was to be an effective college pitcher before beginning the draft process.
Eventually, Blohm made the decision to pitch for his home-state program, which is ranked No. 22 entering the 2017 campaign, and is now competing to be the team’s Sunday starter. He’s one of 14 Maryland natives on the Terps roster, reflective of Szefc’s success recruiting local talent.
“We get a lot more [Maryland-based players] now than we did five years ago,” Szefc said. “Hopefully guys recognize they can stay at home so to speak … I can tell you [the 2017 team] is one of the better teams we’ve had since I’ve been here on paper and maybe since I’ve been a head coach.”
[Read more: Two outlets peg Maryland baseball as favorite to win the Big Ten in 2017]
Right-hander Mike Shawaryn headlined Maryland’s squad last season. He’s the Terps’ all-time leader in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched, someone whom Szefc called “a little bit of the face of our program.” The Red Sox drafted Shawaryn in the fifth round of summer’s draft.
Now without a clear ace, Szefc and first-year assistant coach Ryan Fecteau have to assemble a new starting pitching staff. There are plenty of locals to choose from.
Right-hander Brian Shaffer, a Pylesville native, threw three complete games last season and ended the year among the Big Ten’s best pitchers in terms of innings pitched and ERA. He’s slated to be Maryland’s Opening Day starter against Ball State on Friday.
Taylor Bloom, a right-hander from Crofton who, like Shaffer, walked fewer hitters than he struck out in 2016, will remain the Terps’ Saturday starter. Blohm and sophomore right-hander Hunter Parsons, who is from Fruitland, will battle for the Sunday job.
“We’re definitely a lot deeper than we were last year,” Shaffer said. “A lot of guys coming in confident after their summer. It’ll be fun.”
For Maryland’s starting staff, which in Szefc’s eyes can include up to five arms to complement “four to five experienced bullpen guys,” could be pressured to keep teams off the scoreboard if the Terps hit like they did last year. They collectively batted .256 last season, the third-worst average in the Big Ten.
But this season’s offense, which features preseason All-American shortstop Kevin Smith and Baltimore native Marty Costes, who posted 37 RBIs and nine home runs last season, factored into several outlets projecting the Terps to win the conference.
“A lot of guys want to get to Omaha,” Smith said. “The problem with trying to classify the season as successful before you even play it is that sometimes you sell yourself short. We want to win a championship. How you do that is go about your business on a daily basis.”
As Szefc prepares to lead the Terps, who didn’t make the NCAA tournament last year for the first time in three seasons, his recruiting strategy hasn’t changed. The fifth-year coach will continue to pursue local athletes while stressing the importance of the depth they can provide. Soon, he might be able to use Blohm as an example.
“Over the last four and a half years, things have been elevated,” Szefc said. “Now I think we have a little bit of a track record too, as far as success in the field and having success with the pro draft. They can’t look at it and say, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to progress there,’ because a lot of guys have.”