LEXINGTON, Ky. – Jim Belanger, who has developed record-setting pitchers and 10 major-league draft picks over the last four years at Maryland, will guide the Kentucky pitching staff, head coach Nick Mingione announced Monday.
“I wanted Coach Belanger at Kentucky for numerous reasons,” Mingione said. “What stood out to me was how much family means to him, the fact he’s won everywhere he’s been and his track record of player development.
“He did a great job at Maryland, going to two super regionals the past three years, and he truly understands what it takes to win at a very high level. His player development has been second to none. What he’s been able to do with players who went undrafted out of high school and how he’s turned them into legitimate prospects and top draft picks is impressive. He is an outstanding communicator, with the perfect demeanor for a pitching coach.
“During this search process, his name was the one that kept surfacing, whether it was other college coaches or the people I spoke with in professional baseball. We are extremely excited to have Jim and his wife, Tiffany, and son Sutton as a part of the Wildcat family.”
Belanger (pronounced BELL-in-jer) developed one of the nation’s best starting rotations in 2016, with Mike Shawaryn, Taylor Bloom and Brian Shaffer combining for 20 wins, 11 complete games and 232 strikeouts with only 48 walks. The starting trio led a Terrapin staff that finished ninth in the country in fewest walks allowed per nine innings (2.59) and 17th in WHIP ratio (1.22).
Bloom and Shaffer were third-team All-Big Ten selections. Bloom won six games, posted a 2.46 earned-run average, and had 60 strikeouts with only nine walks. His strikeout/walk ratio of 6.67 and his walks per nine innings (0.79) led the league in both categories. Shaffer’s eight wins and 103.2 innings pitched are third-best in a single season in school history.
Despite being only a junior, Shawaryn set the Maryland career records for wins (30), innings pitched (307.1) and strikeouts (307). He was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the fifth round of the major-league draft earlier this month, extending Belanger’s string of five straight years with a pitcher taken in the sixth round or higher.
In 2015, Shawaryn had the best season by a pitcher in Maryland history. He went 13-2 with a 1.71 ERA and was named first-team All-America by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Perfect Game and Louisville Slugger. He set single-season school records for victories and strikeouts (138), leading the Big Ten in both categories. Nationally, he finished second in the country in wins, fifth in strikeouts and 17th in ERA. He went on to pitch for the 2015 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team.
Led by Shawaryn, Belanger’s staff had a great year in strikeouts in the 2015 campaign. Maryland led the Big Ten with a school-record 549 whiffs and ranked 15th nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (8.5). UM had a team ERA of 3.32, helping lead the Terrapins to a school-record 42 wins and second-straight NCAA Regional championship.
In addition to grooming accomplished starters, Belanger also had remarkable relievers in the ’15 season. Kevin Mooney became the best closer in school history with a UM career-record 33 saves. Redshirt freshman Ryan Selmer tied a school record for appearances with 31 en route to a 2.18 ERA. Eight of Maryland’s nine returning pitchers lowered their ERAs from the 2014 season.
In 2014, Belanger guided a staff that ranked 12th nationally in strikeouts per game (8.1) and totaled a then-school record 500 strikeouts to help lead Maryland to its first 40-win season in school history and an NCAA Regional championship. It was the Terrapins’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in 43 years. The UM staff was led by Jake Stinnett, whose 132 strikeouts led the Atlantic Coast Conference and landed fifth nationally. He received All-ACC and All-Region honors.
Stinnett’s big season helped him make a big jump in the major-league draft, improving 27 rounds from the previous year to the second round in 2014.
As a freshman, Shawaryn was an immediate performer with 11 wins, a Maryland record which he broke a season later with 13 Ws. He was tabbed Freshman All-America by Baseball America, Louisville Slugger, Perfect Game and the NCBWA.
Meanwhile, Mooney continued the second year of his impressive three-year stint with a school record 13 saves.
In 2013, his first season at Maryland, Belanger’s pitching staff had two of the top-15 pitchers in the ACC in Stinnett and Jimmy Reed. Stinnett had a 2.83 ERA and held opponents to a .204 batting average. Reed posted a 2.33 ERA and was a sixth-round draft selection by St. Louis. Mooney emerged as the team’s closer and his nine saves were most ever by a Terp freshman.
Belanger, who also served as UM’s associate head coach in 2015 and ’16, has been very active in recruiting. As a team, he helped Maryland to a top-20 recruiting class in 2015.
Belanger went to Maryland after three seasons at Monmouth University. He helped develop Pat Light, who made his major-league debut with the Boston Red Sox this season. Light was the 2012 New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association Pitcher of the Year and was a first-round pick by the Red Sox.
In 2011, Belanger’s pitchers led the Hawks to 36 regular-season wins and the Northeast Conference regular-season title. Monmouth’s 3.34 ERA led the NEC and ranked 37th nationally. Nick Meyers was the 2011 NEC Pitcher of the Year. Andrew McGee was the NEC Relief Pitcher of the Year and picked Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America.
“What sold me was Coach Mingione,” Belanger said when asked of his motivation to come to Kentucky. “I had a great situation at Maryland, and for me to leave, it had to be something special. Coach Mingione is ultra-positive and his attitude and energy are qualities that are going to make him a really good head coach. I also knew about Kentucky and the league (Southeastern Conference) speaks for itself.”
A native of North Babylon, N.Y., Belanger pitched two years at Cecil Community College in North East, Md. He compiled a 17-4 record and 2.90 ERA.
Belanger went on to the University of Louisville, where he pitched in 2007-08 and helped the Cardinals advance to the 2007 College World Series.
Belanger began coaching in the summer of 2008, working with the Bayside Yankees Senior American Baseball Club. Bayside notched a 3.41 team ERA and won the National Amateur Baseball Federation national championship.
Belanger returned to Louisville as a student coach in 2009 while completing his degree in sociology. He helped Louisville win the Big East regular season and tournament championships before heading to Monmouth.
Belanger’s wife, Tiffany, is originally from Louisville. They have one son, Sutton.