COLUMBUS, Ohio – Look at either corner or up the middle. What one will see when examining Ohio State’s corps of infielders is experience. The 2010 group of infielders has a combined 543 starts among its infield candidates, a group that includes five seniors and juniors and two redshirt freshmen. Experience is a good thing.
“It makes it fun to play with guys who have been together for three or four years,” team co-captain Cory Kovanda said. “We know each other’s tendencies and that’ something good teams know.”
“I think we are going to be pretty good defensively,” five-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Bob Todd said.
Like any ballclub, it’s all about being strong up the middle and the Buckeyes possess one of the strongest, if not the strongest, duo of middle infielders in the Big Ten. Senior second baseman Kovanda, making 160 starts over his three years in Columbus, has posted a .962 fielding percentage and junior shortstop Tyler Engle – 90 starts – dazzles with the glove as well, making some breathtaking plays with none better than his diving snag in the eighth inning to preserve Alex Wimmers’ no-hitter against Michigan last May.
“Keep an eye on SS Tyler Engle and 2B Kovanda, who form the best double-play combo in the Big 10, in what should be a stellar defensive team,” wrote Eric Sorenson, the self-described bald dude from CollegeBaseballToday.com in his 2010 Big Ten preview, which can be read right here.
Kovanda has increased his batting average each of his first three seasons and will look to do more of the same in 2010. A very patient hitter at the plate (86 walks, 69 Ks in his career), he drastically improved his power numbers last season. After combining for nine doubles, a triple and a home run in his first two seasons, Kovanda had 11 doubles, three triples and a home run while driving in a career-best 38 runs. Engle could not get into a rhythm the first month of 2009 while battling back from a nagging hamstring injury but after he became healthy, he was the consistent answer at short, batting .310 with eight doubles, two triples and two long balls from March 28 on.
Senior Ryan Dew is playing a new position: first base. He and junior Matt Streng will be the team’s first basemen, with Streng possibly splitting time at designated hitter. Dew, a first-team All-Big Ten performer in 2009 as a DH, led the team and finished fourth in the Big Ten with a .388 batting average while ranking second on the team with 15 doubles. The lefty also hit .400 with runners in scoring position and he doesn’t let opposing pitchers back in the dugout easily as he batted .442 with two outs. Streng also showed some pop at the plate in his first season as a regular starter with eight long balls and seven doubles while driving in 38. The switch-hitter was clutch with the bases loaded, going 5-for-5 last season.
The hot corner will be occupied by a combination of senior Cory Rupert and redshirt freshman Brad Hallberg. Rupert has started 112 games as a Buckeye and provides excellent depth and versatility as he can play third, second and shortstop. He also has extensive postseason experience, playing in five NCAA tournament games and batting .429 with five runs scored and one home run – his first as a collegian – his freshman season at Texas A&M. Hallberg, who can also play multiple infield positions, was off to a solid start in 2009 with a .400 batting average before a shoulder injury ended his season after just four games.
This group knows how to get on base, as evidenced by their .400 combined on-base percentage in 2009. When they do get on base and have an opportunity to run, they also do that successfully, stealing 19 bases in 23 chances last season.
Also seeing some infield action this year could be redshirt freshman Ryan Cypret. The middle infielder has showed some promise at the plate, going 6-for-12 in the Scarlet and Gray World Series last fall.
One Note: Zach Nowland, a true freshman first baseman last year who red-shirted the season, has decided not to continue playing baseball in order to concentrate on his Honors Program academic responsibilities.